Dealing With Jerks (And How To Not Be A Jerk): Karma and Ethics 101

dealingwithjerksHave you ever dealt with a jerk?

Of course you have.

You know the kind of person I mean.

The kind who thinks that their work/drive/meal/conversation/iPhone is just plain more important than yours, and treat you as such. And they make that very clear.

Contrary to what my ego tells me, a jerk isn’t someone who doesn’t smile and gush when they see me, or someone who walks right on by me without saying hi, or other perceived snubs. That person may simply be shy or socially awkward. They might be oblivious, wrapped in their own minds as they walk. Getting miffed about something like that is about me, not about them. There are lots of things like this… things that seem jerky but are really not.

No, a jerk is someone who misleads or obfuscates intentionally, or takes advantage of a situation to their benefit and your loss. Who says one thing then does another. Who steals your content or your clients and then just says that’s how the game is played. Who is actively hoping that others fail so that they can succeed. There are a lot more definitions, of course, but you get the idea.

Here’s where we are gonna talk about strategies for dealing with jerks – and how to make sure you’re not being a jerk (unintentionally, of course).

How To Deal With A Jerk.

Ignore Them.

Then, ignore them.

Finally, Ignore them.

Seriously, cut that crap out of your life.  Nobody needs it. At all.

Sometimes that’s not that easy, though. Sometimes they’re clients or employers or family members, people you can’t just cut out, at least not right now. So you’re stuck with them. Is there a way you can deal with them that will protect you from their jerkiness and still end up being successful?

Trust me. There’s totally a way. There’s a bunch of ways, all of which are pieces of a puzzle to not only deal with this particular jerk, but to establish yourself as a fully ethical, non-jerky business (and life) professional, one who gets the happy side of the karma cake.

Establish Your Own Code Of Ethics. Ethics is simply a moral code of what is right and wrong. Spend some time thinking about your own ethics, and writing down a code of how you conduct your business and your life. Honesty. Truth. Fairness. Responsibility. Compassion. It can be a short and simple few lines, or it can be a dissertation – it’s up to you. Key points to consider include the way you treat other people and how you wish to be treated; the kinds of companies you wish to deal with; your hard lines in the sand of what kind of behaviour is acceptable to you or not. There are lots of things that are pretty black and white. Don’t steal content. Don’t poach clients. Don’t lie. But then there are things that are a little more murky. Will you work with a company with a bad environmental record, or a record of treating its contractors poorly? Will you work on a project that will end up hurting someone else? It’s a complex and constantly evolving process, but having your code written down will help center and ground you when faced with an ethical challenge – like dealing with a jerk.

Get Everything In Writing. Always have contracts. When you have a conversation with someone, email a written summary to them afterwards. Putting everything down in a traceable form helps both parties clarify expectations, removes the big problem of assumptions on one side or the other, and holds everyone accountable (plus covers your ass.)

Establish your business rules, publicize them and adhere to them. Your rates are this. Your hours are that. Your invoices are due in 30 days after which you will charge interest.  You own all intellectual property and copyright (or they do, if that’s how you’re working). Making your business rules very clear helps you enforce those rules when push comes to shove.

jerk with jerk

Do Not Fight Jerk With Jerk. The temptation is always there to badmouth, to tell everyone what a jerk they are, to vent to anyone who will listen. And it is cathartic, and it will turn you in to just as much of a jerk as the jerk you’re dealing with. Always take the high road, even if it seems to cost you. In the long run, it will always pay off.

Have Some Backup. It is crucially important to have a team of people you trust around you. Lawyers and accountants, yes, but also business advisors, mentors, and just plain friends who have your back. If you’re dealing with a jerk, call in backup: Not to outnumber or bully them in to submission, but rather so that you have a witness and backup.

But what if it’s you that’s the jerk?

honeyyoureajerkBecause trust me. I’ve found myself being the jerk more than I care to admit. I’ve spent many a night digesting my own liver over my idiotic jerky behaviour.

It’s important to acknowledge our own jerkiness, and give ourselves a chance to fix it. Here’s a few of the ways in which I try to not be a jerk.

Always Treat Someone Like They Are The Most Important Person In The World. You know how it feels when someone is disinterested in your conversation or your opinion. It sucks. And many people do it unintentionally – I do, especially when I have a thousand things on my mind and I’m scattered. I need to ensure I focus. Someone is talking to me. The least I can do is give them my undivided attention, and if I cannot do that, to excuse myself gracefully and attend to whatever matter is distracting me.

Be Thoroughly Honest. Tell people honest timelines when they engage with you. Disclose your numbers, even if it feels embarrassing to admit those 40 hits a day. If it’s a sponsored post, make it very clear. Don’t buy followers. Be who you are, and be very clear about it. In the long run, it’s just easier.

Make Conscious Decisions. Decide everything with purpose. Understand the fuller ramifications of anything you do. Research potential clients or partners before committing.

Do What You Say You Will Do. Not following through on your commitments is the number 1 way to get people to think less of you personally and professionally. If you take it on, carry it through. If you can’t carry it through, don’t take it on. Which leads me to the next point…

nodirtywordsSay No. Look, you aren’t doing anybody any favours if you say yes to something you really don’t want to – or can’t – do. You’ll end up resenting it, procrastinating on it and generally doing a crap job, if you do it at all.

Learn How To Apologize. This is a skill not many people have mastered. People feel like an apology weakens them somehow, when in reality, it strengthens you. Admitting you did something wrong, then taking responsibility for it and manning up makes you a better person. Plus, it will allow both parties to move on. It’s simple. “I’m sorry I screwed up. Here is how I will fix it.” Then do it, and move on.

Don’t Jump to Conclusions. If something happens that you don’t expect, the brain’s automatic response is to look for an explanation. And it’s easy to jump to the closest and quickest conclusion, which is usually not exactly flattering to the other party. But I’ve learned over the years that about 90% of the time, I have no idea what’s going on. Learn to take things simply at face value and accept that you may not have all the information. If you want more information, there’s an easy answer: Ask.

Eschew The Drama. Seriously, leave it behind. Gossip is toxic and destructive and the gossip circle becomes the drama all by itself. Here, pin this if you want:


Drama isn’t worth it.


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