jerks-cartoonI read a great article by David Walsh called, “I’m Done Working with Jerks.” All I can think is, “Aren’t we all?” Wouldn’t you love a day, a week, a year of never having to work with jerks ever again?

Well folks, good luck—because, guess what? In case you haven’t noticed, the world is filled with jerks. There is no question about that. The real question is, are you one of them?

Recognizing Jerks

So how do you recognize a jerk? Most of us can answer this question in our unique way, but let’s agree upon a definition for the purposes of this post.

First, we need to define the term: A jerk is a person who inflicts problems on the lives and work of others with their behavior. They can be either unaware of their problems and don’t change them or, are aware of their problems and don’t want to change them.

What are some characteristic behaviors that jerks may exhibit? I have compiled a list.

Characteristic Behaviors of a Jerk:

  • Puts down others in almost every contact with one or more of the following: Cruel sarcasm, direct insults, rude behavior, and lack of consideration for others.
  • Possesses less than inviting personal characteristics, including but not limited to: bad breath, body odor, greasy hair and/or powdery proof of dandruff on the collar.
  • Resists eye contact, continuously scanning the room to identify someone more important than you to talk to; or provides intermittent eye contact, which translates to, “You might be important so I’ll pay a little attention.”
  • Ignores or is unaware of personal boundaries, so he or she may stand too close, touch others too much, and too often
  • Talks incessantly while never asking questions, or worse, asks too many intrusive questions
  • Interrupts frequently
  • Answers a question with a pat answer, therefore not answering your question at all
  • Sells constantly, always pressing for the deal
  • Always makes it clear that she/he knows more than everyone else, and by implication, that everyone else around is pretty stupid

I realize this list is neither comprehensive nor compulsive. You may have additions of your own!

Dealing with Jerks

So here’s the question: When is a jerk one that you have to put up with…and when is a jerk one that you can do something about?

First off, is there any jerk you HAVE to put up with? My answer is no. If you have done everything you can think of to address the behavior, and then, again, NO. Try to address the problem but if nothing changes, then look for a different job and get out!

Maybe you think you can’t leave? Yes, you can! Maybe you are married to a jerk? Try to resolve the problem and if you can’t, leave. When you think you can’t, remember this: Yes you can! The longer you stay, the more you authorize another person to abuse you with his or her jerkiness—and in some cases, to become the worst of all: the physical and/or emotionally abusive jerk.

Whether you work with one or one works for you or, you have a neighbor or a spouse that is a jerk, the solution is the same. All of us have choices about who we live with, spend time with, work with, work for…the list here can be endless, really. If you stay in a situation where a jerk dominates your life, you have given up your life.

It all comes back to the three choices we all have when confronted with a problem in our relationship. You can choose to:

  1. Fix it: Diplomatically as possible address the offensive behavior and try to come to an understanding about a mutually beneficial solution.
  2. Live with it: Ignore the behavior to the best of your ability and rise above it.
  3. Leave: Get away from the jerk…as soon as possible.

The Leader’s Role in Jerkdom

Leaders have a special responsibility as it pertains to jerks. If you are a leader and you have jerks in your organization, shame on you. Jerks who abuse others in any way should not be tolerated or allowed to continue in the workplace. If you are allowing them to be jerks at work, then they either intimidate you, have information on you that you are afraid will be revealed, or you are weak.

Worse than that, you will be perceived as practicing “double speak”—i.e., requiring everyone in the organization to be respectful, except the jerk. As a leader in your organization, it is your job to help control the behaviors that are disruptive to a cohesive work environment. If you suffer a jerk to thrive on your staff with his or jerkiness, then you are a jerk yourself.

Walsh admits that it took him a while to realize that he was no longer going to allow jerks to ruin his work experience. He listed what he considered jerky behavior that he would no longer tolerate. He also embraced his “No Jerks” policy at this point in his career.

I find this technique to be important to leaders everywhere. Deciding how to recognize a jerk is important; deciding how to manage them is even more important. Otherwise, you are just one of the jerks yourself.

So, I ask you leaders, what role are you playing in allowing jerks to carry on, unchallenged?

Worse, are you one of them?