Let me make one thing perfectly clear. The majority of people in any given work setting are good people. They're helpful, sympathetic, collaborative and want to do the right thing. Only a tiny minority are mean, nasty and abrasive.
You know the saying "nice guys finish last"? That's not really true; even though the business climate is often viewed as a cutthroat, dog-eat-dog world. You don't need to be involved with high level jerks to get top-level results.
Sadly, people with volatile and narcissistic personalities are often tolerated (or even celebrated) in many organizations because "they may not be likeable but they do get the results."
I beg to differ.
Jerks at work create undo upset, and productive time is lost in closed-door meetings complaining and finding ways to get away from the loud-mouthed, devious creeps.
In his book The Customer Comes Second, entrepreneur Hal Rosenbluth offers a great solution for weeding out jerks before they become huge problems.
He was ready to hire an executive with all the right skills, the perfect CV, and the best interview answers. Yet, there was that itch Hal could not scratch. Something was off and he needed to find out why he was still resistant to hiring this perfect candidate.
His solution was genius. He invited the applicant to a company softball game, and there the jerk's true colors showed through. He was competitive to the point of being manic. While it looked like he was a true team player, he cursed at the referee, yelled at the opposing team and cheered too loudly for the home team, to the point of embarrassment.
He didn't get the job.
No softball game to use as an interview? Not to worry. Here are 5 tips to keep in your back pocket before you hire only to regret at a later time.
- Trust your Gut: If you feel that queasy sense in your belly pay attention. And if more than one on the hiring team feels the same way, ask more questions. In his book The No Asshole Rule, Bob Sutton of Stanford University suggests that if skills are strong but behavior is divisive, get them out of there as fast as possible. Anyone who shows signs of disrespect or dissed previous employers will do the same in your business, even if it is just with a smirk instead of a smile.
- Watch reactions to strangers: Go to lunch and pay deep attention to how the wait-server is treated, or in a cafeteria, how the candidate maneuvers through a line at check out.
- Ask about family: There is an in-between place that is healthy. Anyone who makes their family seem like they can do no wrong and are the best and the brightest are often hiding the "dirty laundry". If it seems too good to be true, it usually is!
- Note how big the promises are: The Chinese have a saying "The bigger the front, the bigger the back". Basically that means that when there is uber-energy in huge promises, there is the same amount of energy to fall flat with disappointments. Those who have all the answers to take your company to the stratosphere can also be the very ones who make it crumble with defeat.
- Failure is not an option: Ask about past successes and failures and make sure to note how the failures are described. If it is fate, the weather, bad economy, or some other jerk's mistake, know what you would have to deal with. Accountability is often a missing quality in the jerks' personality.
Look, just because someone annoys you at work you can't automatically assume that person is a bona-fide jerk. They may be pushing your buttons and that is your responsibility to consider. Think of it this way, if you respond by being a jerk to a jerk it still means you are a jerk.
However, the more you pay attention in the hiring process or at the beginning of any relationship, the more you can move away from the ugliness of cleaning up the stuck plumbing that comes with the legal issues of liberating a jerk from your work setting.