We’ve all known this person at work. The one who speaks Buzzword as a first language. The person who talks in circles until we agree with them just to end the conversation. The one who has the clients nodding and your teammates worshipping at their feet without actually doing much of anything.
The one who infuriates and somehow intimidates us because sometimes, we wonder if they might actually be as superior as they think they are.
If you don’t know this person, it’s possible you are that person. If you do know this person, you’re likely annoyed by how much they consume your thoughts. But as long as companies exist, so will the bullshitter. So it’s time we learned how to handle them.
Look beyond the bullshit
I’ve read that most “mean” people aren’t actually mean at their core. They’re anxious. A bullshitter isn’t necessarily mean, but I suspect the same rule applies here. Someone who feels the need to boast or speak in impressive terms is overcompensating for anxiety. A person who is confident in their knowledge doesn’t feel the need to prove anything, but someone who’s unsure and insecure doesn’t have that privilege. Recognizing this gives me more empathy and patience for a bullshitter. We all have our anxieties. This is how they are dealing with theirs.
Rephrase and repeat it back
When a bullshitter rattles off some unintelligible line you can’t begin to understand, repeat it back to them. Allow them to hear how their words sound coming from someone else. Don’t do this in a mocking way. Simply restate the sentence to clarify it, or if you can’t make sense of any of it, try your best guess in your own words.
Never make assumptions for fear of looking stupid. Don’t let a person talk you in circles. Instead, keep the communication open and moving forward. In contrast to the bullshitter, become the person in the office known for being straightforward and honest.
The bullshitter may want you to believe they have a leg up but chances are if you smell bullshit, others do too. Even if they’ve got everyone fooled and the boss eating out of their hand, observe the bullshitter and you will see confusion and chaos usually follow them. People may try to play their game, but it’s a complicated one with no real rules.
That doesn’t mean you should start a whisper campaign against this person, but remembering this truth can give you peace and perspective.
Learn from them
You have to give some credit to the bullshitter. They are so self-assured, or at least appear to be, that it often plays in their favor. People are drawn to confidence and tend to trust it – even when there’s nothing to back it up.
As creative people, we need to have some level of blind confidence in ourselves and our work. The competition is so great and the standard so high, we would give in to imposter syndrome and comparison otherwise. Blind confidence allows us to get out of bed in the morning and create. To take on challenges we might not even be qualified to do. To learn how to do them.
Take a tip from the bullshitter and lean into that blind confidence just a little bit. You can still be self-aware and humble as you do so. But a little bit of foolish faith in yourself is healthy.
Ask the simple question we all want to ask
When in doubt, simply ask the bullshitter: What do you mean?
It’s unlikely this person hears that question often and it may stop them in their tracks. Most of us pretend we understand even when we don’t, which only causes miscommunication and problems later. Gently and kindly ask the person to explain themselves. Simple as that.
For the most part, we can't control how other people behave at work. We can control the way we respond to them. Instead of fuming and internalizing, remember that the bullshitter, as much as they'd like you to believe otherwise, is a flawed person like the rest of us.
Hi, I'm Tobias, a German designer living in New York. I'm the author of this blog, nice to meet you!