Saturday, April 5, 2008

A Jerk is a Jerk is a Jerk

Now that would seem obvious. Why isn’t it? In a world that claims that there are no absolutes, believe me, there are absolutes. Newtonian physics is not cancelled out by Einstein’s theory of relativity, especially if you hit a tree at one hundred miles an hour in your car.

When it comes to jerks, I am reminded of that cartoon about two guys standing in a pot surrounded by cannibals. The caption reads “It doesn’t help to add more salt once you’ve crapped in the soup.”

Why do I bring this up? Well, I’ve been reading some blogs lately that say that one jerk in the workplace may be a good thing. The argument goes that some people are indispensable, that it is impossible to find enough reasonable people, and that one jerk will help keep everyone else on their toes.

There is an interesting book called The "No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One that Isn’t," written by Robert Sutton a professor at the Stanford School of Engineering and the founder and co-director of Stanford’s Center for work. He points out that there is a calculated “total cost of assholes” and it is surprisingly high, plus it is almost impossible to enforce a civility rule with one asshole (or jerk) in the workplace.

I have often wondered why there is such great tolerance for jerks. I think one of the reasons is that a lot of jerks have money and we have an almost irrational appreciation for conspicuous consumption. We tend to forgive people with wealth and give them credit for virtues that are conspicuously lacking. They also tend to like the attention and they get a lot of press. For every Warren Buffet, a reasonable man, there seems to be ten Donald Trumps. I like to refer to this as the jerk or asshole halo effect.

But let’s look a little closer at the behavior of the office jerk. Mark I. Schickman, in his review of the aforementioned book, says that jerks “take credit for other people’s work. They manage expectations by making employees feel bad about themselves. They have the laser-like ability to find the weakest, most insecure people and focus their aggression on them. The symptomatic behaviors include insults, threats, teasing, shaming and ostracizing.”

Do you want to have even one jerk in your workplace? Shouldn’t it be a primary function of bosses and HR to keep these people away from the rest of us? I am reminded of the Tylenol scare of a few years ago. Some nut was putting poison in Tylenol. It would have been unthinkable to say it was only a few poison capsules in millions and millions of bottles. Come on folks, end the suffering. Screen for jerks and assholes. See


Biz Patriot said...

DR. Paulson,

I enjoy your wit, and insightful wisdom. However, your assertion that Warren Buffet is somehow reasonable because he has progressively moved to the extreme left of the years is somewhat off base. I find is positions of guilt as he stares mortality in the face a bit disingenuous. Donald Trump may be flamboyant, and a bit over the top, but he is at least honest about who he is.

I find your materials to be spot on, keep up the good work

Dale Paulson said...

Dear Biz Patriot,

You could be right about Warren, but he seems to be such a loveable old coot that it is difficult to dislike him. Donald Trump on the other hand--well what can I say. Neither one of these is likely to take my workplace attitudes test so I guess I'll never know.

Thanks for the comment.