Are You A Jerk At Work? (How To Know For Sure)

Let me ask you a question — Do you ‘play nice’ with others at work?

I’m not talking about diligently trying to appease your boss. I’m not even talking about how you treat those who work directly for you (although, of course, that matters, too). What I’m wondering is — how well you work with everyone else? All of the people beside you. Those lateral colleagues in other departments, or, perhaps, vendors who work business to business with your company.

Why does it matter how you handle those other work relationships?  

Because I’ve seen far too many otherwise successful executives get so focused on their own personal success and goals that they alienate others — sometimes unintentionally, but other times with full awareness. They create an “us versus them” (or “me versus them”) dynamic which poisons the collective culture and ultimately invites potentially devastating outfall on their own career.

Case in point: Several years ago, I saw a technically brilliant and highly ambitious executive derail his rise up the corporate ladder. At first, he was a star at his company, moving up the ranks rapidly thanks to his technical skill set. But, though his supervisor liked him, not many other people did. He earned a reputation for treating vendors badly. He was patronizing, demanding, and dismissive toward several individuals he deemed “unimportant” in the larger picture of his personal career goals. Big mistake!

He ended up losing his shot at a key promotion for a coveted leadership role when his 360 review revealed his alienating, offensive behavior. His peers absolutely slammed him. Ironically, not only did that executive not move up the company ranks any further, he ended up with a difficult boss who treated him exactly the way he had treated others. He started flailing professionally and found out how hard it is to deal with the very treatment he himself once dished out.

When you treat people badly — believe me, peers around you notice and remember.

And it’s usually just a matter of time before your bad behavior circles around to bite you where it hurts. It’s a taste of what I call “corporate karma.”

Your company’s structure changes unexpectedly, and suddenly those who resent you are positioned to color other people’s perspective of you based on their very real, very negative experience with you. As Morgan Stanley’s Vice Chairman and Managing Director Carla Harris reminds us, “All of the important decisions about your career will be made when you’re not in the room … Your ability to ascend in any organization will be the function of somebody’s judgement about whether or not you’re ready, judgement about whether or not you’ll be successful and judgement about whether or not the team will follow you. And judgements are directly influenced by relationships … what makes the difference are the relationships that you have.”

Of course, most people think they already do work collaboratively with others. Meanwhile, their peers heartily disagree.

So, here’s the million dollar question — What is it like to be on the other side of you in the workplace?

Do you think certain peers are less important or impressive than you (or that their department or contribution is less valuable)? Don’t fool yourself. The colleague you snub or patronize today might end up becoming the company’s new rising star six months from now. And when that peer is in a position to help youor not, they’ll remember your ill treatment of them.

Don’t get me wrong, competition has its place. But, collaboration is almost always a healthier strategy.

So, how do you know if you’re a positive ally to your workplace peers? Have the professional courage to ask yourself (and answer honestly) these four questions:

  • What would I not be able to do well in my job without the support of peers/vendors in other departments?
  • How would I feel about the way I treat others if I was on the receiving end of that treatment myself?
  • In what ways do I actively and successfully collaborate with peers around to me, no matter their rank or level?
  • Where do I admit my behavior causes collaboration to break down?

What happens when you do this inquiry? Well, if you do it honestly, you find out where you’re already successful and/or where you’re absolutely unpalatable to work with.

Taking that hard look may not feel great at first, but consider how “corporate karma” played out in a positive way for another executive with a reputation for treating others badly: This executive received harsh feedback for repeatedly alienating peers with her highly competitive behavior. She actively tried to one-up and out do her peers at every turn, and they resented her for it. Tensions ran high on every collaborative project she was assigned to.

The severe feedback her boss delivered about this shortcoming was hard to hear. Her ego felt the sting! But she decided to lean into the feedback and tried to turn the situation around. She worked with a coach and made an impressive effort to understand the perspective of those she was alienating.

A year later, that professional courage paid off — not only was she promoted to a leadership position over a team that now consistently delivers impressive results, the real win is that, for the first time, her lateral colleagues happily worked withher to help her achieve that success. When she let go of the need to one up others, she started connecting with others and created space for everyone to win.

Look, you’re never going to navigate every workplace interaction perfectly, every time. We all have off days. But there is a difference between the occasional slip up and an ongoing pattern of toxic behavior. If you realize you’re alienating others, especially if you’ve done so accidentally, self-deprecation is not needed here. However, honest self-evaluation is.

Truly successful leaders strive to work well with others at all levels, in all areas of company operations.

They actively invest in cultivating “Relationship Currency.” Yes, sometimes taking the time to be respectful and inclusive does slow things down a bit. But repairing fractured relationships and defusing resentment take even longer.

So, take the time to treat others with professional respect. It’s a smart way to keep “corporate karma” on your side.

This article originally published on LinkedIn.

Categories: Coaching, Leadership, Organizational culture, Team Building

Comments are closed.

Scroll Up