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How To Deal With Jack-Arses

Concerning the difference between man and the jackass: some observers hold that there isn't any. But this wrongs the jackass. Mark Twain

What shall we call them – “jackasses”? Or perhaps you’d find the word “arse” less crass? Dr. Robert Sutton wrote a book about them called The No Asshole Rule. The noun he uses in his title might be apt for the blankety-blanks we’re talking about, but I will refrain.

Calling them “jerks” is really too lightweight for all the suffering they can cause. We feel our blood boil or our guts twist when they are around. The feeling lingers even after they leave. We can’t think straight.

I’m not talking about someone who occasionally acts badly. That’s probably just a human being who may be tired, hungry, or overwhelmed. The independent thinker or slightly disagreeable sort doesn’t qualify as an arse either.

The arses have certain patterns of behavior that may include – personal insults, sarcastic jokes, rude interruptions, dirty looks, and treating people as if they are invisible. They usually reserve their worst behavior for those lower down on the food chain.

Those are the ones I’m talking about. How’s a person to live a good life with those people around?

We basically have three strategies available. These strategies are the same ones that we would use to deal with any adversity – take action, reframe, or distance ourselves.

First of all, what direct action can you take to change the situation with your blankety-blank? Let’s just call him “Jack” (if it’s a woman, substitute Jackie).

Sometimes you can improve a relationship with the Jacks of the world by respectfully confronting them.

You might say this to your boss. “Jack, I would really like to do my best work, but I lose focus when you raise your voice and shake your finger at me.”

Sometimes that straightforwardness can open the door for a constructive dialogue and change.

Start there, don’t expect it to work permanently. However, I have heard of Jacks being turned around for good by a very simple statement said calmly to them in private like, “We can’t work together like this.”

If that does not work, or it’s too risky, then go to the second approach. Reframe.

Reframing means that you figure out a different, more positive, way to think about the difficult person or situation. Here’s what I mean.

I was once listening to a group of young people talk about the Jacks they had experienced in their lives. As they talked, they realized that they had a particular Jack in common.

One young man listened to the others grumble. After everyone had finished, he smiled and said, "I worked with Jack too. I enjoyed it and learned a lot.”

The young man framed Jack differently:

“I heard Jack was a hard guy to work for, but I also knew that he’d been through some tough times. He was good at what he did. He could teach me things that I needed to know if I were patient.”

Reframing a difficult person or situation into something positive is one of the most useful approaches to putting ourselves back on track to the good life. Many people have told me stories of turning their relationships around through reframing.

But reframing may not always work. Sometimes it may even be dangerous.

Some Jacks should neither be directly confronted nor reframed. In some adverse situations, with some Jacks, you should get away. Get some distance.

You can get away physically by spending as little time as possible with Jacks. If you work closely with one, make an exit plan if possible. Distance yourself psychologically by thinking of other things and other people. Sometimes we make the situation much worse by constantly thinking about how the Jack is a Jack.

Okay, I hesitated about adding this last part, but who else is going to tell you, if it isn’t me?

You and I could be the arses of the world. Less than one percent of us think we are, but others see us differently.

I know I implied that to qualify as an arse, it requires being more consistently, long-term arse-like, but even short stints as an arse harm people. There are times like yesterday when both my husband and I were not nice people. We were stressed from paying twelve hundred dollars to get our RV towed to the nearest dealership. Then we found out that the problem was merely a bad battery, but we were being charged seven hundred dollars for its repair! We were not happy campers.

No surprise, the service department did not respond too well to our being arse-like. Later we felt sorry for our behavior and for the legitimate problems they were facing.

We probably could have had a much more productive encounter had we been able to take a breath, noticed that we were highly irritated - emotionally hijacked. Understood why - that this was challenging situation which can happen in life, given ourselves a little kindness, and figured out what we needed to do. Practiced self-compassion.

Instead, we said a few unrepeatable words and stormed out. We did eventually debrief and learned a good lesson on how to better deal with ourselves. Unfortunately we could not take back all the negativity we had spewed into the world nor suck back up all its hurtful ripple effects.

Here is a daring idea if we seriously see the value of changing our arse-ish ways, give others the power to call us out. I heard of one CEO who gave money to his employees if they caught him being an arrogant blankety-blank. He thinks it’s good for him, good for relationships, and good for productivity.

Arses can mess up the good life. We can deal with them. We can stop being one.

How might we journey together to the good life by learning how to deal with arses and not be one ourselves?

(as always, feel free to reply to this blog. I am the only one who will see your comments)


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