Most of us work with a jerk – toxic people who seem determined to make our lives hell.
But here’s the good news: you don’t have to be completely beholden to their venomous ways. It turns out that toxic co-workers often operate by the same tired playbook. And once you identify and understand what kind of asshole you’re dealing with, you’ll have more ammunition to neutralize them.
In his book, Jerks at Work: Toxic Colleagues and What to Do About ThemNYU psychology professor Tessa West outlines some of the most common archetypes of toxic co-workers, then offers strategies for confronting them and regaining your peace of mind.
Here are four common enemies.
Related: 12 Ways Successful People Deal With Toxic People
1. The Kiss/Kick
These poisonous people have one goal: “Get to the top by any means necessary,” West says.
Kiss Up/Kick Downers (KUKD) operate strategically. They mistreat or sabotage people at their level or below them while ingratiating themselves with superiors. KUKDs can pass themselves off as team players for leaders, even though everyone knows they are anything but.
“They tend to be comfortable with the idea that it’s okay to step on others to get ahead,” West says.
These co-workers put you down in front of the people you’re trying to impress, but gossip with influencers at company parties. They protect themselves from criticism by convincing the boss that they are a valuable asset to the company.
“These people are really hard to beat because if you complain to your boss, they’ll either ignore you and tell you to suck it up,” West says.
How to manage: There is strength in numbers. Find one or more other KUKDer targets and make them an ally. “The more people you can find who were victims of even documenting what happened, the better,” West says.
Once you have allies, ask them if they’re willing to talk to the boss. Also, be sure to collect well-researched and well-researched data.
“Then when you go to your boss to complain about them, you want to lead with the strength that person has, recognizing what they’re doing well, and from there you want to convince your boss that the problem is widespread enough that it should care,” says West.
2. The bulldozer
Bulldozers have two trademark moves, according to West. First, they completely support any group decision-making process, like not being able to get a word out in a meeting. Second, they target weak bosses and bully them into submission.
Unlike KUKDs, they are not subtle. They do not hide their aggressive behavior, they overwhelm everyone with it.
“Dozers don’t complain to the boss. They go to the boss’s boss,” West says. “They scare the bosses, and the bosses don’t want to stand up to them.”
How to manage: Choose your battles. Bulldozers love to fight and you won’t win every confrontation. West recommends asking yourself if the actions of the bulldozer are making your life hell in the short or long term. “I only take bulldozers whose behaviors only impact the big stuff,” she says.
Once you’ve decided to take on a bulldozer, you’ll need a team game plan before the bulldozer even starts attacking. For example, if you know a bulldozer is going to disrupt a meeting, “it’s up to your team to plan how you’re going to prevent that from happening, especially if you have a weak boss,” West says.
To learn more about the psychology behind toxic co-workers, listen to my interview with Tessa West on the Write About Now podcast.
3. The micromanager
According to West, 79% of respondents say they have been micromanaged at some point in their career.
Micromanagers oversee everything you do, from how you sign your emails to how you plan your day.
“They’re very bad at knowing who needs a little extra attention and who’s fine on their own,” West says. “The irony is that they work the hardest, but they do the least because they are constantly trying to oversee every little step of their employees.”
West saw micromanagers creeping into her Google Docs as she wrote.
How to manage: Make an effort to keep the micromanager up to date, as annoying as that may be.
West explains, “Micromanagers tend to do it the most when they feel anxious and unsure that they’re not doing enough. But the structure of short, frequent meetings, where they get checklists of what you said you were going to do you actually did, can help reduce a lot of their anxiety.”
4. The gas lighter
Perhaps the most sinister of toxic colleagues, the gaslighter deceives you on a grand scale, often by creating an alternate reality. The gaslighter also cuts you off from other co-workers, isolates you by making you feel like you’re part of something special, or worse, destroys your self-esteem.
“Most of us think of a gas lighter as someone trying to destroy us,” West says. “But often what they do is they make you feel privileged, like you’re the only person to benefit. You’re an insider. You know things other people don’t.”
Unfortunately, the gaslighter has no interest in seeing you succeed – his only goal is to have power and control over you. Unknowingly gassed people can perpetuate or protect the dishonesty or theft of their toxic colleague at work.
How to manage: Watch out for signposts. Gaslighters often try to prevent you from having day-to-day interactions with people at work. They will try to convince you not to have coffee or go out for drinks with co-workers.
They will also discourage relationships with other company executives, saying cruel things like those people laughing at you behind your back.
West says breaking free from the clutches of a gas lighter is like “breaking free from a spider’s web.” She recommends documenting everything (writing it down, taking pictures, recording your concerns) that is said and done that doesn’t feel right to you. “These little discs will become invaluable when you are ready to open up to others.”
She also suggests building your social network little by little. “The most important step you need to take when facing a gas lighter is the very thing your gas lighter has spent months conditioning you to be afraid of – turning to other people for power. help,” she said.