How to Deal with an Asshole at Work

One of the most common questions I get asked is how do I deal with this asshole at work?

I know it’s a really rich language, but come on, let’s be honest, this is what we really think and this is what we say to our friends like, how do I deal with this asshole?

Quite often we have to deal with people that are really toxic, that are just sapping the life out of us. They’re like energy vampires, it’s really disruptive and exhausting having to work with them. Here are some strategies that are going to help you be able to deal with that asshole at work.

How to Guard your Energy

If you’re dealing with an asshole at work, the energy that it’s taking from you is a primal response.

Now there’s a part of our brain called the amygdala. It’s one of those first parts of our brain that formed during evolution. It’s like the alarm center that just sends out an alarm and alerts you that your well-being is under threat.

When we are in a state of stress, it’s when our well-being is under threat. Our amygdala is so primal, that it doesn’t understand the difference between a perceived threat and a real threat.

Which would mean that it doesn’t understand the difference between a crocodile about to attack you and an asshole at work who’s attacking you professionally and emotionally.

Consequently, the amygdala sets off the flight or fight response and puts you into a stress response.

What you can do is use the more developed part of your brain, for us humans. It’s the prefrontal cortex. These are the very rational facts and figures part of our brain and is very thought-driven. We can use this part of our brain to override what’s going on for the amygdala.

All you need to do are these simple things.

How the Brain Works

Remember this simple saying ‘low and slow’.

You want to do low and slow breathing the moment you feel stressed and under attack.

All you have to remember, low and slow.

Slow down your breathing, get yourself in control of the environment.This low and slow breathing also stimulates the vagus nerve.

Tools to Trick your Brain when dealing with an asshole at work

The other thing you can do is visualization. Use that prefrontal cortex to visualise a cylinder of protection around you and visualize those barbed words that are firing at you, bouncing off this cylinder of protection that’s around you.

What it does, is trick the amygdala.

Remember, the amygdala does not understand the difference between real and perceived threats, so the cylinder is a signal or a message that you’re sending to the amygdala, saying, “it’s OK, we are protected, we are guarded, and we are in control.”

Low and slow breathing and the cylinder visualization are two simple little things that will enable you to better control your energy in that moment when you feel like you’re being under attack from an asshole.

Using Active Listening Techniques to your Advantage

The next thing you need to do is practice active listening.

Now active listening is not just listening, not just hearing. Active listening is listening with your ears and listening with your eyes, watching what’s going on with that person, looking for all the signs and signals, and what’s happening in their environment.

Are they actually not managing well with their time?

Are they ill-equipped?

Are they taking it out on you because they’re out of control?

Are they stressed, overwhelmed, handing it back onto you with all of their tensions and stressors?

Perhaps they’re being passive, and aggressive so they’re not equipped with the skills and the ability to clearly communicate any issues they have with you? Instead, they’re using sarcasm, underhanded comments, side glances, eye rolls or eyebrow raisers.

What you need to do is really listen out for what that problem is and get very clear on it.

Now, if somebody is relaying all this information to you, the best thing you can do is take notes.

Remember, be in control of your energy. Listen and take notes of what they’re actually saying. If you can’t take notes, take mental notes. When all that information is out, then you have the ability to actually reframe what they have said.

You can say things like, “let me be clear, what you’re saying is this, this and this. Is this right?

If they’re being passive-aggressive, they’re not being clear.  We’ve all had somebody say to us at some point, “You’re not wearing that are you?” (It’s most likely to be your spouse or your partner that says it.) That’s a classic passive-aggressive comment.

You’ve probably reacted by saying: “What’s wrong with what I’m wearing? Don’t you like what I’m wearing? What don’t you like about it?”

Your immediate response is to get clear on what are they trying to say to you by that comment.

When somebody eye rolls, says an underhanded comment or says something that’s passive-aggressive, it’s an attack but unnoticeable or a bit sarcastic. Get clear. Say to them:

“What are you trying to say? Looks like you’re dissatisfied. Looks like you have an opinion on what I just said. Can I be clear on what that is?”

You want to bring it to the surface what it is they’re exactly telling you.


The next thing you can do is to detach.

Remove yourself from the person and focus more on the problem.

Detach from the emotion of what’s going on to help you be more objective.

Remember to use active listening, watching what’s going on for that person in their environment, listening to the words and getting clear on the passive-aggressive statements that they’re making.

From there, you can detach and observe what’s going on.

It’s really important that you communicate things without loaded emotion when you’re talking to somebody about the issue or the problem. I like to think of it like a police report. You’re just stating the facts, things as they are. Rather than saying things like, “I feel really overwhelmed and distressed and confused when you do this”.

You should want to say things like, “The method of communication we’re using to talk with each other are not working for me and I’m not finding it a productive method of communication.”

Make a Conscious Effort to Find a Solution

Then the next step is to be solution orientated. This is very important.

Dealing with this asshole at work has no point when you just fire them back with complaint. You want to be able to give them the preferred method of how you would like them to communicate or work with you. There is no point going to them saying, “this is wrong.” You need to be able to say:

“When this happens, this doesn’t work for me. What I would prefer next time, is if you did this, this and this.”

In this example, rather than using emotive language you are giving a solution to that person of how you would like them to work with you.

I like to think of it as help me help you.

“I want to work with you.“I want to be supportive. I want to do what you need from me, but you’ve got to help me out here.”

Dealing with those Who Judge and Criticise

Sometimes we have to deal with someone who is full of criticism, full of judgment, telling you everything you’ve done wrong or what you should be doing.

We all know someone who’s like that, and our immediate response is normally one of two ways.

We either go into defense mode justifying why we said that, why we took that course of action. We try and justify and defend our actions or our statements to the person that has criticised us.

The other option is to retreat. We start to apologize and be apologetic for our words and the actions.

“You’re right I’m wrong.“

I’m so bad I shouldn’t have done it.

“You’re right, I’ll do that next time.”

We either go into attack or retreat. Now, there’s this powerful option that neutralizes the situation. All you need to do is to state, in a very simple way without being sarcastic and without being loaded, “Thank you. Thanks for sharing.”

That’s it, because what you’re doing is acknowledging what they’ve said to you, but you’re not willing to take the conversation further. You’re not defending your actions, justifying, or responding to what they’ve said.

You’re simply acknowledging that you’ve heard them, thanking them for their contribution.

Be Assertive When Dealing with an Asshole at Work

Now, what you need to do to be able to manage an asshole at work is to develop some skills in assertiveness. I’m not talking about you being overly confident or being aggressive, and certainly not being passive.

That’s not what assertiveness is about.

Assertiveness is being able to communicate your wants and needs in a way that is emotionally intelligent and professional. It’s not loaded, it’s clearly communicating what your wants and needs in a healthy way.

So, we have a whole range of professional development skills in this area.

We do workshops and training and we’ve got resources, so if you want some more information, please reach out or comment below.








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About the Author

Barbara Clifford - The Time Tamer

Barbara Clifford (The Time Tamer) is a co-founder of The Hinwood Institute. She is the lead trainer and coach in Time Management. She is a recognized leader in Stress Management. An experienced coach, speaker, columnist and facilitator, Barbara’s work with The Hinwood Institute assists people to unclutter mess, make order from chaos, and swap the shackles of overwhelming for freedom. Barbara’s clients move from the relentless hamster wheel to waking inspired, motivated, making decisions with purpose and achieving peak performance. She lives in the desert of Alice Springs, Australia working with people around the country.

Her professional experience has included contracts with small business, Not For Profits, Aboriginal Organisations, Media, Marketing, Aged Care, Universities, Health Services and Cruise Ships


  • Low and slow breathing
  • Use the cylinder tool
  • Listen Actively
  • Remove yourself from the person and focus more on the problem


  • Go into defense mode to justify what you said
  • Use emotive language against the person you’re dealing with
  • Make excuses or be apologetic

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