Most of us worked with people or reported to managers who acted as jerks. Most of us hated these interactions and couldn’t understand why would anyone act in such antisocial, immoral, or abusive ways. In Why Good Employees Become Bad Managers I talked about how great employees can turn into bad managers. I talked about the most common causes and some tricks how to prevent such situations. But when we are moralizing about others have we looked into mirror lately? Are we sure that we ourselves don’t act as jerks?
Recently, I found myself in couple of situations that made me consider some of my own actions that could be seen by others in rather bad light and it made me realize that each of us can turn bad rather easily. So what are the things to watch for in your daily interaction to make sure you don’t act as a jerk?
Sometimes we act unjustly without wanting to or without even realizing. Very often the culprit is called confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is a great tool our brain shields us from too much confusion and from coping with being wrong by allowing us to see only the evidence which proves that we are right. That is what makes it so different form other biases. It is always here and totally invisible to the outside world and to big extent even to us. There are several aspects of this particular bias:
- Search – the brain accepts only data that supports our view and ignores the ones that could contradict it
- Interpretation – the brain interprets any given data through the lenses of us being right in the first place
- Memory – the brain will let us remember things that support our argument and forgets those that don’t
This all in the name of our need of being right. It is a useful tool for helping us cope with cognitive dissonance and reconcile any disharmony between our thoughts, words, actions, and environment. However, it is a killer when we are in the business of managing and leading people. Why? Because it prevents us from seeing all points of views, all sides of arguments, all options without taking pre-set sides. It prevents us from really listening and generally makes jerks of us. The way to fight this bias is to force ourselves to listen. Truly listen.
I today’s world we are busy all the time. In the heat of our daily busyness, we may forget some of the basics that makes us decent human beings. Have you ever thought or even said aloud some of these sentences?
- I don’t have time to notice – we are being too busy not notice how we impact other people around us
- I don’t have time to be nice – many people are often proud of their “brutal honesty”, direct and even accusatory approach. In fact, we are acting as jerks who don’t take the time to understand others
- I don’t have time to take care of you – this is a particularly prevalent in management when you try to be as efficient as possible. Unfortunately, being efficient in human interactions doesn’t work. You can be effective but you should never try to be efficient when managing people or in communication of any kind. Check out Communication Shouldn’t Be Efficient for some thoughts on the topic.
All of us have various fears that are with us every waking moment. The more we worry especially about us being wrong or failing, the more we try to prevent that, and the more we act as jerks. Just consider these statements many of us are making in our heads:
- I will not fail – some of us worry excessively about failing. We just have the need of constant success. We are worried about how our failure will be seen by others and how it will feel. Because of that worry, we act in ways that more relaxed person can’t understand and may label negatively.
- I want to know what you are doing – when we work in a team or managing others we may turn the “I will not fail,” fear into “My team will not fail.” This may lead to us questioning what everyone is doing, second guess every step and decision done by others, micromanaging and generally acting in ways that destroys the team’s morale and ultimately leads to failure or to us acting as jerks.
- I want to see more data – very frequent fear of making a wrong decision leads us to not being able to make a decision at all. It may be a simple thing of deciding what cellphone to buy or it can be more insidious in workplace when we are constantly trying to get more data, more opinions, and ultimately get to a position that the decision is done by others (so we can fault them) or it is so bulletproof that we are safe. Ultimately, this leads to company culture that is prone to decision paralysis and us being seen as incompetent jerks who shouldn’t be in the management roles at all.
- I will try – this is a beautiful statement we use all the time. It has a build-in safety valve. It allows us to fail without much fuss, since we admitted at the beginning that we will do our best but the outcome is not ensured. Most of us use it without realizing and without thinking about it. At the end, it shows low self-confidence and may act as a self-fulfilling prophecy. When it leads to jerkiness is the moment we employ it as a way to make halfhearted effort to help others.
- You broke it, you fix it – have you ever had a boss, a coworker, or a partner who used these words? Have you ever used that sentence yourself? Behind all the bravado of making statements like this are in fact the opposite feelings. People often use it when they simply don’t know what to do, are scared, and don’t want others to see it. Again, they act as jerks.
- I’m not at fault here, it was the other guy – this is a very obvious form of jerkiness. Let’s blame someone else for our mistakes, or even shared mistakes. In fact, you can make it even stronger by blaming the other person while showing yourself as a saint “I told him it won’t work and he didn’t listen”.
Pride is very often cause of many bad behaviors, though you need to have at least some predisposition to fall prey to it. However, not much is needed and even someone with healthy dose of humility can find himself thinking along these lines:
- I know what I’m doing – very often it is a pride that causes us to be overconfident and ultimately leads us to treating others as lesser beings who don’t have a clue. Pride can then easily turn into fear when things don’t go as we planned and we finally realize we are failing.
- I’m successful therefore I’m right – it is a variation of previous point. This one suggests that past successes elevate us above others and are making us infallible. This can be even true about whole teams or companies who are super successful and thus blind to changing world and new harsh realities where past successes means nothing.
- I’m the boss here – this one is usually invoke by those with insecurities that just don’t know about any other way how to push through their goals. It is also often employed in situations where we feel that we are wrong, but pride doesn’t allow us to admit it so we resort to brute force – with my position comes entitlement to be right.
Ambition can be a very useful tool in your road to success but there is a danger of overdoing it. Excessive ambition can lead to rather jerky behavior that will manifest in some of these ways:
- I will get what I want at any cost – you can easily turn from good to bad when you lose your humility and start acting like your goals and desires are more important than the goals of others. Your own ambition can hurt people around you and turn you into a jerk.
- I will help you – as long as it helps me. In ideal world, this is a win-win situation. You are helping others and getting something in return. The problem comes when you are willing to help only when it benefits you. If you are not willing to help others without considering “what is in it for me” you are most likely acting as a selfish jerk.
- I want to make sure we look good – another one that sounds great but has a hidden side. If you want everyone to look good in front of the boss regardless whether we deserve it chances are that those who deserve it more than you do will see it as a sign of your jerkiness. It is always better to give credit where credit is due and don’t try to pry on success of others.
- I want it now – in the fast-paced world we live in this one is more and more frequent. We are so set for success and want to so badly and so fast that we are willing to build it on shaky legs and even by immoral means to get it. If you have no patience to do do things properly and reach success in its due time you may be cutting corners in the way you act towards others and ultimately be seen as a selfish jerk.
So what is the main lesson you learned today? Don’t judge others without first understanding their circumstances and more importantly review the topics mentioned in this article regularly to make sure you don’t turn into a jerk yourself.
What is your experience with jerks? Have you ever caught yourself acting in ways that you find unacceptable in others? Have you ever considered that others might think you are a jerk? What can you do to make sure these things don’t happen to you?
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