Study: Are You a Jerk at Work?

The punchline of new research from Columbia Business School: You might be seen as a jerk at work, and if so, you likely don’t even know it.

The study is called “Pushing in the Dark: Causes and Consequences of Limited Self-Awareness for Interpersonal Assertiveness.” The synopsis quotes Daniel Ames, professor of management at Columbia Business School and co-author of the new study: “Finding the middle ground between being pushy and being a pushover is a basic challenge in social life and the workplace. We’ve now found that the challenge is compounded by the fact that people often don’t know how others see their assertiveness. In the language of Goldilocks, many people are serving up porridge that others see as too hot or too cold, but they mistakenly think the temperature comes across as just right—that their assertiveness is seen as appropriate. To our surprise, we also found that many people whose porridge was actually seen as just right mistakenly thought their porridge came off as too hot. That is, they were asserting themselves appropriately in the eyes of others, but they incorrectly thought they were pushing too hard.”

The researchers performed four studies to answer three questions: “Do people know when they are seen as pressing too hard, yielding too readily, or having the right touch? And does awareness matter?”

Said Ames: “Most people can think of someone who is a jerk or a pushover and largely clueless about how they’re seen. Sadly, our results suggest that, often enough, that clueless jerk or pushover is us.”

The challenge was also addressed by Ben Horowitz, cofounder and partner of Andreessen Horowitz. . He wrote about “How to Deal With the Brilliant Jerks You Work With” in Wired: “Perhaps most important, set a high and clear standard for performance. If you want to have a world-class company, you must make sure that the people — be they young or old — are world-class.”

“But remember what Phil Jackson, the coach who won the most NBA championships, once said: ‘There is only room for one Dennis Rodman on this team. In fact, you really can only have a very few Dennis Rodmans in society as a whole; otherwise, we would degenerate into anarchy.’”