My first reaction upon reading this article about jerks in the workplace is how fortunate I’ve been in my professional life. I’ve never had a bad boss, going all the way back to my student days. There’s not a one I can think of that I wouldn’t work for again. Heck, I’ve never even had a problem with a grandboss or a great-grandboss. Yes, I know how lucky that makes me.
Reading through the Q&A with Workplace Jerk expert Robert Sutton, I was struck by the following:
Q: First, let’s define who we’re talking about. You define work jerks as people who pick on those beneath them and leave others feeling belittled and sapped of energy. What are some other signs?
A: To me, the main sign of someone who’s a certified jerk is someone who leaves a trail of people feeling demeaned and de-energized. It tends to be more often associated with power dynamics — they kiss-up to those above them and kick down those beneath them. About a third of the time, bullying is peer on peer.
Is it just me, or does that “main sign” describe a nontrivial number of people that one unfortunately tends to encounter in various Internet fora, including some blog comment threads (not this one, I hope). Call them what you will – jerks, bullies, trolls, and so on – but it’s the same thing in a different venue. And the effect is just as enervating and poisonous. I’ve personally experienced the death of more than one mailing list due to this phenomenon. And the answer for that situation is the same as what Sutton proposes for the workplace: Having a powerful culture is very important, one where being a jerk brings consequences. Easier said than done, but a little work done up front to allow for a means of dishing out those consequences can go a long way.