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9 Tests That Tell if You're a Jerk

The no-jerk rule makes a huge amount of business sense but to keep them out of your workplace, you must know what you're looking for.
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I wish every workplace were free of jerks--those who rise to the top fast by sucking up to people with power, taking credit for the best ideas they can steal, and pointing the blame for their failures at the weakest links.

Tintri, a Silicon Valley data storage company that's growing at a rate of 140 percent a year, has a no-jerk rule. And on August 12, Tintri told me the nine tests it uses to make sure that it remains a jerk-free workplace.

Are you a jerk? If an objective observer would answer yes to the following nine questions about your conduct, then the answer is yes!

1. Do you try to get ahead through intimidation?

Bullies are easy to identify because they get in your face when they talk and they are often very loud and aggressive. They do not back down when you disagree and they always need to have the last word.

2. Do you pin the blame for your failure on someone else?

Jerks excel at identifying those individuals associated with a project who have the weakest position in their department. And if a project fails, they are the first to recite all the reasons that weakling was to blame.

3. Do you take credit for others' successes?

Conversely, jerks spend more time than their peers in informal social events with those who have the power to promote them to a higher position. They spend much less time doing the work. If they are lucky enough to be a member of a department that is successful, the jerks take credit for that success with their newfound executive buddies.

4. Do you always talk about how bad things are?

The Debby Downers of the workplace are always fretting about any bad news that affects the company. If you spend time with them, these jerks will try to get you discouraged and to stop working hard. Maybe they can even convince you to quit so that there will be one fewer person around to compete for the big promotion.

5. Do you push policies that benefit you or your department ahead of those that will help the company?

Let's say you work in a startup that needs engineers to build its first product. Its jerk would be the head of sales who fights tooth and nail to use the startup's scarce capital to hire more sales people even though the startup does not have a product that's ready to be sold.

6. Do you withhold critical information to make your rivals look bad?

The jerk wants his boss's job. He is about to join her in a meeting to present the department's budget to the CEO. Once the CEO smiles after she presents the big sales forecast, the jerk lets it slip that the numbers are wrong because he just got an email that the department's biggest customer is canceling its contract.

7. Do you say no when people ask you to help?

This is a pretty self-explanatory sign that you are jerk.

8. Do you practice vice while preaching virtue?

Hypocrisy can buy jerks time. After all, if for a little while they talk about how important it is to be humble and put the company's interests ahead of their own, then they will be able to pursue their own selfish ends without suspicion.

9. Do you try to block progress by complicating a simple solution?

Finally, a true jerk will talk about how much she wants to help with a project. But that will be the smoke screen that hides her true intent--which is to sabotage the project by making it so complex that it really can't be done at all.

If you pass any of these tests, you will fail to get a job at Tintri. And I hope to steer clear of any organization that would employ you.

Last updated: Aug 13, 2014

PETER COHAN

Strategy consultant, startup investor, teacher, corporate speaker, pundit, and author of 11 books, Peter Cohan has invested in six startups, three of which were sold for a total of $2 billion. Before founding Peter S. Cohan & Associates in 1994, he worked with HBS strategy guru Michael E. Porter.




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