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Podcast Episodes

What is behavioral economics? Why does it matter to you?

315. Jerks At Work: How To Deal With Difficult Colleagues, with Tessa West

In this episode of The Brainy Business podcast, host Melina Palmer is joined by Dr. Tessa West, a renowned expert in social psychology and communication. They dive deep into the topic of workplace jerks, exploring the different types of jerky behaviors that exist and providing valuable insights on how to address and prevent these behaviors. Throughout the conversation, Melina and Tessa discuss the complexities of workplace dynamics, highlighting the structural issues that enable jerky behaviors to flourish. They emphasize the importance of recognizing these underlying systems and structures, rather than only viewing jerky behaviors as isolated incidents caused by individual bad apples. By understanding the systemic factors that contribute to such behaviors, individuals and organizations can take proactive steps to create a healthier work environment. 

Tessa also shares practical tips for individuals to identify red flags during the job interview process and early on in a new job. By being aware of the organizational structures and systems that may contribute to jerky behaviors, individuals can make informed decisions about their long-term job satisfaction. Overall, this episode offers valuable insights and advice for both managers and employees dealing with workplace jerks. It provides a fresh perspective on the topic, emphasizing the importance of addressing structural issues and fostering a healthy work environment to improve overall workplace dynamics.

  • Recognize markers of negative characters in your workplace and their potential effects.
  • Master techniques to dissolve issues arising from uneasy workplace interactions.
  • Appreciate how our use of language subtly influences our perspective and behavior.
  • Identify the link between empathy and successful communication, charting a path for stronger relationships.
  • Understand how stereotypes maneuver personal and team performance and the ways to buffer their influence.
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HERE'S A 2 MINUTE TIP.

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SHOW NOTES:

00:00:00 – Introduction,
Host Melina Palmer welcomes Dr. Tessa West. Tessa discusses her background as a social psychology professor and her research on uncomfortable social interactions.

00:03:07 – Uncomfortable Social Interactions,
Dr. West explains her research focus on uncomfortable social interactions and how she measures discomfort using physiological responses. She discusses the prevalence of discomfort in the workplace and the lack of effective strategies for handling it.

00:06:07 – Freezing and Rationalizing Discomfort,
The tendency to freeze and rationalize discomfort in the workplace is discussed. Tessa emphasizes the need to address small discomforts before they accumulate and cause stress-related health issues. She offers tips on handling discomfort without confrontation.

00:08:24 – Cumulative Discomfort and Health,
Dr. West explains how cumulative discomfort in the workplace can lead to stress-related health issues. She highlights the importance of addressing small discomforts and offers strategies for managing them effectively.

00:11:42 – Tell Us About Your Dissertation,
Tessa briefly discusses her dissertation on interpersonal accuracy and the motivation to be inaccurate when accuracy threatens relationships. She shares an unpublished study on how threat affects individuals’ perception of their partner’s attractiveness.

00:14:26 – “Introduction and Funny Dissertation Stories”,
Melina shares a humorous anecdote from a Friends episode and Tessa jokes she could have just cited that instead of doing her dissertation. They discuss the interesting process of doing a dissertation and how it shapes one’s work.

00:15:11 – “Types of Jerks at Work”,
Tessa breaks down the different types of jerks at work featured in her book, starting with the “kiss up kick downer” who impresses the boss but treats colleagues poorly. She also discusses the “credit stealer,” “bulldozer,” “free rider,” “micromanager,” “neglectful boss,” and the more manipulative “gaslighter.”

00:19:10 – “Micromanagers and Neglectful Bosses”,
Tessa delves deeper into the micromanager, who tends to have control issues and struggles with balancing their old job and new management role. She also discusses the neglectful boss, who oscillates between micromanagement and neglect, causing stress and instability.

00:20:56 – “Gaslighters at Work”,
Tessa explains the manipulative tactics of gaslighters, who lie to create a false reality and often have power and status. Gaslighters can make it difficult for their victims to fight back due to their strategic manipulation and the victims’ own involvement in potentially unethical actions.

00:28:18 – Understanding the Root of Workplace Problems,
Tessa West advises people to look beyond individual “bad apples” and consider the structural issues within their workplace that breed toxic behavior. By examining the systems and incentives that allow these behaviors to occur, individuals can make more informed decisions about their work environment.

00:29:27 – Red Flags to Look for in a New Workplace,
Tessa suggests paying attention to red flags during the interview process or when starting a new job. She recommends looking for signs of a workplace that values certain behaviors, such as promotions based on sales rather than training and development. Identifying these red flags can help prevent future toxic behavior.

00:30:47 – Longevity of a Job and Workplace Dynamics,
Tessa emphasizes the importance of considering the longevity of a job and how workplace dynamics can change over time. Just because a workplace seems great initially doesn’t mean it will remain that way. A few bad hires or a workplace that fosters toxic behavior can quickly turn a positive environment into a negative one.

00:31:43 – Advice for Small Business Owners,
Tessa offers advice for small to mid-sized business owners who may feel overworked and stressed, leading to toxic behavior. She suggests that uncertainty is often a trigger for “work jerkery.” By addressing uncertainty and creating a psychologically safe environment, business owners can prevent themselves from micromanaging or neglecting their team.

00:36:12 – Identifying if You’re the Jerk at Work,
Tessa discusses ways that the listener can determine if they are the “jerk” as well as what to do when you realize you have been a jerk (it happens!)

00:42:10 – Show Notes and Resources,
Melina reminds listeners to check the show notes for links to past episodes and books mentioned in the conversation, including Jerks at Work, The Power of Us, How Minds Change, Getting Along, and The Microstress Effect.

00:42:39 – Conclusion,
Melina’s top insights from the conversation. What stuck with you while listening to the episode? What are you going to try? Come share it with Melina on social media — you’ll find her as @thebrainybiz everywhere and as Melina Palmer on LinkedIn.

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