How to deal with a jerk – Why you must take assertive action
When I tell people that I am a coach, I often have people tell me that is easy for to me to give life and career advice as I have never had to deal with difficult times or difficult people. Of course, that is just nonsense. Like anybody else, coaches suffer tough times and have to deal with some serious jerks. In fact, it is having to deal with these difficulties that makes us want to help others to work through them. I recently had a client ask me about a difficult time in my life. As I try to be open and honest with my coaching, I was happy to share an experience. When I saw the reaction of my client, I realised that it may be beneficial to share that experience with others so, here goes.
I am first going to tell you about what was a horrible experience for me and I will then tell you how I would handle it differently now.
It was a time when my business was not going well. I had made a lot of mistakes and had not yet mastered the business skills that I needed to make a success of things. While I was making money, it was not enough money to allow me to invest into the business and ensure its growth.
At this time, a family friend (our mothers have been friends for over 60 years) approached me and told me that he needed somebody to work with him. We had a chat and we came to the following agreements:
- I had no experience in this area so he agreed that he would train me
- We would be home no later than 7pm each day which would allow me to continue to work on my business
- He would provide a second set of tools which he already owned for me to use and practice with
Given that he was a family friend, I felt that I was in good hands and I agreed to take the job.
The jerk appears
Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for the jerk to appear from the shadows. Before long, I could see cracks appearing in the agreements that we had made. Here are some of the issues that started to arise:
1. Time was out of whack
It didn’t take long before I could see that the promise of being home before 7 p.m. was a false promise. Now this may not seem like a lot to some of you but when you have to be up at 6 a.m. to go work the next morning; you need to be home by 7 p.m. or at least close to it if you want to be able to get enough work done to make progress with your business.
Not only were we failing to make it home for 7pm; we were struggling to make it home before 9 p.m. Given that I had to get something to eat when I got home, it meant that most nights, I would not be able to get any work done on my business. Given the physical nature of the job, I was usually too tired at the weekend to do a whole lot either.
Pretty quickly, a job that was supposed to help me make more money was actually costing me money and causing my own business to stagnate.
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2. There was no training
There was never any attempt made to teach me anything. Every now and again there would be a mention of a need to train me but it never materialised. There were a number of opportunities where he could have done it but there was absolutely no intention of following through on that promise. As for the second set of tools, I still could not tell you if they actually exist because I never laid eyes on them.
3. The missing money
I am a trusting and honest kind of guy. All my life, whenever I have taken work, I have trusted that the person who employed me would pay me properly. I didn’t check up on it and in everyday life, I wouldn’t even check my change when I received it at the store. I certainly didn’t think that I would get short changed by a family friend.
As I wasn’t experienced in the area, I wasn’t expecting to get paid extravagantly. I was just expecting to get paid the legal minimum wage (we do have a minimum wage here in Ireland).
Early on, I noticed that there seemed to be something a little suspicious about the pay. I did have my doubts about whether my pay was meeting the minimum wage but I just wrote it off as us being caught to work some late nights. I was sure that the late nights would come to an end and my pay would then appear a lot better.
The reality is that the late nights never ended. In fact, they became the common thing. When I finished with the job, after 4 months, I sat down and worked out how my pay had matched up to what I should have been paid according to the minimum wage. Over the 4 months, the pay I received fell short of the minimum wage by approximately €1,000 after tax.
4. Belittling the previous employee
As with most jobs, I was hired to replace the person before me. From day 1, I heard nothing but bad things from my boss about his previous employee. I always felt uncomfortable with this as the other man was not there to defend himself.
There were other reasons why this troubled me:
- He had kept this guy working for him for 1 year. Why would he do that if the employee was as bad as I was being told?
- If he was bad mouthing this guy so badly, what was he going to be saying about me once I was gone?
Again, I chose not to look further into it as this was a family friend and, to be honest, I was grateful to have some extra money coming in.
5. The hatred of everybody
He genuinely hated practically everybody whether he knew them or not. Each morning and evening, as we travelled to and from work; the air would turn blue as he called everybody an idiot, a scumbag, a c*nt or any other name he could think of.
This surprised me as I genuinely had never known he was like this. After a few weeks of listening to this garbage, I felt like jumping out of the van as we were speeding down the motorway. I found him to be:
- Bigoted in almost every way
It became impossible to have a genuine conversation as he always had to make a strong statement on absolutely every topic. It became so irritating that I gradually progressed towards not talking as we travelled.
6. The dishonest finish
On a Friday morning, he climbed into the van and as we drove off, he told me that he had bad news for me. He then told me that he had just come out of a meeting with the company he was contracted to and they had basically forced his hand into hiring somebody more experienced and getting rid of me.
I had no problem with being let go as I felt it was the right decision considering I was never going to learn anything. What I objected to was being lied to about the decision to let me go. He was pretending that the decision had just been made but I had actually known over a week earlier when another person in that company had let it slip to me.
7. Straight up stealing
On the last day, we finished with a quick job for a man that we had worked for a few weeks previously. After the job was finished, I was at the back of the van, changing out of my work boots when the customer walked up to me. He said ‘Thank you Carthage, I gave [my boss’ name] a little something extra for you’.
Not only did I not get that tip, it was never even mentioned in the van on the way home and, when I received my final pay packet the next day, there was no tip included.
It was bad enough that he stole from me by paying me less that the legal requirement but he had now straight out robbed me by taking my tip.
How I should have dealt with the Jerk
It could probably go without saying but I no longer talk to this former friend and, I never will. If you can’t trust someone, there is little point in engaging with them unless you really have to.
However, a great deal of strife could have been avoided if I had stepped up and taken the responsibility of dealing with the situation. Dealing with a jerk is not that difficult. There are only two things that you really need to understand.
Here are the lessons, I have learned from this difficult situation:
You cannot put the happiness of others first
Even though I was unhappy from a very early stage, I had avoided dealing with the situation because I was worried about any conflict spilling over into our families. As I have said, our mothers have been friends for over 60 years and I certainly didn’t want to cause any problems between them.
Unfortunately, life doesn’t work like that. If you are unhappy with a situation, you have to deal with even if it may upset others. Obviously you do your best to deal with things amicably but they still must be dealt with. You must place yourself at the centre of your own life and ensure that you are at your strongest.
Whatever you allow continues
So, I was underpaid, required to work ridiculous hours, forced to listen to months of hate filled garbage and generally treated like crap. Who was to blame for all of this?
The correct answer is that the first time a bad behaviour arose, it was my boss’ fault but after that I have to take at least part of the responsibility. It still doesn’t make his behaviour right but when I didn’t object, I was giving him permission to repeat the behaviour.
I could have raised the issues as soon as they arose, calmly and confidently, and ensured that he knew I wouldn’t tolerate any repetition of the unwanted behaviour. And, had he failed to listen, I should have simply walked away and let him treat somebody else like crap.
I have learned my lesson the hard way from that experience and I now have the communication strategies I need to deal with people like this.
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