How to deal with a**holes

3 min read

3 ways to keep your cool as a small business owner and manage those ‘difficult’ people.

Toxic people in business have many names - bullies, jerks, bulldogs - but more recently, Bob Sutton, an organisational psychologist at Stanford University has aptly coined them a**holes.


As a small business owner, freeing your network of a**holes can be difficult - especially if they emerge as clients, collaborators and partners.


In a recent TED Talks podcast hosted by Adam Grant, Bob suggests countering difficult behaviour with positivity. And he couldn’t be more right!


Here are their top three ways to deal with jerks at work:


Benefit Of The Doubt


Sheila Heen, lawyer at Harvard Law School recommends giving the person the benefit of the doubt. Maybe their abruptness is stemming from a deeper place in their personal life.


Sheila recommends proceeding with the following statement: “Now I'm just curious what was going on with you. Because I was surprised by it, and we should address it so that we just won't have this problem next time.”


Demanding Or Demeaning


The flipside - perhaps you are the one having a bad day! If you notice someone being mean, take a minute to rationally evaluate the situation. In the same TED Talks podcast, Adam Grant points out the difference between being demanding and being demeaning.


“Being demanding is having extremely high standards—and pretty low tolerance for work that falls below them. Being demeaning is devaluing other people as human beings—treating them with such disrespect that they feel worthless.”


Adam suggests investigating the situation: do you feel this way because of your bad day or because the person was being demeaning? Now that’s truly looking on the bright side.


Visualise The Impact


If you have a real asshole in your network the general rule is not to fight back. Fire makes more fire. Arguing and attacking will only make them retaliate more.


Instead take the softer approach by chatting through the impact of their actions. For example, if the bully is an old client who has recently started telling racist jokes, explain the new jokes make you feel uncomfortable as you’re increasing diversity in the world place. Or if the bully is a new partner of your small business, show them how their comments have a negative ripple effect through your team and is slowly down projects.


The key here is to get across the message: your actions affected me and our productivity. See if you can find a respectful way to let them know what impact they’ve had.


Use Comedy


Perhaps you’ve noticed some toxic behaviour over email. Sheila Heen suggests sending a private email with this unique statement - “Really? It was my impression that you were smarter than that, and more creative. So I bet you could come up with some other ways to be just as clear without having to actually rip somebody else apart. But maybe… maybe I'm overestimating you, maybe that's not true.”


It may not be possible to completely eliminate jerks at work. But use positivity as your secret weapon whenever you find yourself dealing with difficult people!


Honcho Hint - Find yourself battling difficult customers? Check out these handy tips and tricks to give you the confidence to handle those customer situations we all dread.

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