Creative Leadership

Finding the Cause of the Office Jerk

Sue Shellenbarger recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal about dealing with office jerks and tyrants.  We’ve all seen it – probably way too much.  But the interesting thing about Sue’s approach was to look at how family problems in childhood often create these office monsters.  For instance, the guy in meetings who’s always pushy and loud, may have been raised in a large family where being pushy and loud was the only way to get any attention.  She also made a good point about how to solve the issue:

“The first step toward defusing patterns of bad behavior is for everybody involved to become aware of them. But there are ground rules for raising the issue, Dr. LaFair says: Make truthful observations in short, simple sentences, without blaming or attacking the other person. Wait for it to sink in and listen carefully to the response. Ask questions. This can help your co-worker become conscious of how his or her bad behavior is affecting others—the first step toward change.”

She went on to list some of the most common personalities in modern day company settings:

“Sylvia LaFair, a White Haven, Pa., leadership coach and psychologist has identified 13 different patterns of office behavior—and the family dynamics that likely shaped them. Among the types are the “persecutor” who micromanages or abuses others. This person often grew up with abuse or neglect. The “denier” pretends problems don’t exist; this person may have grown up in a family where everyone feared facing unpleasant emotions. “Avoiders” are aware of problems but won’t talk about them. In a tense situation, their mantra is, “Gotta go!” “Avoiders” often grew up in judgmental families with weak emotional ties, Dr. LaFair says.

The “super-achiever” is driven to excel at everything, breeding resentment by walking over other people. They were often called on in childhood to make up for family shame or tragedy. Another type, the “martyr,” does his or her work and everybody else’s too, but drives co-workers away by complaining, she says. The “martyr” often had parents who gave up their dreams for the child, triggering a repeat of the pattern. Dr. LaFair documents the various patterns in a 2009 book, “Don’t Bring It To Work.”

Two things are worth mentioning:
1.  Don’t forget that people are watching.  Don’t be a jerk in the office – even in how you react to jerks.
2.  If you see it in other people, have a little compassion, but then do something about it.  Use some of the suggestions above and it might bring a little sanity back into your office and your life.

Any readers have jerks in the office currently?

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  1. Most office tyrants have little idea that they are so offensive…until you tell them (the right way). I have found that if the offendee is an employee, then a sit down session is in order to map out expectations. This will benefit the employee and co-workers. If the offendee is in management…you must be VERY careful. Follow the written guidlines your company has established, that way HR has your back…unless that is bad. The best line from this article is “Don’t bring it to work”!

  2. Oh yeah, I remember the office jerk at the ministry. A very difficult guy with incredible swing moods. It is interesting to observe how these kinds of guys rarely get fired.

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