Fact of life: jerks are everywhere and dealing with jerks is a part of daily life. As a society, one thing is certain. We’ve become less skilled at living with those that we don’t like and don’t agree with – typically, people we perceive to be jerks fall into those categories. Unfortunately, dealing with people that you don’t necessarily like is part of business and life. In fact, I argue that those who are strong and more adept at dealing with people they classify as jerks are those that will find the most success and meaning in their live. To that end, as leaders, we don’t shut down people when we don’t agree with them, we approach each day on a mission to be the leader that we admire.
After all, are we supposed to sit around in insulated bubbles, interacting only with people that we agree with and like? Absolutely not. It’s the jerks of the world that help us to develop valuable skills. Without them, we’d never learn vital management skills, and we’d never be exposed to different viewpoints that may offer new insight or wisdom to our typically closed minds.
Let’s take a minute and read the genius of Marcus Aurelius in Meditations:
“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own – not of the same blood and birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are unnatural.”
Individuals that progress higher in organizations are typically type A. I suspect that most people classified as jerks are somewhere in the vicinity of Type A. I’ve worked on some senior teams at companies where most of the people on the team were jerks (in my opinion). Yes – on some of these teams, I personally felt that a good number of the people on the team were either bad people, people I couldn’t trust, people whose personalities I didn’t want to be around, or all of the above.
To make matters even more confusing, it’s incredibly subjective to classify someone as a jerk. You may think someone is a jerk and someone else may not. Different personalities jive with different personalities. There’s not always a pattern to it either. Two people that seemingly think and operate the same way may not have the same reaction to a given third party, so as a result, we frequently find teams populated with people we perceive to be jerks.
You can’t run away from these people and these situations. You can’t change them. You have to maintain focus on your mission and find whatever way possible to accomplish it. Life isn’t going to deal you a royal flush every time, and it’s impossible for you to find yourself working and living in a world with people who behave and operate cordially all of the time. So, we can either get mad and bemoan this, or get busy finding solutions to ensure that our goals and missions get accomplished while we learn and grow from being in an environment like this.
Find Their Value
The first step toward succeeding in an environment filled with jerks is to flip the script a bit, and to find the value that the individual or individuals are bringing to the team or setting. Perhaps the person is an incredible numbers person or delivers incredibly stunning presentations. Maybe the reason that they’re perceived as a jerk is because they refuse to lower standards and that rubs people the wrong way. Whatever it is, just about anyone can offer something valuable and your job is to find it, regardless of whether you particularly enjoy being around them.
Once you focus on finding and utilizing this value, you’ll find yourself approaching your interactions with them entirely differently. They’ll now have moved from the liability column to the asset column in your mind. This is good, as the attitude with which you approach interactions with them can be a hugely motivating factor in their own performance.
Make Them Feel Valued
To that end, you must reinforce your feeling that they have valuable traits to them. Point out these strengths, and praise them for it. This will be counter-intuitive and maybe even make you feel disingenuous (it’s not), but use that to deliberately build rapport, as the fact is that people generally respond positively to appreciation. Once you take this approach, keep your eyes peeled to see if there is a noticeable change in their behavior. Typically there is.
Lay It Out
Usually, those first two steps work. But not always. So what do you do if that doesn’t yield the type of turnaround that you and your team need? Lay it out plainly, kindly, and honestly. Find some time with the jerk. Speak from the heart, and make damn sure to present yourself without anger and bias. Set the foundation of values and shared goals, and give tangible examples of how that person’s behavior is tainting the team and preventing achievement of those goals. It’s possible that they may not realize how their actions impact the team. After all, incredibly driven people become lost in their own heads and can sometimes fail to look around in a self-critical fashion. In many cases, conversations like this have built rapport between me and the individual. If you do it right, this will yield positive change, but not always…
Focus on Yourself & Deal with it
When you’ve exhausted all options and aren’t finding value in the individual and an honest, kind conversation hasn’t yielded any improvement, we’re left with only one option: deal with it. A jerk is many things, but what they aren’t is someone that can control you. They can’t control your attitude or behaviors. They can’t control how you approach interactions with them and the team. And they cant control the effort you put forth. Jerks may be a nuisance, but they’re not necessarily fatal. So if you find yourself in this situation, simply endure it. Focus on you and the rest of your team. Do anything and everything you can to achieve your goals, and don’t devote any necessary bandwidth to wishing someone would change their ways. You’re robbing yourself of valuable time to achieve what ultimately matters most.
Jerks are a fact of live. Focus on being the best version of yourself for you and your team, and more often than not the rest will fall into place. Want a little help with this? Drop me a line and I’ll help get you on the right track.