Aubrey Rhodes

So You're Working With An Asshole

December 07, 2018

This probably sounds familiar. You’ve been working at your new job for a while. You love your team, and you are getting to do so much cool new stuff. Everyone who helped with onboarding was friendly, and you are even start to have a regular group of people you can rely on to grab lunch with. You get started on a new project, and go to ask the previous developer who worked on it for some clarification. You find that he’s not helpful at all. He’s not happy with the changes you want to make to the project and won’t give you any direction. All of the messages you get from him are terse and every interaction feels like you’ve just walked into an anthill. You might be working with an asshole.

Step 1: Make Sure You Really Are Working With An Asshole

Nine times out of ten, when you meet someone that makes you feel this way they aren’t actually an asshole. First, assume that everyone you are working with is trying to do their best and treat their coworkers with respect. That is usually true. You may just have caught them when they are having a bad day or fighting a fire that has sprung up in production.

If you’ve only interacted with them online, try to go see them in person or set up a video chat. Most people that you work with who are gruff in slack or emails are perfectly pleasant face to face. It always helps to try and get to know them as a person too. Once you have started to establish a relationship, it’s easier to know how someone prefers to communicate. Put in a little effort and find out if the person is indeed just being an ass.

Step 2: Remember That Being An Ass Back Never Helps

So you’ve given them the benefit of the doubt and they still seem like an asshole? It sucks, but it seems like every company has one. The best thing you can do at this point is to remember that sinking to their level won’t make anything better. Their behavior towards you isn’t ok. However, if you can shake it off and continue professionally, you will probably end up in a much better situation than you would otherwise. Most people don’t start off being a jerk when they first start at a company. It happens slowly over time. So, if you are both acting out and you are the new person, it is much more likely that the ax is going to come down on your head. Play it cool.

Step 3: Ask For Help

If you truly are working with an asshole, you probably aren’t the first person who has run into trouble. Ask someone who you trust, a more experienced coworker or a manager, for help on how to navigate the situation. It will be much better if you can work out the situation yourself, but they might be able to give you pointers or perspective on why the jerk is behaving like they are. Phrases like “I’m wondering how so-and-so communicates best” can help you get some answers without feeling like you are tattling on one of your coworkers.

Learn From Their Mistakes

You normally get to be the company asshole because people respect your other contributions so much that they will put up with some bad behavior. It’s important to learn early on that this is a crappy position to put yourself in. Your job may be safe, but you’ll never get looked at as someone who can move up or take on more responsibility. You’ll find that you stop growing at work while your peers move on to do great things. Don’t be this asshole! Being able to work with others will always be an advantage in your career.

Written by Aubrey Rhodes who builds software engineering teams in Atlanta.

© 2020 Aubrey Rhodes