Here’s how to be a ‘jackass whisperer’ at work and stop the negativity for good

Back in the early 2000s (flashes Gen X symbol, too small for Boomers to see without their reading glasses), Scott was working at his second job as a sales trainer for a packaging company. It was a pretty sweet gig. He traveled around North America training people to sell bubble wrap. We aren’t talking quick Skype sessions or anything — these were three-day training sessions on how to sell air.

His yearly evaluation was coming up, and he was pretty sure trouble was on its way. He wasn’t exactly the definition of a good employee.

Before the evaluation, he called home to let everyone know he’d likely be home early, and possibly unemployed. The time came, and he sat down across from his boss, ready to pack up his desk and thank him for the opportunity when his boss surprisingly told him the year had gone great and offered him a $5,000 raise.

After the shock of the evaluation, Scott went back to his desk and drafted an email home:

Not only did I not get fired, I got a raise! It’s going to be hard to do less this coming year, but I’m going to give it a shot! I work for idiots.

And then he sent the email. To his boss.

A wave of panic came over him as he searched for the “unsend” button of his dreams, wildly pinching the cords coming out of the desktop. He worked literally twice as hard to stop the send as he had the entire last year at work.

Scott’s boss walked by his office a few moments later and told him it was probably the funniest email he’d ever seen, and wished him a good weekend.

Yadda, yadda, yadda … Scott started his own business. Entrepreneur, after all, is Latin for “bad employee.”

Our workplaces are filled with jackasses. Some of them slack off, expecting to be fired, only to get raises, and then email their bosses about being idiots. When you put a lot of humans into one space, jackasses happen. It’s just science. There are loud typers and sniffers, overzealous meeting holders and contributors. There are slackers, and those who never make more coffee or add more paper to the printer. Someone in every office mispronounces and misuses words, or uses jargon with such confidence they may as well just walk up to a chalkboard and have at it with their nails. When people share a microwave, things get real. That’s work.

Years of extensive jackass research has shown us that the first step to not being the jackass at work is to realize that we are all the jackass from time to time. How we react to the day-to-day frustrations at the office shape the way we interact, and — most importantly — whether we pay the jackassery of Carol with her loud phone calls and her microwave tuna forward. We all need to be jackass whisperers — snuffing out the purveyors of pet peeves before their attitudes spread.

For example, let’s meet two of our favorite work jackasses: Long-Weekend Larry and Infectious Ian. For each one, we’ll give you two possible reactions — the jackass reaction, which pays the negativity forward, and the whisperer reaction, which stops the spread.

Long-Weekend Larry

This jackass has actually come down with a case of the Mondays, a little too conveniently taking sick days to extend their weekends and long weekends. So frequently, in fact, that you’ve come to expect the call. Their absence puts an unfair burden on those they work with, work for, and manage.

Jackass reaction: You choreograph an office-wide discussion about just how epic Monday was at work, to be performed each and every Tuesday. Include comments about bonus checks, free donuts, and pajama day attire.

Whisperer reaction: If this is your employee, you give it to them straight and privately let them know the pattern has been noted and won’t be acceptable going forward. Mondays come each and every week, and you’ll expect to see them bright and early, ready to work. If this is your coworker or manager, you file a complaint and let their manager speak to them. It’s not your job to babysit them, but it isn’t your job to take up their slack either.

Infectious Ian

Even though this jackass has the flu, they’ve decided to martyr themselves (and apparently you as well) and show up to work weak, red-faced, and sneezing. They think it makes them look dedicated, but it actually makes them look like a selfish jackass.

Jackass reaction: There are a few ways you could go here, depending on the strength of your immune system. You could approach the martyr, doing your best impression of the close talker from “Seinfeld,” wait for the apex of their sneeze, and, as their mouth opens wide, cough right into it. Then run away apologizing for the tuberculosis they now have to be vaccinated against. Another option is wearing a hazmat suit like Dustin Hoffman in “Outbreak” or Brad Pitt in “World War Z.”

Whisperer reaction: You’d rather deal with the sick martyr than Joe in accounting who gets the “flu” every long weekend. You keep your distance, wash your hands frequently, and eat your vegetables.

We’re all the jackass and we’re also all the whisperer, and sometimes the difference between the two is a cup of coffee and a well-timed commute into work. It’s that easy. Say kind things to others, be considerate of their time, and share space more often than you share your own opinion.

For more jackasses and reactions, at work, at home, and on the road, check out “The Jackass Whisperer” by Scott and Alison. You can also submit your favorite (or not so favorite) jackasses at or email them to [email protected].

Scott and Alison Stratten (Toronto, ON, Canada) are co-authors of five (soon to be six) best-selling business books, co-owners of UnMarketing Inc., and cohosts of not only The UnPodcast, but five children, three dogs, and one cat. UnMarketing, the show, and the books all represent their thoughts on the changing world of business through their experiences of entrepreneurship, two degrees (Alison), not lasting long as an employee (both), and screaming at audiences around the world (Scott, Alison is more polite). They were put on this earth to remind the world that not all Canadians are passively polite. Businesses like PepsiCo, Saks Fifth Avenue, IBM, Cirque du Soleil, Microsoft, and others have been brave enough to want their advice. They now spend their time keynoting around the world and realize they rank tenth and eleventh in order of importance in their home. Oh, and they met on Twitter. How’s that for ROI?

This article first appeared on Business Insider.