I’ve seen a lot of articles about trying to work with jerks. Heck, I’ve even written a couple of ‘em. But I’ve not seen many articles that talk about how to deal with a jerk who you know intimately—yourself. What can you do if you are the jerk?
This is probably the most embarrassing missive I’ve ever written. I’m not a total buffoon and I’m certainly not trying to turn you against me. But I did recently come to the realization that I’ve had a self-sabotage streak that has made me act like more of a jerk than I’d like to admit.
My point is not to make excuses for my behavior, to gain your sympathy or to get on the Dr. Phil Show. No, the purpose of this blog is to own up to my jerkiness so that maybe a few of you out there might cop to some of yours. And to help you gain new insight on the next jerk that you run into at work.
My jerkiness has a clear starting point. I was twelve and driving in the car with my mom. I can even remember the exact location, it was in the median on Route 23 in Pompton Plains, NJ. My mom was telling stories and I remember that my stomach hurt from laughing.
Suddenly a wave of anxiety came over me. Don’t get too happy, because she’ll turn on you. My mom had the ability to go from jovial to attack mode faster than Lindsay Lohan can rack up driving violations. So I learned to not let my defenses down when I was with her.
Okay, I can see what you are thinking. This isn’t an exploration of my jerkiness, it is a blame-your-mom game. No, my mom plays a relatively minor role in this drama.
The point is that I used my mom’s hot and cold running personality to not get too close to anyone, lest they would be in a position where they could hurt me. And I took this challenge on with gusto. I never allowed myself to get too close in relationships, at work, with groups, with family. I always kept a distance.
Looking back, at least I tried to keep a distance. I wasn’t always able to do this. So there were plenty of times when someone or some group would start to embrace me. To make me feel a part of something. And what I only recently realized is that it was at this point that I could try to sabotage the relationship. By not doing something that I said I do. Or by a cutting remark. Or worse.
Sure I knew that I seemed to have a problem making attachments with people and groups. But I never realized that it was because I was scared of being hurt. In fact, I always thought that I was the strong one.
How did I break out of this cycle? I finally met someone who embraced me no matter how jerky my behavior. I’m not saying that she was all warm and squishy, no this was definitely tough love. But she pushed back against my behavior and this helped me see how my finger prints were all over most of the destroyed relationships of my past.
If you find yourself getting isolated at work or thinking that you are the only sane one out there, take a hard look in the mirror. You might find that the problem isn’t them. It is you.
And what if you are working with a jerk? Some jerks are so talented at pushing people away that it is impossible to reach them. So I understand the “ten foot pole” approach, as in here is the ten foot pole you want to put between you and them. But when you come across that jerk who has shown you a small bit of vulnerability, you might want to consider not pulling away. Hanging in there with support and respect. It’s tough, but I’m sure glad that someone did that for me.
About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via firstname.lastname@example.org.