Job Search Strategies: workplace scourges

Aurora Donnelly is a solo practitioner always looking forward to the next exciting transition.

At a recent gathering of co-workers and ex-co-workers and various friends the conversation turned to strange people we had all worked with at one time or another. Some were peers, some paralegals or legal assistants, some were the bosses. In every group there is one or more people who don’t seem to be reading from the same script, who don’t understand body language, or who maybe don’t care that they are making every one else unhappy or uncomfortable.

Of course, the conversation turned hilarious – an e-mail that said: “Warning! Do not engage this person.” Paralegals who ended up being able to tell lawyers what to do administratively and got their revenge for all the bad times other lawyers had put them through over the years by seriously abusing that little bit of power. The boss who really needed psychiatric help, but thought he was hilariously funny when in the middle of a lunch or dinner he showed everyone what he was chewing by opening his mouth as wide as it would go (seriously, I am not making it up.)

You can find lots of stories of this type. You can learn how to work with difficult people, how to survive the boss from hell, how to deal with the self-centered co-worker who never stops talking about herself.

Today I read one of those stories about horrific bosses who are “the best thing that ever happened to you” in your career. They are so good at what they do, that even if they convey their wisdom in unacceptable ways, it is worth it. Really?

This topic invariably then turns into an argument about whether it is OK to be a jerk if you are very smart or talented, or if you contribute mightily to the bottom line. Should these people be allowed to behave in any boorish or insulting way they please if they have singular rainmaking powers, for example? In any group there will be adherents of each sides.

If you have ever worked with some of these people, you have formed your own opinion. Should you quit if you can’t stand it? Should you “report” the person? Should you speak to them about their behavior? Are you a believer in karma and how things that go around come around? Each situation has its options and people choose many different ways to go.

Even if you have followed some of the advice I have doled out in this space about being careful about the work culture you choose when you accept a job offer, you can end up working with or for, some of these characters. If you don’t ever run across these people, consider yourself lucky. But patience is a wonderful thing, and if you can’t do anything about some of these people you are stuck working with, just wait long enough, and something will change. In today’s workplaces, things don’t stay the same very long.


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