"When the student is ready, the teacher will appear."
"When the workplace student is ready, the teacher who appears may be an asshole."
Guess which quote is from Queens, NY, like me?
The other source is Buddha, of course.
I'd like to thank Bob Sutton (author of the great workplace tome, The No-Asshole Rule) for helping me to express myself more authentically as a professional. As Sutton asserts in his book and elsewhere, the word "jerk" doesn't quite capture the visceral experience of working with an asshole.
But what the hell do I mean?
That the assholes you encounter in the workplace are, more often than not, the teachers / gurus in your path to career excellence and success.
That the asshole who tries to demean you publicly in front of a large meeting can be a test of your belief in your talent, developing your resilency, diplomacy and leadership: if you Keep Calm and Carry On, there's very little an asshole can latch on to, and they more often then not will, eventually, move on. If they don't move on, you may need to move on: only you know the limits of your stress tolerance and the standards for the quality of the work life you envision.
That the asshole who once tried to demean you may become your subordinate, and you can coach them towards compassion: and if that fails to work, you can make them available to industry. Sometimes time and consequences heal assholes, sometimes not.
That the asshole who tries to keep you out of the loop as punishment or power play, can be a test of how you can stay centered, continually discover your empathy for them and keep them completely in the loop in return.
That the asshole who gossips about and bad-mouths you in an attempt to destroy your reputation is actually extremely hurt and wounded themselves, and that their venom usually backfires into their own public substandard performance review. And that the compassion (and even love) you discover and display for the asshole can heal the world, one asshole at a time.
That the asshole who tries to bait you into a conflict to embarrass you publicly teaches you to more carefully choose your battles (e.g., how important is it) and to stand up factually, professional and functionally when it is a conflict worthy of your time, attention and talent.
That when the asshole has nothing left in their arsenal to hurt you, then they may be ready for a conversation where you are the teacher and they are the student (if they're ready and willing to listen). Time can sometimes be the universal asshole-healer.
For as I learned as a diversity trainer and as a mediator: meet ignorance with compassion; be prepared to be the teacher of inclusion; and keep your courage up to discover the real needs under the yelling of the asshole.
Oh, and the most important learning of all: don't let the assholes get you down at work; and don't become an asshole yourself to survive.
In that way, you are not only the eternal student of career success, but also the advocate of peace at work: one asshole learning-opportunity at a time.