How to deal with an office jerk

Have you ever been plagued by someone who is "just kidding" all the time? Or "that's just how he is"? It drives me nuts. It probably drives you nuts. I received this email from a reader with this type of coworker. He writes:
There is this guy at work who is always in a bad mood and rude. He says things to you like, "Shut up" or "You're fired" but in a non-joking way. He is a colleague and not management. He gets away with that because it's his "personality" and some people laugh at it sometimes, except me. When he isn't so blatant his tone of voice is rather unpleasant as well. I think he gets away with it because it chalks it up to "joking." A few of my former seasoned colleagues suggested calling out his behavior and addressing that I ask him to stop, etc. How does one do this without making it a big deal? For instance, let's say he said nothing rude but it was just his delivery?
Dealing with this is necessary and it is critical to do so without making a big deal because if you do, then suddenly, you're the one with the problem. Right? The thing is, people who speak like this are jerks and jerks have no problem continuing to be jerks. 

So what do you do? I'm going with this letter writer's seasoned colleagues and say, "Call him out." People are jerks because they can be. They get benefits from it. It gives them a feeling of power when everyone else tip-toes around them. So, the key is to stop tip-toeing.

First of all, no one deserves to be treated like this. It's not illegal behavior, though, unless it's based on race/gender/religion/age or other status protected by law. But legal doesn't equal good or moral, so, if you find yourself in a situation where someone is always rudely "joking" with you, here's how to put a stop to it.

1. Respond literally. So when your jerk of a coworker says, "You're fired!" look puzzled, "I didn't think you had hire/fire authority over me, Bob. Did [manager] tell you to fire me?" The person will respond, "Geez, can't you take a joke?" to which you respond, "Why on earth would anyone joke about something so serious? That's really mean."

2. Walk away. When the "joking" starts, get up and walk out. Unless the jokester is in your office/cube, in which case you say, "You need to leave, now." And then, if you're one of the few with an office door, get up, open the door, and show him out.

3. Question his methods. "Why would you say that?" and don't let him walk away without an answer. When he claims to be just joking counter with, "No, jokes are funny. This is not funny. Why on earth would you say that to me?"

4. Bring the manager into it. This isn't the first step, as managers don't relish playing babysitter, but in reality, babysitting is part of the job description for managers. Be matter-of-fact about it with your babysitter. If you start crying or something, your boss won't take it seriously, and you will look like you're the problem. Instead, explain the situation, and what you're going to do about it. "Bob is constantly making rude and inappropriate statements, and I'm not going to put up with it any more. I wanted to let you know, in case Bob complains, that I'm going to walk away from him when he speaks rudely to me. I'm a team player and I'm happy to work with Bob, but I refuse to be treated poorly." If your manager starts to defend Bob, then ask, "Why is he allowed to treat people rudely, but I'm not supposed to walk away?" Any manager who continues to defend Bob's actions is a bad manager.

5. Consider that you are a bit too sensitive. Each situation is different. But, expecting people to always be perfectly polite and proper is a bit presumptuous. If no one else seems bothered by someone's behavior, you may be too sensitive. This doesn't mean you deserve to be treated poorly, but it means your bar of what "poor" is, is too low. So, there is some sucking it up that you need to do.

6. Look for a new job. This may seem dramatic and it probably is, if you only have one coworker with this attitude. But, if your manager is the jokester, or several people have picked up on it, or the environment is just miserable, it's time to move on. So many people remain devoted to jobs that are  horrible rather than looking for a new job. Don't quit without a new job lined up, of course, but start looking to move on. 

Have a workplace dilemma? Send your questions to