Do You Work with Crazy People?

I do!

Do you work with crazy people Messy MoneySometimes we are faced with personality conflicts, dramas, politics and uncomfortable situations at work.  It can be hard to know how to navigate these sticky situations, and they can escalate and take on a life all of their own.  It can make our work lives painful and even worse we can take these problems home with us and carry them around into our personal lives.

Queue Dr. Bernstein.

Browsing at the library, I came across his book Am I The Only Sane One Working Here?: 101 Solutions for Surviving Office Insanity and I am now recommending this book to EVERYONE.  He offers no-nonsense suggestions for all sorts of awkward situations that we may experience at work. He DOES NOT suggest that you document all the (real or perceived) ill-treatment you are subjected to, call the HR department, file a grievance, contact a lawyer for those run of the mill irritants we experience every day.

*(He does however acknowledge that there are some situations that go beyond irritating such as harassment or threats to your personal safety and these DO need a different approach but we are not talking about those here).

His advice in a nutshell — “Suck it up buttercup. You might be working with a jerk.  And guess what?  Sometimes you are jerk too.”  (My words not his).

For some people that is not enough. They need to understand why people can be so difficult.  Dr. Bernstein has the answer……

It’s Fear.


When you encounter a situation or coworker that is annoying, upsetting or difficult, understand that there is a very high probability that their behavior is driven from their own fear.  People will go to great lengths to avoid the things they fear and once you apply that lens to the situation things start to look and feel very different.  Sometimes I even find myself closing my eyes, taking a deep breath and saying to myself,  “They are afraid, they are afraid.  They know not what they do, because they are afraid.  They are operating from a place of fear.”  It helps.

So now, rather than hiding my muffled screams of frustration in the supply closet,  I try to understand what it is they might be afraid of.  Are they worried about:

  • Loss of status
  • failure
  • appearing foolish or incompetent
  • change
  • competition
  • making a mistake
  • the unknown
  • other?

If I can understand what they are afraid of I can help change the situation.  It means listening to them and probing. It means being open and honest and trying to understand what it is they need.  Can I help?  Do they need more information?  Do they have the tools/training/time/ support they need to succeed?  Has a similar situation gone badly in the past, and they are afraid of it happening again?

Once I started to examine the sources of my co-workers’ fears and my ownwork suddenly started to feel a little less insane and a lot more humane.

Do you work with crazy people?

brokeGIRLrich

35 Comments


    1. Glad to hear it – you are lucky. Thanks for visiting.

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  1. Ha, I could go on and on about the nuts I worked with. One boss was paranoid, so he would spy on us (literally follow us around and peek around walls) to see who we were talking to. He would instruct us not to share information with others at the company. I had no respect for him, so I paid little attention to his ridiculous demands. He was canned in short order, so sometimes, the ones who deserve it really do get it!
    Mr. 1500 recently posted…Thursday Rant: SpongeSister Strikes AgainMy Profile

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    1. I hope you do on about them. More rants please. Thanks for coming by. I am enjoyed the stories about your siblings. They sound very similar to mine.

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  2. Yes, I work in academia, so everyone is a bit weird, or eccentric, and a few of them are flat out crazy. I just go with it as much as I can, but man…! I wonder if that means I am crazy too…
    Alicia recently posted…Bizarre Line Of Credit CalculationsMy Profile

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  3. I work from home. A one man band. So I definitely work with a crazy person. Oh, wait. That would make me the crazy person. Sigh.

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    1. LOL! Yep sometimes we are the crazy person we work with.

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  4. Sounds like something that Mel Brooks said in his interviews with Carl Reiner as The 2000 Year Old Man. He said everything that cave men did was motivated by fear and then launched into a song about a lion biting his foot off and wanting someone to call the cops. Too funny. But yeah, everyone trying to maintain their power base. Sucks. You’ve actually reminded me that I’ve got it pretty good these days working mostly independently, but still having to rely on some people. Just seems like I don’t work with many crazy people anymore or maybe I just got used to them or they left crazy me alone.
    debt debs recently posted…Financial Mistakes of the Worst KindMy Profile

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    1. We can all be cave men if situation triggers it. I wonder if that interview is on YouTube? Glad to see low crazy quotient for you at work right now.

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  5. This sounds like great advice! Love the “you might be a jerk sometimes too”–that’s a good reminder. I think I need to read this book, thanks for sharing 🙂
    Mrs. Frugalwoods recently posted…August 2014 ExpendituresMy Profile

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    1. Thanks for comment and stopping by. Congrats on being a finalist for Plutus awards. Exciting times!

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  6. Interesting, I’ve never heard of that book… but I can definitely see it’s value! I work with some not-sane people, but thankfully they are a little bit removed from my day-to-day. Your point about “do they need information” is so, so key to a lot of problems in the workplace!
    Thanks for the recommendation.
    Anne @ Money Propeller recently posted…Jet Setter Interview – Karen of MakintheBaconMy Profile

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    1. Thanks for your comment. It is a great book – not like some of the others I have read. Practical and about de escalating issues.

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    1. You are lucky. But like I said to NMW – crazy can keep work spicy.

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  7. This sounds like a GREAT book, I need to check it out! I have a particularly difficult coworker but, reading your review, he may just be afraid of his loss of status. I’m a practical person, so most of me just wants to say, ‘DEAL WITH IT. You need to cross train, you can’t be the only person who knows this program!’, but I guess I have to figure out how to handle his fear :-/

    Thanks for the review!
    Melissa @ Sunburnt Saver recently posted…Link Love Saturday!My Profile

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    1. Apparently the engineers at a French cigarette manufacturing company burned all the maintenance manuals and schematics for the manufacturing equipment so that they could never be replaced. It worked so maybe your co-worker is on to something. It’s wrong though – people are never irreplaceable at work. Thanks for your comment.

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  8. Thankfully most of my co-workers don’t act insane or crazy, but most of them do have their own little weird quirks – I probably have some too though.

    It’s obvious that a lot of people start acting very defensive to the point they become crazy when they are pushed outside their comfort zone. The only solution to that is to support them and show them they’re going to be fine.

    Great post! If everyone applied the technique above, work would be a lot more enjoyable to most of us.
    No More Waffles recently posted…Savings Rate for August 2014My Profile

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    1. You are lucky! But sometimes the insanity can make work more interesting. Thanks for visiting.

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  9. Along the same lines I feel is ‘The Chimp Paradox’ by Steve Peters.

    Now, whenever my colleagues start acting ‘insane’, I see it as their ‘Chimp’ taking over (getting all emotional), so I try to react accordingly (which means not letting my ‘Chimp’ getting upset!)

    I must admit that since I’ve read the book, it’s made me stop and think and I get less annoyed these days!
    weenie recently posted…August 2014 Savings and Other StuffMy Profile

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    1. Thanks for your comment. I will see if I can find that book – it sounds good.

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  10. Thanks for posting… I’m definitely adding that to my to-read list! The insight about fear is good and so so true (at least from what I’ve seen).

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    1. Thanks for visiting. His book was great – he has a few more that have great reviews and I am adding them to my reading list.

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    1. Thanks Monica. Yes, sticky work situations can add unnecessary stress.

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    1. maybe – he does have info on how to deal with all sorts of different people – the hypochondriacs, the depressed etc. I get it though – there are days I want to poke my own eyeballs out with a pencil or just bang my head on my desk. The fear approach has helped though. Thanks for hosting #finsavsat. I need to come visit and catch up with the party goers.

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    1. Oh my heart goes out to you. You may need more than one book for that I am afraid.

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  11. Hmmm… Interesting book. I’d like to apply the “fear” lens to my work but I can’t get past some perceived sexism. So maybe they are afraid of a woman? That I’ll show them a woman can actually be smart? Doesn’t make me feel better about them 😉
    Kirsten recently posted…Success Story Saturday and the 5 (6?) F’sMy Profile

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    1. Oh sorry you have to deal with those issues. If you have a woman’s network at your work – that may be a place to find helpful advice – if not there may be an active one in your industry. We have a very strong group where I work and it can be helpful to have mentors that have already started to blaze a trail where sexism is concerned.

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