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Dealing with a Real Jerk

Mar 2nd, 2015 | paul.sylvester@ps363.com

In my last post, I suggested some ways to improve your relationships through a better understanding of the most common behavior profiles. But what do you do when you are forced to interact with a real “jerk”? I’m not talking about someone who is having a bad day. Most of us have had moments when we acted like a jerk. I’m referring to chronic jerks. We all know one—that special someone who is never happy, always critical, has unrealistic expectations and, worst of all, seems to enjoy making you and others miserable, or at least shows no remorse about his or her bad behavior.

So, what do you do about it? If you are dealing with a jerk, you’re going to have very little influence over his or her behavior. The only behavior you have control over is your own. Your only option is to remove the jerk from your circle of influence. If you are in a relationship with a jerk, break it off. If you are working for a real jerk, quit. If the jerk is a family member, eliminate your interaction. I know, you are probably thinking, “It’s not that easy.” You are right. Situations like this are rarely cut and dry.

When is enough, enough?

In my coaching sessions, I’ve heard a number of horror stories regarding jerks (usually a boss or someone in a position of power). The conversation often leads to the question, “When is enough, enough?” The answer is: the moment you ask that question. I’ve heard things like, “But I can’t just quit! I need the job,” and “But we’ve been together for years!” These are excuses we give ourselves for being afraid of change. Again, I return to the fact that you cannot change the jerk’s behavior; you can only change your own. The jerk’s behavior has tremendous negative impact on you, so how can change be any worse than what you’re already dealing with?

Real Jerks Are Rare, but Acts of Incivility Are Not

The good news is there are relatively few real, chronic jerks out there. The bad news is run-of-the-mill “jerkiness” is rampant.  In the home, at school, at work and throughout cyberspace, people are terribly uncivil, and it can have a profound impact on you. In addition to affecting your productivity and general satisfaction, the bad behavior will likely cause you to retaliate against the offender (94% of us do). Uh oh, now you are being a jerk!  You can read more about this statistic and other impacts of incivility in my white paper based on the book, The Cost of Bad Behavior, by Christine Pearson and Christine Porath. The paper also outlines a number of ways to combat the behavior in the workplace.

Download The Cost of Bad Behavior White Paper

To sum up, if you are dealing with a real jerk, stop! Remove the jerk from your circle of influence, now. If you’re dealing with some “jerk-ish” behavior (a.k.a. incivility), there might be a few things you can do to improve the situation and you can read about it here.