Don't Be a Jerk at the Office, Folks

If you've worked at an office for any lengthy period of time, particularly a software development shop,  the odds are very good that you've run into them . You know who I'm talking about. There are many different names for them such as curmudgeon, know-it-alls, divas, etc. No matter the particular term used, they have similar qualities including--but not limited to--generally surly demeanor, an inability to empathize, and freaking out when things don't go their way. I'm talking, of course, about jerks .

Strangely, the software development profession tends to attract a disproportionate number of jerks. There are many reasons for this (which could span a whole post). In any case, this type of individual can cause teams, departments, and sometimes entire companies to be dysfunctional. How do they do this?

The first way is by having negative attitudes. Jerks can cause the mood of the room to shift merely by their presence. Their surly demeanor can easily wipe the smile off of someone's face. In some instances, other employees can go into 'defense' mode immediately because they have become accustomed to having to fend off the jerk's communication style. 

Another way that these individuals can cause problems is through their inability to empathize with others. This can manifest itself as a tendency to 'throw people under the bus'. Rather than trying to understand where others in the organization are coming from and the pressures that they are dealing with, jerks are often focused on only the task at hand in their particular area of responsibility. When things go awry (as happens in many development projects), these individuals are quick to cast blame on others and rarely (if ever) accept responsibility for their mistakes (especially publicly). This leads to a culture of distrust in a company.

The final major way that jerks can cause trouble for a development shop is by freaking out when things don't go their way. This manifests itself in various ways. The most obvious way is by unnecessarily turning the smallest disagreements into 'earth-shattering' events.  A more subtle way that this manifests itself is when the individual decides to 'go rogue' and make decisions without consulting the appropriate parties. These reactions not only cause unnecessary confusion and concern in others, but also have the effect that the loudest mouth in the room (or the most stubborn one) will have undue sway on technical decisions or project matters. Coworkers will simply not have the energy to deal with the jerk and will let things slip past them that otherwise would have been dealt with in a healthy environment.

Folks, nobody wants to deal with jerks. They are a big factor in workplace harmony and job satisfaction. Don't be a jerk, and don't let jerks take over your office.