No, not that kind of jerk, I mean the dreaded office a-hole.
When getting a university degree in business, computer science, engineering, or most subjects, the soft skills that are foundational for relationship building—and for much of a person’s success in life—are often ignored.
Not only do we not spend much time studying how to build and maintain relationships, but there never seems to be a class on how to deal with the office a-hole.
Tessa West, a psychology professor at New York University, has helped us out by identifying the types of office jerks in, Jerks at Work: Toxic Coworkers and What to Do About Them.
There are five major jerk types:
The Kiss-Up/Kick-Downer: Bosses love these types because they are top performers, but they are willing to succeed by any means necessary—including throwing you under the bus. They know where the power lies and how to work the system.
The Bulldozer: They interrupt other people, question the process when they disagree with how a decision was reached, and they will try to get their way no matter what.
The Credit Stealer: They can be charming and a persuasive speaker and appear trustworthy in large groups. However, when there is ambiguity or time has passed, they are happy to take credit for your ideas.
Micromanagers: An impatient taskmaster that disrespects personal space and time. They also can’t prioritize tasks, don’t trust, and can’t lead.
The Gaslighter: This is the worst of all the bad types on this list. They lie with intent trying to hide incompetence or unethical behavior. They make someone feel special, then isolate an individual and destroy their self-worth.
These types of people have gotten on our nerves, ruined more than one day, and, worst of all, we have given them mental real estate, which allows them to follow us around.
Why are there so many a-holes in the workplace? Stanford Professor Robert Sutton, who wrote the book, The No Asshole Rule; Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, has some thoughts.
Companies value winning and profit above everything else, tough leaders can create a climate of fear, power corrupts good people, and there can be advantages to being a jerk.
Sutton found a number of successful organizations screen for a-holes in their hiring process and set expectations about employee behavior from the beginning.
“All this might lead you to believe that this rule bears mainly on employee selection. It doesn’t. It’s a deeper statement about an organization’s culture and what kind of person survives and thrives in it. All of us, including me, have that inner asshole waiting to get out. The difference is that some organizations allow people (especially “stars”) to get away with abusing one person after another and even reward them for it. Others simply won’t tolerate such behavior, no matter how powerful or profitable the jerk happens to be.”
The best way to deal with an office jerk is not to hire the a-hole to begin with. Or, if you picked one up by accident or they grew into one over time, let them go.
There are huge differences between being a jerk—specifically a bulldozer— and a Pathfinder.
We have found that Pathfinders are the most likely to succeed as the first salesperson in a startup. And we have found that businesses want Pathfinders for specific roles such as when looking to break into a new market, or developing a new approach to customer service, etc. Self-managing companies tend to be made up entirely of Pathfinders.
A Pathfinder’s characteristics include:
- A strong ability to deal with ambiguity. When in situations without precedent, Pathfinders need to be agile and not just deal with ambiguity, but actually find a way to thrive within it.
- Not being told what to do and operating without a playbook of any kind, the Pathfinder also needs to be self-directed. Specifically, Pathfinders are able to fully engage in tasks/roles largely, or even entirely, motivated by meeting a need. Broadly, Pathfinders see a need and jump in and figure things out as they go.
- A curiosity that allows for creative solutions. This is critical when a lot of latitude is provided to find new solutions, products, or markets.
- A hunger motivated by something quite different to many career climbers. We’d characterize this motivation as intrinsic rather than extrinsic. They are looking for something that is deeper and has a personal meaning for them.
Relevant to jerk identification, Pathfinders also help find, develop, and maintain strong respectful relationships within all levels of an organization and with clients. This is the exact opposite of your office a-hole.
We can help you find Pathfinders through our proprietary online assessment. Our tool looks for unique characteristics in four primary categories: approach, motivation, perspective, and relationships. Each is a critical component of a Pathfinder.
For the first sales hire of a B2B tech startup, we already have The Right Five, which covers both the deep and vocational skills required to be successful. You can watch a demo here.
For every other type of Pathfinder, we’ve decoupled the intangibles, the deep skills from The Right Five assessment and will shortly offer this as a standalone online assessment through The Pathfinder Company. You can sign up for the private beta here.