Last week I met a friend for lunch. She arrived at the restaurant visibly upset. She apologized to me and said she just needed 5 minutes to calm down. I asked her “what was up?” She rolled her eyes and said, “there’s this a–hole at work…” I swear this wasn’t staged. She didn’t know the name or even the topic of my book. You see, the working title for my book was Thrive Despite the A–holes@Work. My friend’s admission that she had an a–hole@work occurred conveniently while I was in the midst of trying to figure out the best book title. Was the word ‘a–hole’ too negative? Is it more harsh than I intended? Does it sound like name calling? In reality, my book is predominantly about solutions not complaints. Will that message get lost if ‘a–hole’ is in the title?

The struggle is that there is no good synonym for the word ‘a–hole’.

I could have called my book Effectively Dealing with Challenging Personalities in the Workplace but that sounds like an online HR course that was vetted by communications specialists, Corporate gatekeepers and a team of employment lawyers. That’s not what I want. I want to keep it real. The scene that played out with my friend at lunch has played out for me many times. Each time it’s a different friend or colleague. Sometimes it happens over lunch, but sometimes it’s dinner, coffee or a drink. No one has ever before used the exact phrase a–hole@work but a story about an arch nemesis at work invariably pops up in conversation.

This has been happening for years but I only started to really pay attention this year while writing the book. This experience appears to be almost universal. Even if someone isn’t experiencing a challenging work relationship today, they’ve definitely dealt with it in the past and can relate.

I am not a gratuitous swear-er but I swear. I don’t swear ‘at’ people…unless provoked. I do, however, swear about situations. I swear when I’m happy. I swear when I’m sad. I swear when it’s apparent the person driving in front of me purchased their license online. I swear when all the traffic lights conspire to make me late.

The F-word is one of my ‘go to’ words. I like to be efficient with language.
Why would I use 6 words when one well-chosen 4-lettered word makes my point clearly and colourfully.

I will never forget a meeting I participated in with a senior executive in an organization I was consulting with. The executive team had decided they should exit their relationship with a large service provider due to a plethora of issues and frustrations that were deemed to be intolerable. The project lead decided, prior to getting down to the work of terminating the relationship, that it would be a good idea to run some scenarios to see if exiting the relationship was the most financially prudent choice or if there were other options to modify and maintain the relationship.

The project lead didn’t understand that the relationship between these two organizations was the equivalent of a bad marriage with irreconcilable differences. The executive team wasn’t interested in other scenarios. There would be no relationship rehab. When the senior executive realized that time was being spent assessing how to repair the relationship between the two organizations rather than focusing on the most expedient exit he explained 1) reconciliation was not possible, 2) an exit plan needed to be pursued expeditiously, 3) he was very unhappy that time had been wasted pursuing alternate options and finally 4) there would be serious consequences if there were further delays. The brilliant thing is that this articulate and eloquent executive relayed all of that information and context using 5 one-syllable words. It was one of the most clear, concise and colourful communications I’ve ever witnessed. He kept it real.

I want to keep it real with my book title.

My book is about sharing practical, simple strategies around handling difficult personalities at work. In her book Happiness at Work, Jessica Pryce-Jones calculated that we spend over 90,000 hours at work during our lifetime. I’ve experienced challenging personalities at work becoming larger than life. I’ve had periods of time when a dark shadow was cast over my work life. My stress levels went up and my energy level went down. In my book, I also point out, ironically, that we are often the source of our own stress and we need to hold ourselves accountable for our attitudes and behaviours before we can attempt to hold others accountable.

I chose to take my friend’s declaration at lunch that she had an a–hole@work as a sign that I need to stop looking for alternate titles. The decision was made. My book is titled “Thrive Despite the A–holes@Work: How to manage yourself so you do your best work regardless of your work environment”. The paperback is currently available on Amazon and the audiobook launches April 29th. (Dionne: add a link to book)

By Dionne England – Published Author

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