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Dealing with 'Jerks at Work'


The business news includes a Senate debate that affects the workplace.

Today's expected vote on John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations will turn, in part, on workplace issues, how he treated his colleagues. The precise details of John Bolton's management style are still in dispute. However, we do know that many people have to deal with the kind of complaints that have been loudly discussed in Senate meetings in recent weeks. So we're going to look this morning at bullies in the workplace. Joining us now is Ken Lloyd. He is author of "Jerks at Work: How to Deal with People Problems and Problem People." He also writes a syndicated workplace advice column.


Mr. KEN LLOYD (Author, "Jerks at Work: How to Deal with People Problems and Problem People"): Thank you very much.

INSKEEP: One phrase that's been used in the Senate discussion and testimony about John Bolton is `a kiss-up kick-down manager.' What is that, and how common is that kind of person?

Mr. LLOYD: Basically what that is is the manager who is extremely harsh and difficult with his employees, arbitrary, mean, and at the same time, to his or her superiors, this person is charming and affable and likeable. So it's a real tricky combination.

INSKEEP: Based on what the people you hear from in your research, how common is it to have this kind of manager?

Mr. LLOYD: That's a great question, and it is surprisingly common out there. It was rather disappointing to see this is going on in so many workplaces, but apparently, when people become managers, a lot of their actual behavior is based on what they learn from their own bosses, so people are learning these behaviors every day and then acting them out.

INSKEEP: The word `bully' has been used sometimes to describe John Bolton. Again, without endorsing or decrying that, let's talk about bullies for a minute. What happens when you have a bully in the workplace?

Mr. LLOYD: When you have a bully in the workplace, it's almost like that same bully on the school yard. This is a person who stamps his feet, pushes people around, demands that everything be done his or her way. It's a very similar kind of behavior.

INSKEEP: How do you deal with that in the workplace?

Mr. LLOYD: Well, a lot of people would say try to catch the bully when he or she is not in that crazy mode, but frankly, that really doesn't work, because they can be very persuasive and very charming. What you actually need to do is be more assertive in the workplace. Most people, if they really stand up and act professionally and with confidence, find that the bully will back off, but if you start labeling the person, then you're into name-calling and you get nowhere. If you focus on the specific behavior, `When you shoved me, it bothered me, it's wrong, it cannot go on any further, and I hope I don't have to take any other action to deal with this.' Of course, it's not guaranteed, but it seemed to be a far better approach than simply letting yourself become a doormat.

INSKEEP: There's a famous anecdote about Lyndon Johnson, who was, by some descriptions, a notorious bully, and a military officer who had finally seen all of his colleagues be abused by Lyndon Johnson and finally said, `I'm not going to take that crap from you, Mr. President,' and Johnson immediately backed down.

Mr. LLOYD: That's what a lot of bullies do. If they can find people they can walk over, they'll keep doing it, but sometimes, frankly in many cases, some assertiveness, some strength is going to cause them to walk away and find someone else to chase up and down the halls.

INSKEEP: Now another allegation that's been made here is basically a manager who doesn't listen to subordinates, doesn't listen to people who have advice for them--in this case, it's--the allegation was that John Bolton wasn't listening to intelligence analysts who weren't bringing him the information he wanted to hear and, in fact, he may have been leaning on them, allegedly, to change the information. Is that kind of behavior common in the workplace?

Mr. LLOYD: It's common and it's probably one of the worst forms of management. Today's best managers are very sensitive to the people they're dealing with. They listen to them, they communicate with them, they truly value them as resources, and frankly, in organizations where your voice isn't heard, it's very common to find high degrees of turnover, high degrees of dissatisfaction. With these kinds of managers, we even find employees, wittingly or unwittingly, sabotaging, with the theory being, `If I work poorly, maybe productivity will go down here, and maybe this person will get taken out.'

INSKEEP: Ken, who's your boss?

Mr. LLOYD: My wife.

INSKEEP: How's her management style?

Mr. LLOYD: She's great. She is communicative, responsive, treats people with respect and trust, and is just a great source of learning every day.

INSKEEP: Are you kissing up, Mr. Lloyd?

Mr. LLOYD: I kiss her and I kiss up.

INSKEEP: Ken Lloyd is author of "Jerks at Work." Thanks very much.

Mr. LLOYD: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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