Monday, June 25, 2007

Anatomy of a jerk

"Jerk"'s one of those words that I fear really dates me, like "slacks" or "nitwit" or "converter". Is it a left-over from the 80s? I'm not sure when it originated, but I know that's when I started using it. Usually in thrilling combination with "stupid," "face," and/or "ass."

...There's just something satisfying about the way the hard "j" and "k" sounds cut out of your mouth when you say it...

As curses go, of course, it's pretty mild. Often I still say "jerk" out of habit, when I really mean "fuckwit" or "assgobbling halfwit shit-for-brains waste-of-space."

All of this introductory digression to say that when you have the misfortune of crossing paths with a jerk, you're usually so tongue-tied by righteous anger and frustration that it's the only word you can spit out between senseless exclamations.

There is a certain breed of jerk I've encountered in my working life that is particularly stanky with fuckwitedness. This is the soul-sucking psychotic know-it-all lout. The soul-sucking psychotic know-it-all lout sits in a position of ultimate superiority above all other humans. It doesn't matter that they have, say, a mail-order certificate in Human Resources from the Matchbook Academy hanging on their wall and that you have an advanced degree in...whatever your discipline. They know your subject better than you do and they will take every opportunity to talk down to you like the amoebic waste-product you know you are. They usually occupy management positions.

These work-jerks come in all shapes and sizes. Maybe it's that bitchy executive assistant who intimidates the life out of you. Maybe it's that client who keeps hiring you for the sick pleasure of tearing down everything you do or say, knowing that your livelihood depends on keeping clients happy. It could be that accountant in Finance who is helping you write an article on mutual fund fees and feels that that English class he took that one time makes him the Shakespeare of management expense ratios.

The point is, these people always exert a strange power over their unfortunate victims. Sociologically, it's really very interesting. Because they don't necessarily have to be in a position of authority over you. But they do have to hold some kind of power--they have something you need and they'll fire their pistol at your feet and screech "DANCE MOTHERF*&^%ER!!! DANCE!!!" before you can get it. They're Lucy holding the football. They are Satan slithering 'round the apple tree.

Obviously, I recently had a run-in with a jerk. Nice as pie to my face, spitting venom behind my back. I did get royally pissed at first, but then I started trying to understand the underlying psychology. I tend to work that way--systems thinking kind of deal. Maybe I'm trying to deconstruct the incomprehensible...

Clearly, he gets something out of this behaviour. He does it to everyone at his company, as well as to out-sourcers like me. His jerkishness is quite egalitarian. He, like the rest of his ilk, operates under the assumption that nothing anyone else does is ever as good as he himself could do, if only he had the time to do it. But he's just so unutterably important that...sigh...he has to delegate the task to Inferiors.

I did a communications plan for a woman like that once. She was Pure Evil. Grade-A psychobitch, and I tell you no word of a lie: every employee working under her left in the time I was contracting in to her. She was sort of like the Miranda character in The Devil Wears Prada ..Very quietly and efficiently cruel, like a guillotine. You didn't know the blade had fallen until you were looking at your own feet from ground-level.

What does a person like that get out of his behaviour, and what's the right way to deal with them? There has to be a way to win. Please don't tell me there's no way to win.

In the past, I've tried all kinds of approaches with these people: excessive niceness. Robot-like detachment. Defensive blustering. In the case of my recent run-in, I chose to ignore the asshole comments and focus on facts. That keeps me blameless while helping me get the job done so I can get the hell out of Dodge. But none of it is really effective in feeling that sense of "HA! I won!" I'm looking for a way to get a little back...

I know everyone has had experience with this kind of co-worker. Any moments of triumph? Have you ever had the pleasure of putting a work-jerk in his or her place? Do share.


Blogger Fat Sparrow said...

"Very quietly and efficiently cruel, like a guillotine. You didn't know the blade had fallen until you were looking at your own feet from ground-level."


Assholes at work.... It's like playing a video game. As soon as you have one vanquished, you move to the next level and another one takes its place. Worse, the ones that you thought you had vanquished may suddenly pop back up in the next level, with different powers, and you have to fight them all over again.

"Nice as pie to my face, spitting venom behind my back."

Ugh, I hate people like that. If you're going to say something about someone, say it to their face, or hold your tongue. Or just don't say anything that you wouldn't say to the person's face. I haven't run in to that at work as much as I've run into it on the Internet, actually. People will say anything because they think there's no accountability or consequences, and it makes them feel like a big lad. I suppose the same principle is involved at work; it's just another way to have power over someone.

There was a great story in our local paper about a jerkwad who got fired from the Palm Springs Airport and then got lost his prospective job at the Broward County, Fl. Airport due to e-mails he sent slagging off everybody involved, and dissing his future emplyers as "completely clueless" and "just looking to get taken advantage of." He was dumb enough to send them to his friends from his work e-mail account. It's nice to hear about jerks getting their come-uppance.

6:55 PM  
Blogger whyioughtta said...


I love your video game analogy and I'll tell you that right to your face.

Please lord, please let me get to Invincibility Level 4...

10:17 PM  
Blogger Manuel said...

Its a good movie though, "The Jerk". The scene in the restaurant when Steve Martin tells the waiter to bring the best wine he has and none of that old stuff either, your freshest bottle please. Brilliant

As for jerks at work, well where do I start....

7:55 PM  
Blogger Fat Sparrow said...

"I love your video game analogy and I'll tell you that right to your face."

Ah, g'wan, you make me blush.

3:31 AM  

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