The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA


February 27, 2013

Expanding the database of work jerks

If I am America’s most-beloved workplace advice columnist - and I am - then you, my friends, are America’s most-beloved workplace advice column readers.

And you proved it by responding to my recent column on workplace jerks, offering a delightfully dreadful array of new “work jerk“ categories.

In case you missed it, the column posited that we can better deal with the annoying folks in our midst if we categorize them, understand their irritating quirks and think up ways to defend against them.

This isn’t foolproof, but it can empower us to manage the frustrating, the hurtful and the just plain mean folks in our working worlds.

Now it’s your turn: work jerk types sent in by loyal readers, who wisely requested certain levels of anonymity. Much of the language is theirs, altered somewhat for space, with some of my own thoughts tossed in.

Keep ’em coming, and before long we’ll have a work jerk database that will change the world. (Or at least help me impress my bosses by telling them I’m building “a database.“)

The Pointless Interrupter, from Team Player in Chicago:

-Habitat: Anywhere conversations are happening.

-Description: The pointless interrupter sniffs out conversations and interjects, often a comment or observation that adds nothing. It doesn’t matter whether you are obviously having a personal conversation, the Pointless Interrupter will step into your physical space and break out cliches or unrelated quips.

-Defense: Not much. Pointless Interrupters rarely recognize their jerkiness and might get offended if you point it out. Best to be vigilant and stop talking when you see the interrupter coming.

Hear-Me-Hum, from Anonymous:

-Habitat: Usually walking by your desk when you’re trying to concentrate.

-Description: The Hear-Me-Hum suffers from silence-intolerance. He or she requires white noise at all times, and if no one else is going to make it, the Hear-Me-Hum gladly fills the void with a repetitive, often off-key tune.

-Defense: It’s unlikely the humming is part of a plot to drive you mad. More likely, the Hear-Me-Hum is a nervous type who finds humming soothing and does it mindlessly. No reason you can’t bring up the humming if it’s really an issue, particularly if the co-worker sits in your vicinity.

It may be hard for a Hear-Me-Hum to control this, but if you’re nice about it, you can reach an understanding and comfortably let the person know when the humming has to cease.

The Talker-Downer, from Tracey in Midlothian, Ill:

-Habitat: Virtually everywhere.

-Description: Talker-Downers are quite superior to the rest of us, but they’re kind enough to acknowledge our existence by talking to us like we’re brain-damaged Labrador retrievers. They often speak slowly and in excruciating detail so lesser beings might have a chance at grasping even a fraction of their genius.

-Defense: Challenge them. You don’t have to be mean about it, but if you respond to the Talker-Downer by firmly saying something like, “Hey, Phil, we understand how this works, you don’t need to talk to us like we’re 12,“ the person might think twice before doing it again.

After calling the person out, you can have a one-on-one chat with her or him and, as collegially as possible, let them know that they tend to condescend and it’s bothersome. It’s either that, or let them keep talking down to you.

The Email Engineer, from E.C. in Palatine, Ill.:

-Habitat: Somewhere on the other end of the email stream.

-Description: The Email Engineer responds to an email but adds several names to the “To“ or “CC“ lists, creating an email train that would awe Union Pacific. The additions usually have little “need to know,“ but they’re often higher-ups. So what began as a simple question or exchange is elevated to a matter of quasi-importance.

With each iteration, the Email Engineer adds more names until people become bored and start disregarding the matter.

-Defense: Because email does not come with a rule book, it’s difficult to tell someone they’re doing it wrong. If you can ignore Email Engineers and accept them for who they are, that’s best.

If it’s too exasperating, you could contact a superior who often gets pulled onto the email train and ask whether they might be able to derail this behavior.

The Meeting Ghost, from Rose in Oak Park, Ill.:

-Habitat: Conference rooms, the manager’s office.

-Description: The Meeting Ghost never utters a word in a meeting - even when asked. But as soon as the meeting adjourns, these ghosts begin whispering their opinions, openly disagreeing with decisions that were made.

-Defense: Once you’ve identified a Meeting Ghost, zap that person with a Proton Pack from “Ghostbusters.“ Kidding, of course. But there’s nothing wrong with pulling that person aside and nicely pointing out what he or she is doing. The Meeting Ghost may not be aware of its own spookiness.

If that doesn’t work, you may just have to believe that ghosts don’t exist.

UPDATE: In last week’s column, I excoriated a new CBS reality show called “The Job,“ saying it trivialized the nation’s jobs crisis. After that column ran, CBS cancelled the show. I take full credit for this development. You’re welcome.

Rex Huppke writes for the Chicago Tribune. Send him questions by email at or on Twitter RexWorksHere.


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