While it's commonly accepted that jerks succeed in business, no one really wants to be that guy. (If you do, you probably don't need to read on.) Most of us want to be the colleague, leader or boss who plays well with others, but not easy to assess where we fall on the jerk scale. That's because defining jerkiness is not all that straightforward.
While we all know a jerk when we see one, are there universal traits that all jerks share? It is this complex question that a Nautilus article on the subject unpacks. Eric Schwitzgebel is a philosophy professor at the University of California, Riverside. Through his work, he's clarified the definition of a true jerk: "Jerks are people who culpably fail to appreciate the perspectives of the people around them, treating others as tools to be manipulated or fools to be dealt with."
Since they view those around them as inferior, Schwitzgebel goes on to explain, jerks see little value in other people's ideas and are dismissive of others' beliefs. It is their belief that all of humanity -- from restaurant servers to work colleagues -- are less than.
Schwitzgebel offers a few introspective questions to help us understand if we're really grade-A jerks.
1. Do you truly listen to people when they talk?
Jerks don't know how to listen. Being a good listener is more than nodding your head and mumbling a few "mhmms." True listening entails asking questions throughout the conversation that build discovery and insight.
Jerks don't see the point in really listening because they think the person speaking has anything worthwhile to say. They're not involved in the conversation because they want to learn something new. They're really just waiting for whoever is talking to stop.
2. Do you accept criticism constructively?
Even if criticism stings, it's possible to gracefully accept it, reflect and try to unpack its value to inform your work or process. Jerks and criticism simply don't mix. They don't accept it's even possible to be criticized, because, well, everyone else is just an idiot.
Schwitzgebel explains it best:
"Why take seriously what a tool or fool has to say? Why try to engage with their critical perspective on you? More likely, the jerk will either dismiss the criticism, counterattack, bloviate, storm off, or smile and sink the knife in deeper."
3. Is everybody always getting on your nerves?
Jerks do not acknowledge the personalities of people around them. From the super slow restaurant server to all their clueless colleagues at work, everyone they encounter on a day-to-day basis is the same. Jerks fail to seek out the redeeming qualities that might change their perception of people. They feel as if they're living in a world surrounded by imbeciles.