Do you work with a brilliant jerk?

Kiandra - 02/02/2022

A brilliant jerk is a term used to define a person who is great at their craft but painful to work with. While a brilliant jerk may deliver great results for a company – they are a total pain in the proverbial to work with.

The issues associated with productive-yet-difficult people are too many to list, but essentially, brilliant jerks pervade the workplace by reducing their leaders’ credibility, lowering their teams’ morale, and reducing productivity.

The following infographic, adapted from McKinsey & Company, outlines the “Dirty Dozen” or 12 ways workplace jerks commonly misbehave.And yes, there is an economic cost to these, jerks – mean people don’t just make others feel unhappy, they create economic issues for their companies.

One IT company estimated a ‘total cost of jerks (TCJ)” and found that the extra cost of one jerk for one year was $160,000. This costing considered the assistants he burned through, the overtime costs, the legal costs, his anger-management training, and so on.

However, there has been a comeuppance towards brilliant jerks in recent years. In 2019, Atlassian took a stance that it will no longer tolerate “brilliant jerks” who deliver results for the company but make life hell for their co-workers.

Netflix also has a hefty statement on their site that reads:

“On a dream team, there are no “brilliant jerks.” The cost of teamwork is just too high. Our view is that brilliant people are also capable of decent human interactions, and we insist upon that. When highly capable people work together in a collaborative context, they inspire each other to be more creative, more productive and ultimately more successful as a team than they could be as a collection of individuals.”

Research has shown, productive-yet-difficult people (ehem, jerks) tend to lack self-awareness. The capacity to be self-aware allows people to understand the things they’re good at, things they need to work on and how to use feedback to continue to grow.

If you can identify one of the “Dirty Dozen” in your workplace, self-awareness is a good place to start. Make sure they’re aware of it. For some people, it’s a character flaw that can’t be cured, but others are just clueless. It’s important to remember some people have a hard time with social cues, so it helps to be direct. Start with a conversation on the behaviour.

If your jerk is still causing problems, try directing them to a new purpose. Their brilliance, for example, might be best utilised in a non-client-facing role.

But if all else fails, adopting a no jerks policy like Atlassian and Netflix, might just be the way to conserve morale and keep the ship from sinking.

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