People aren't very good at judging themselves. We like to think we are, but it turns out we're not very good at it at all. If you doubt this, think about the times you've sat down with an employee and discussed their performance, only to be met with blank stares and utter denial.

Columbia Business School professor Daniel R. Ames and doctoral candidate Abbie W. Wazlawek conducted research where, at the end of a negotiation session, they asked the participants to rate both themselves and their partners on how assertive they had been: under-assertive, appropriately assertive, or over-assertive. Funny thing is, the participants' self-perception often didn't match up with their partner's perception--no better than flipping a coin.

All this boils down to the very real possibility that you are a jerk and you don't realize it. Seem impossible? Read this and then ask if that is still impossible.

1. You get special privileges.

More than once, I've gotten an email from a PR person asking, "Would you like to write a story about how Jane Doe has managed to balance motherhood and work? She nursed her baby during meetings, has never missed a mommy and me class, and still secured $10 million in funding!" I always respond to these emails with the same question, "Are other employees allowed to bring their children to meetings?" At that point, the PR person almost always slinks away. Why? Because while you can certainly do what you want when you're the boss, it's jerk-like behavior to bring your baby to a meeting and yell at your employees who just want to leave early once a week to help take care of theirs.

2. You force people to resign.

The seemingly "nice" practice of securing a letter of resignation when you've just fired someone is really a jerk move. You're doing it for your own reasons--most likely so you can fight unemployment and win. Unless you're offering severance or something else of serious value in exchange for the forced resignation, you're just being a jerk.

3. You are never at fault.

If you never say the words, "I'm sorry, I made a mistake," then you are a jerk. Because everyone makes mistakes. Even you. Now, if you can say I'm sorry to strangers on the street when you bump into them, but can't ever admit mistake at work, you're still a jerk. Likewise, if you're horrible to people on the street but nice to your employees, you're also a jerk. Sometimes, it's your fault. If you think nothing bad has been your fault all week, it's likely that you're just blaming others for your failure.

4. Your turnover is sky-high.

Most people will stay a few years at your business and then move on. That's normal. But if you have a string of people staying less than two years, there's a darn good chance that you are at fault. Now, you can be as nice as pie--it's just that horrible HR person who no one likes. If that's the case, your niceness is overridden by allowing a jerk to continue. People who allow jerks to stay working for them are jerks.

5. No one gives you feedback.

If people aren't willing to tell you things about yourself, it's likely that there's a good reason for it. And that reason is probably because you don't take feedback easily. If you're just a mild jerk, you simply roll your eyes and ignore it. If you're a big jerk, you attack the messenger.

Is being a jerk permanent?

Fortunately, no. Ames and Wazlawek give several steps that you can take.

Ask for feedback--from a wide variety of people. You'll have to plan in advance to keep your mouth shut. It's not easy. But make sure you listen to what everyone is saying. Don't say, "Oh, no, you're wrong, I never..." or "I just..." That will defeat the purpose.

Make sure you ask about the right topic. If you ask your wife how you react to bad news at the office and ask your employees how you treat your family, you're not going to get useful feedback. Ames and Wazlawek suggest asking questions that specifically relate to your goals.

Go back for seconds. After you start tackling the information this feedback has provided, you need to go back and ask for more information. Follow-up is critical for your transformation from jerk to non-jerk.

Set one goal and work towards that. Changing everything about yourself at once is too much for anyone to tackle. But you can change how you behave as long as you're willing to listen and act.

Published on: Feb 25, 2015
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