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Friday, August 29, 2008

Are You a Jerk?

Are you a jerk at work? Do you treat people badly, yelling and screaming at them? Do you often think that because you are the boss you don't have to follow the same rules?

In the August 25 issue of Business Week, Robert Sutton of Stanford writes that, "...although some people act badly wherever they go, all of us are capable of turning into demeaning creeps under the wrong conditions." It is a sad truth, isn't it.

However, what he finds in the research is that some of this behavior is acquired by aping those around us. If we regularly see our peers treating others shabbily, and flying off the handle far to frequently, we begin to participate in the "socialization process." In other words, we observe the behavior to be normal and take it as our own.

Sutton continues that the research shows this is typical for all people, however, it can be defeated. Try not to work for companies that are full of jerks and bullies. If you didn't know they were jerks and bullies when you started, but know now, leave immediately.

Now let's suppose you are in a position of authority. Guess what? You are more likely to turn into a jerk yourself. From the article:

A growing body of research—notably by professors Dachner Keltner at University of California, Berkeley, Deborah Gruenfeld at Stanford, and their students—documents that three things happen when people are put in positions of power:

1. They focus more on satisfying their own needs;
2. They focus less on the needs of their underlings;
3. They act like "the rules" others are expected to follow don't apply to them.

Don't despair, their is hope! Sutton recommends having advisers and mentors to bounce things off of, as well as for them to let you know if you are behaving badly. Listening to those your trust to be open and honest can straighten you out in jiffy! Humorously, he closes the article by stating that teenage children can also help CEOs in particular be less jerkish, because "...challenge their power and question their judgment." Hear hear!

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