Career

5 Fast Ways Not To Be A Jerk At Work

Nobody wants to be that guy. You know the type: disrespectful, overbearing or messy. There are so many ways to be a jerk at work, and it’s important we’re all thinking hard about not becoming one, too. Why? Well, because work can be tough. It can be stressful, even boring, and sometimes your colleagues don’t actually want to be there. Let’s all just help each other get to Friday, OK?

A decade ago, The Harvard Business Review released a study called ‘Competent Jerks, Loveable Fools and the Formation of Social Networks‘ which basically says that, yes, it does matter if you’re liked in the workplace. Here are some fast ways to ensure you’re not the workplace jerk everyone secretly wishes would move on already.

#1 Let others speak

Meetings are a fickle beast, sometimes it’s hard to know when to speak up or when to shut your mouth. But it’s probably an undisputed fact that taking up too much time speaking in meetings without allowing others to do the same can ruffle a few feathers.

Meetings are high-stress environments – often there are invisible pressures that others can’t see. Or they can be pretty boring, especially when they run too long. Don’t be the reason a meeting is drawing out unnaturally by yammering on about unimportant issues.

Also, don’t speak over other people. Sometimes the colleagues you actually want to hear from in meetings are not naturally confident public speakers, and can easily be intimidated by your constant interjections. It might even make you come across as though you don’t value what other people have to say. And in anyone’s book, that’s a jerk move.

#2 Be master of the kitchen

The kitchen is somewhere between the home and the office proper, so there’s often blurred lines on who maintains it and whose job it is to keep it clean and hospitable. The short answer is: everyone.

If you’re the person who keeps exploding food in the microwave and not wiping it off afterward, or leaving coffee cups unwashed in the sink, please understand that everyone knows it’s you. And they are quietly judging you.

There’s also the rule of stinky food at your actual desk – imposing strange smells on people in an olfactory manner can also be kinda jerkish. While many aren’t bothered by food smells, there are a lot of people who find fish a little gross, tuna being the main culprit.

#3 Rein in the mess and the volume

Clean desk, can’t lose. In any office, but especially an open-plan one, it’s easy to feel crowded by the people around you.

The first way you can exacerbate this is by being messy. Sure, you might think you’re keeping it all within your desk area, but visually you’re assaulting people. Think about it: would you feel relaxed sitting next to someone who has papers strewn across their desk, rubbish piling high and starting to smell, and a collection of dirty coffee cups? Yeah, us neither.

messy desk

How’s the serenity?

The second way of making the office space crowded is by being too loud. Yell-talking as your norm can be extremely distracting for others, and have co-workers wondering how you lack the simple self awareness to consider some level of calm and quite is required in order to focus on work.

I used to have a manager who would come and lean against my partition to take his really loud phone calls to his partner, where they would inevitably end up arguing. No work can be done when this is happening. Be considerate and take it outside or to an area people aren’t working.

#4 Learn how to e-mail, for the love of God

Learn how to reply-all. And then learn how not to.

E-mails are a day-to-day reality for most workplaces, and really, life in general. E-mail is now the most prevalent tool in the workplace, which is why it’s so awful when it gets abused by colleagues. Gaffs like accidentally replying all, or not doing it when you need to are annoying but can also cause worrying gaps in communication.

The worst is when an e-mail meant to stay internally is accidentally sent to a client or external person, and has sensitive information attached or in the e-mail chain history visible for all to see. Prevent this at all costs.

Another is the old ‘cc Shanghai’, where you get added into conversations that either don’t concern you or are completely unnecessary. This is a huge waste of time, and can increase people’s workload and stress. If you’re becoming known for your bad email etiquette, it might be time to turn a new leaf.

#5 Exercise good office party etiquette

Did you ever have to go to a child’s birthday party who you didn’t like, just because your parent is friends with theirs? Well, that’s what office parties can be like. I’ve worked in some fantastic places, full of passionate, likeminded people where socialising is a great joy. I’ve also worked in places where small talk is a cruel and unusual punishment. So how do you make sure you’re not the one who is making the Christmas party a horrible festive obligation for everybody?

Making sure you’re not a burden. Don’t go full-drunkard, for one. While it might seem like a good coping mechanism, it also means you could be making things uncomfortable for everyone else. Also, this definitely isn’t the time to make good on all that *perceived* sexual tension between you and your colleague.

The best way to get through work functions without being the absolute worst is to leave work issues for working hours. Don’t remind someone about an email they haven’t responded to, or chat about a meeting that’s happening tomorrow. It’s also difficult to stop gossip, but swapping rumours about clients is probably the fun grey area in all of this – don’t gossip about your co-workers or company, though.

And most importantly, don’t save up all your gripes and issues and drunkenly blurt them out to your boss at the party – they’re letting loose, too, you know – and you’ll most definitely put your foot in it.

If you fluff all of this up, here’s how you can do some damage control.


Patrick Lenton is a writer and digital marketer. He runs Town Crier, a social media and marketing consultancy for authors.