How Not to Be a Jerk

Woman Listening to a Jerk

No one sets out to be a jerk.  But we all know one when we see one.  And sometimes, after the fact, we know when we’ve been one.

What makes someone a jerk?  Or, at least, the kind of person you wouldn’t want to be around?  Typically, this type of person has some of the following characteristics:

  • Bossy
  • Uncivil
  • Demanding
  • Quick to blame others
  • Wants the final say
  • Has to be right
  • Pushy
  • Speaks loudly and refuses to lower their voice
  • Controlling
  • Poor listener
  • Name caller
  • Argumentative
  • Takes unfair advantage
  • Interrupts others
  • Speaks with a sharp tone of voice

Many times, it’s not just that someone demonstrates these characteristics, but the way they make you feel when they behave in this manner.  This is why you know a jerk when you see one!

Are You a Jerk?

Continuing the point made above, as Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

You can tell how you make someone feel by the way they respond to you.  Do people want to spend time with you?  Do you receive compliments from others?  Does someone tell you how much you and your friendship mean to them? 

Or is the opposite true for you?  Because you might be a jerk if:

  • People often seem upset with you.
  • You are told things such as, “You really don’t have a clue, do you?”
  • Friends often don’t want to hang out with you or find reasons to cancel plans.
  • You find yourself saying, “If only  . . .” a lot.
  • You really believe that other people need to own the problem.
  • You find yourself in arguments or altercations.
  • You’re not feeling much gratitude.

Stop, Look, Listen

When I was a kid, my grandfather and I enjoyed walking to the train tracks to watch the trains go by.  He’d always say to me, “Now we always need to STOP—LOOK—LISTEN before crossing the tracks."

Stop, Look, and Listen also apply in any sensitive or risky situation when you need to exercise caution, awareness, and prudence.  This in-the-moment set of silent actions affords you the precious time to do something different.

STOP thinking only of yourself. Take a breath and realize there are other people present.  Calm your mind, listen to the conversation, and let go of any assumptions you’re making.

LOOK at the situation.  Where are you?  What’s happening?  Notice what others are physically doing.  Notice what is fact – again, no assumptions.

LISTEN to what people are saying.  Hear their words, but also sense their emotions.  This will help you take in the full meaning of the conversation.  Speak when a response is warranted, expressing yourself with kindness and respect.

Each of Us Can Be a Jerk

People should realize we’re jerks just like them. 

~ Edward de Bono

It happens to the best of us.  Though it’s highly unlikely that you live your life as a jerk, we all have those moments.  Stress, emotions, or just having a bad day can make you react negatively to someone.

This is why you also have the capability to apologize or explain your behavior.

  • “Mary, I’m sorry, I am just very frustrated right now.  You might be, too.”
  • “John, I need to stop myself from being an example of what I don’t want to do. May we meet up a little later when I’m calmed down?”
  • “This situation is calling for more than what I can offer right now in terms of good communication.  I’m concerned about what you are feeling and thinking, and I’m wondering if we could talk later. 
  • “Chris, I am not sure what I’m trying to communicate here.  I’d like to take some time to pull my thoughts together. But I do want to say that I’m grateful you are in my life.”
  • “Guys, I know we usually work well together, and you know I can get out there sometimes. Will you bear with me here, knowing I might mess up what I’m trying to say?  I really appreciate you.”

The ability to step outside of yourself gives you the perspective you need to acknowledge your negative behavior or reactions.  You have a much clearer view of the affect you have on the people in your life.

Granted, there are people who, sadly, will never obtain this perspective.  They choose to live in the world of “It’s all about me” or “My way or the highway!”  While we can’t change other people, we can observe the example of what we don’t want to be.  You can consciously choose to break habits that cause yourself and others harm.

Choosing to live by etiquette’s call for kindness and respect in all interactions is the primary key to avoid being a jerk.

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