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A lesson in how NOT to be a Jerk.

I was speaking at a conference last year and a man in the audience approached me afterward to talk about some of his experiences with the behavioral material I presented. After a few minutes of poking fun at ourselves for things that we've done, he laughed and said: “ I wish I just knew when I was being a jerk!”

I laughed and told him I thought that would make a great blog post series and inspired by something that recently happened to my daughter, I think it's time we put that series into action.

My daughter is a junior in college and she is taking a "mock court" course where the students pretend to be lawyers and make their cases for real-time events. Senior law students act as "judge" and critique their delivery and arguments.

Every parent is a little biased, but my daughter truly is an extremely committed, studious, respectful and conscientious person-she gives academics everything she's got and takes it serious when she gets anything less than an A. Hardly someone who "blows off" academic effort.

When she went to present, the podium was too high and she had to lean on it in order to see over and address the "court". It threw her confidence off a little automatically and when the first "judge" interrupted her and argued some of her data (he was wrong) she accepted the challenge but was not prepared for the first words out of his mouth at her final critique:

“Well! You don’t have a good court presence, you were leaning on the podium-it doesn’t even look like you want to be here!” His tone smug, condescending and exasperated. He continued to unleash hell on her presentation critical enough for the other "judge" to step in and try to reassure her that it must have been difficult for her to see over the podium because it was too high- an attempt to diffuse a "jerk attack".

Certainly no crime was committed here, but my professional response is: Really?! REALLY?!

Part of my job, as a human dynamics coach, is helping people understand communication and I can tell you there were about five different ways that he could have said that exact same thing without humiliating her in front of her peers and offering her nothing productive to work from.

I know we’ve all been there and you may even be guilty of a reactive response from time to time but when there are different ways you can say something but instead you choose to call it like you feel it because you can get away with it… You might be a jerk.

The lesson here is pretty simple: Saying whatever you want, however you want, may be appropriate in some contexts but most of the time it’s totally unnecessary and is coming from a mean spirited place that serves no productive purpose whatsoever.

Here's what you need to keep in mind:

1. You don’t look smart, impressive or intimidating: you look like a jerk. Everyone knows that you look like a jerk and if you look like a jerk often enough, you may just be a jerk. Furthermore, people probably think of you this way and are probably talking about you behind your back.

2. Influence and leadership isn't gained or maintained by being a jerk. If you want to have impact that gets things done and generates respect, you need to be more careful with what and how you communicate.

3. Ask yourself: Is that what you want to be known for? Is that the legacy that you’re leaving behind? What do you want people to say about you, in the end? Oh yeah, Kathy? She's a total jerk. Doesn’t that have a great ring to it? #aspirations.

4. Your impact is longer-lasting than you might realize. Some people, like my daughter, become extremely anxious after being treated this way. She literally obsessed over this for hours trying to process and get reassurance that she hadn’t totally humiliated herself. Although adults need to be operating with a thicker skin, do you really want to be responsible for uprooting someone's sense of confidence? Someone's perfectly good day? Adults may be able to recover more quickly but it doesn’t mean that those feelings don’t linger and create a life of their own.

5. (My favorite) When you're a jerk, it's like airing your dirty laundry that YOU don't feel good. My daughter concludes that this guy snapped at her because she corrected HIS bad data that he tried to "best" her with and it embarrassed him. She might be right. The reality is: No one treats other people badly when they are pretty solid, healthy and happy. John Maxwell said "Hurting people hurt people" and he's absolutely right. When you treat someone like a jerk, smarter people are looking at you and thinking...It's not my fault you hate your life right now... and you look compromised-not the other way around.

Final thought? Just because you can doesn't mean you should. Think better of Jerk behavior. Because it's getting the better of you.


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