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How to Work with a Jerk

How to Fix a Jerk at Work Relationships

We all have experience working with jerks. It is part of the landscape of corporate America. We get a job that throws us into a diverse mix of people, some of whom act in ways that you might consider jerky. The offenders could be on our team or on teams with whom we collaborate. And you have to figure out how to work with them!

We wrote about this way back in 2015, and that column is still relevant today.

The key is to assume the jerk may actually be innocent of the charges being leveled. They may be acting in certain ways in response to the behavior of others, or because they are unaware of the impact of their actions.

So, take time to take stock.

  • Is the environment driving the jerky behavior?
  • Are teammates subtly stoking the behavior, without realizing it?
  • Is the accused dealing with issues outside of work that are echoed
    in the jerky behavior?

You need to find out. This is easier if you are the team leader, but as a peer you can also build bridges, forging a relationship with the person that may lead to a change in behavior.

For leaders, the path to take is more straightforward.

Step 1: Fix your own behavior

Before you go trying to fix someone else’s behavior, have you fixed your own?

Have you examined your own behavior patterns to see if any of them could be construed as jerky behavior?

You do not want any employee to say “you do that, why can’t I?” when broaching behavioral issues. So get your own house in order first.

As a leader, you also must exhibit the behavior you want your team to adopt. And that may take some practice!

We have tools that help with that.

Step 2: Plan your approach.

Fostering behavior change is a process, not an event. The initial stages may be difficult to navigate, so you need to think out how this intervention could play out. Think about options and contingencies.

Make it a team-wide exercise. One person’s jerky behavior does not absolve the whole group from blame. Everyone acts like a jerk occasionally. With any team, all behavior should get a review, just as you did with yourself in step 1. (In fact, regular reviews with everyone will keep the team culture aligned with your goals.)

Step 3: Start by asking the person for his or her feedback.

Build Leadership Skill and HabitsLet them share their concerns and mindsets. Bring up behavioral challenges within the context of their own feedback.

  • What are their frustrations?
  • What behavior of others might be driving their behavior?
  • Are there issues with work/life balance?

The person you are interviewing may be unaware of the impact of their behavior, so taking an accusatory approach will probably get you started on the wrong path. It will raise defensive barriers to frank discussion rather than opening the person up to honest feedback.

Note: As this is a team exercise, you use the same interactive approach with everyone. Never play favorites or make anyone (including the accused) THE target of the exercise.

Step 4: Adjust and Proceed

Step 4 is driven largely by what you find out in the first three steps. Your plan from step 2 will guide you. Adjust it based on what you learned in step 3 and proceed.

By all means, do not let the process stop! Behavior change is a journey, with some detours and accidents along the way. Stick to your plan and keep pushing towards your goal of forging a team behavioral culture that is inclusive, supportive, encouraging, creative and productive.

If you need help building a plan for creating such a positive team culture, give Brooke or Dave a call. They have been helping teams build such cultures for close to three decades.

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