Dave is not a nice person. Obviously his name isn’t actually Dave; I changed his name because I’m not a jerk. Dave started with our company a little less than a year ago, fresh out of prison for armed robbery with his… mother. He was in prison for a long time and when he was eligible for parole, my boss vouched for his life-long friend and provided him with a really cushy job and a place to stay to satisfy the conditions for his parole. My boss is a really great guy (totally not a jerk)!
As Dave wove himself into the company culture, a very tight-knit family, I was the first one to speak up about Dave’s attitude and how he spoke to me. He continuously snapped at me, told me that things were not his job and degraded me when I asked questions. His attitude was very negative. When I brought this to the boss, Dave’s lifelong friend, Dave turned the situation around by making me look like the aggressor. I was scolded by the person who I came to for help. I cried for months, had anxiety attacks every day during work when I had to encounter Dave, and my performance was not up to my normal standards. I started to withdraw. My boss stopped talking to me and including me in conversations, my heart was broken. I kept a log of every time he bullied me with screenshots, kept my head down, and did my work, but I casually started seeking employment elsewhere. One day I noticed that he was added to one of our management virtual chats. Since everyone in the management side of the company was able to see this chat and I thought that this will be how he digs his own professional grave. One day he snapped at Donna in the chat room. Donna is like everyone’s southern grandma, not a single bad bone in her body, and no one disrespects Donna. Well, I noticed that once Dave snapped at Donna, my boss started talking to me again. I think he finally realized that Dave was actually a bully and I was just the first one to speak up.
Fast forward to last Friday.
Dave was no longer with our company. Text messages of “Did you see?!” rattled amongst the company within seconds like maracas with screenshots of the announcement.
Just as Bob Sutton mentioned in the No Jerk Rule podcast, Dave’s victims felt de-energized, demeaned and abused. He also screamed at the Vice President when she was trying to help his work-flow and regularly participated in political-backstabbing, such as changing my complaint about him into him being the victim, just like Sutton mentioned (2007). The funny thing is that Sutton also mentioned the Kiss-Up and Kick-Down part of being a jerk (2007), which is partially true since he worshiped the ground the boss walked on but treated the rest of us like peons.
Dave wasn’t going anywhere for a while so I utilized two strategies, avoidance and backstage confrontation. While I could not avoid Dave entirely since we worked together, I made sure that all work correspondence was in the public eye so there were witnesses. Occasionally I would send the VP a message to just please review the messages in the file without attaching any emotion to the request, which occasionally she would respond, “He’s just a butt.” One day I ran into him while out on assignment and I confronted him. I told him that working together is going to be a lot more efficient than working against each other, so if we could try to have patience with each other as I know he is trying to learn how this company works. He divulged that he hates using virtual communication and email because he cannot convey his tone. As we saw in the studies by Kruger, et al., Dave’s problem of not being able to communicate tone over email is not his alone (2005). In these studies, students were consistently over-estimating their ability to convey their tone over email (Kruger, et al., 2005) so just imagine how bad Dave’s tone must be if he is aware of how poorly he communicates via email!
Sadly, Dave’s issues seem like a person-job fit issue where he did not have job satisfaction because his personal disposition did not mesh well with his job characteristics (Gruman, 2017). Looking at Dave’s communication from a mechanistic perspective, he could not transmit his message correctly (unless at that moment he was transmitting being a jerk, which was often). He was used to being in prison where friendliness, cooperation, and camaraderie were probably second-hat to sheer survival. Those are the exact pillars that our company was built on and why we thrive! Our lesson commentary that Dave’s behavior creates conflict, undermines moral, decreases our productivity, and increased turn-over (PSU, 2019). None of those things are useful in a growing company.
Thankfully, it seems that Dave’s personality of screaming at upper management, poor attitude, and divisive behavior led to his demise with the company. Sutton’s podcast said that jerks like Dave are not hard workers, they thrive for revenge, they lie and wait for something to occur so they can pounce on the opportunity to benefit, they avoid confrontation with the boss but their actions notoriously drives them out of their jobs (Stanford, 2007).
Hopefully our boss has learned his lesson that when possibly the kindest person on your staff tells you about a bully, you might want to listen to her. When we come into contact with jerks like Dave, Sutton suggested that we avoid them as much as possible and keep contact to phone calls and emails. He also suggested that we document all instances of abuse and eventually confront them in private that we have plenty of documentation of their abuse and we will report them to HR if their attitude does not change. As a company culture, our company could adopt a zero tolerance no-jerks rule, which many companies have adopted and fire jerks immediately because they are harming our company culture (2007). I wish Dave well but honestly, I am very thankful he is on his next life journey… far away from me.
Gruman, J. A., Schneider, F. W., & Coutts, L. (2017). Applied social psychology: understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Los Angeles ; London ; New Dehli ; Singapore ; Washington DC ; Melbourne: SAGE.
Kruger, J., Epley, N., Parker, J., & Ng, Z. (2005). Egocentrism over e-mail: Can we communicate as well as we think? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89(6), 925-936. doi:10.1037/0022-3522.214.171.1245
Pennsylvania State University (2019). PSYCH 424, Section 001: Applied Soc Psy. Lesson 7: Organizational Life AND Teams. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/2008549/modules/items/27030737
Stanford University eCorner (Producer). (2007, May 30). The No Jerk Rule. Bob Sutton, Stanford University [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from https://ecorner.stanford.edu/podcasts/the-no-jerk-rule.