We’ve all had one—that mean-spirited colleague who thought they knew everything. The person who did not like to share their toys in the preverbal sandbox. The team member who jumped at every opportunity to claim credit for success and turn around and immediately blame others for failure. Simply put, we all have worked with jerks.


While jerks can be highly effective at delivering results, don’t confuse value with productivity. By this I mean, the toxicity jerks infuse into a team, and work environment largely outweighs their contributions. They tend to be mean-spirited, manipulative, and often undermine their teammates. They cause strife and, in some cases, drive excellent colleagues from the organization. At the end of the day, they do much more harm than good and make the work environment not such an enjoyable place to spend the majority of the day.


Over the course of my career, I managed a few so-called jerks. And while it has not always been easy, and I have certainly made my share of mistakes, over time, I have learned to effectively and thoughtfully deal with these types of personalities.


I have adopted a jerk-free policy for every organization and team I lead. From the moment I walk in the door on the first day, I articulate to my team that jerks are not welcome here. Personally, I would much rather work with a less experienced kind-hearted person who is receptive to training than a hotshot jerk, any day of the week.


But how do you move from simply announcing, “no jerks allowed” to creating a jerk-free culture where all team members are anything but jerks and do not tolerate the behavior in others? How can you cultivate anti-jerk behavior across your team?


  1. Communicate clearly and set expectations, so everyone is on the same page
  2. Lead by example—be kind, helpful, open and honest
  3. Build trust by fostering an environment where differences of opinion are welcomed and encouraged
  4. Celebrate differences and the wide variety of skills team members bring to the table
  5. Have fun and facilitate opportunities where colleagues can get together outside of the office
  6. Coach it out. Some jerks can be rehabilitated and just need some effective coaching to turn their attitude around. This should always be your first step. Of course, there are rare cases when a jerk is, and always will be, a jerk. Unfortunately, there are times when you will have to make the tough call.


Finally, the benefits to a jerk-free workplace are numerous. Not only is your space more enjoyable and pleasant, but a no-jerk policy also attracts and contributes to retaining the best possible team members—ones who are incredibly productive, highly effective and extremely positive. I mean, who wants to sign up to work with jerks? A positive environment also drives productivity as time is not wasted battling destructive behavior or playing pointless games. It also enhances quality and helps delivers excellent customer service as team members are happy in their work and pass that along to all with whom they come in contact.


Think about it.  Your team is like a family, and frankly, we often spend more time with them than anyone else in our lives. While we all enjoy a wacky aunt or a wisecracking uncle, no one likes to engage with the jerk at Thanksgiving who is always complaining or being rude to others.  So, do you and your fellow team members a favor and uninvite the jerks and make more room around the table for those positive and enjoyable folks.

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