One thing we can all agree on is that there are entirely too many jerks in the workplace. If you’re the CEO, you might think you’ve got jerks working for you. And if you’re at a lower level, you probably think your boss is the jerk.
In the new book No Jerks on the Job: Who They Are, The Harm They Do and Ridding Them from Your Workplace, Ron Newton explores the epidemic of jerks in the work environment. While there have always been difficult people on the job, it seems that jerks, or “adult brats,” as Newton like to call them, are more pervasive than ever.
After receiving a review copy of this book, I wanted to see just how pervasive jerks really are. So I searched on Google for “working with jerks” and got 1,800,000 million results. Next, I tried “dealing with jerks” and only got 560,000. That tells me there are far more people on the Internet complaining about jerks than there are offering solutions.
Perhaps Ron Newton is on to something.
Jerks and Juvenile Delinquents
Newton inherited his expertise in jerks in a rather unusual way: he ran a wilderness camp for juvenile delinquents. It was his job to take these no-good brats and turn them into functional members of society. He didn’t think much about bratty behavior inside companies until people started calling him for help. It’s interesting how one calling (helping children in trouble) leads to another (helping companies deal with delinquent adults). And no one was more surprised at what came out of it than Ron Newton.
A Wilderness Journey Into the World of Jerks
The book is written in two parts. Part One provides background on Newton, his experience in working with juvenile delinquents and how he applies those principles to his work with jerks. Part Two provides guidance and advice to those of us who have to work with jerks.
Newton uses the metaphor of a wilderness journey throughout the book. He’s speaking as a narrator, directly to the reader. Perhaps Newton chose this tone and approach to make himself and the reader a little more comfortable in dealing with a potentially difficult topic. (Of course, another option is that the reader might be a jerk, so he or she may as well go on the journey and learn something.) Either way, it’s an interesting approach.
In part one of the book, you’ll get lots of opportunities to say to yourself, “Oh – that sounds just like _______!” I felt pangs in the pit of my stomach as Newton’s descriptions of jerks brought back memories of people I had worked with who made my life a living nightmare. That wasn’t pleasant, and it made me anxious to get to part two where I would learn if there was anything I could have done to change things.
Understanding Where Jerks Come From
I suppose there is some value in understanding where jerks come from. After all, if you don’t take the time to understand the root cause of a problem, how can you solve it? However, if I were currently working with jerks, I’m not sure I would have the patience to spend time understanding their situation and what caused their behavior.
Newton attributes the increase of adult brat behavior to many of our societal systems, such as:
- Our military system. Newton tells the story of Robert Rangel, the last Vietnam War draftee to retire with uninterrupted service. Rangel was certainly not the model of good behavior. He was working the system for all he could get. But firm consequences led him to stay in the military and build an honorable 40-year career. Today, the military lets a lot of poor character traits slide.
- The government (of, by, and for the adult brat). Newton says that the government has become more deficient in character and wisdom as it seeks to make excuses for improper behavior.
- The educational system (I am the greatest). Our educational system has made a practice of false self-esteem building and unconditional validation. “We handle children much more delicately. They feel good about themselves for no reason.”
- The postnuclear family system. “The most influential of all the system factors contributing to the rise of delinquent adults is the decline of the married, two-parent family unit,” Newton contends.
There are many, many more causes of adult brat behavior. Newton spends over half the book going into each one in detail, with actual examples of adult brats either from the business world or his wilderness trips. If you agree with what he’s saying, you’ll be nodding your head. If you don’t agree, you’ll have an uncomfortable 113 pages of reading.
Finally, a Fix
I was glad to get to Part Two because in all honesty, Part One had made me a little too emotional for my own good. The following are just a few of the solutions Newton offers.
- Create a transparent environment. This is a principle of healthy two-way interaction in which we are free, without fear of exploitation, to reveal what we think or feel with those we choose. It surpasses rank or authority.
- Embody the values you want to represent before setting yourself up as an example.
- Huddle-up. This is a group problem-solving session that ultimately drives accountability.
Are You a Candidate for This Book?
Who can resist reading a book about difficult people? There is some kind of sick, gossipy joy in identifying bad behavior and pointing out those who have it. There is a whole other joy involved in explaining exactly what it is about this person that is deficient or lacking–in proving that we are good and they are bad.
No Jerks on the Job offers a lot of explanation and a lot of recommendations for solutions. But don’t expect to be able to implement these principles alone and without help.
Perhaps the biggest benefit that any businessperson can get from this book is being able to identify jerky behavior and not feed into it or make it worse.
This book offers many insights and great guidelines for dealing with difficult people. For me, about the only thing that was missing had to do with the actual layout of the book. I wanted more bulleted points; I wanted answers or solutions to jump out at me more – rather than having to wade through the muck that is human relationships.
But in the end, Newton stays true to his promise. This is a wilderness journey, and you have to make the journey to get to the other side. If you’re working with difficult people, No Jerks on the Job (website here; on Twitter @Bratbuster) will make you feel like you’re taking action in the right direction.