Most people are fundamentally good. They want the best for their family, themselves, and others.
But occasionally we come across someone who is, at his core, not good.
I’m not talking about the mentally ill people at the fringe of society (like someone who shoots up a movie theater full of people).
I’m talking about the type of person who sees you and your two little kids walking down the jet bridge and knocks over your four-year-old because he bought a first class ticket and deserves to board ahead of you.
I’m also talking about the client who owes you money and when you call to collect, launches into a tirade about your lack of service (meanwhile you worked with him for months without ever hearing about these issues. That’s because they didn’t exist until he needed a distraction from his nonpayment).
These people are jerks.
It’s easy to shake your head, scream an expletive at the first guy, and move on with your life.
But it becomes more difficult to let go of your experience with the second type of person.
There is one real estate developer in New York (let’s call him Trevor) with whom I worked in the late 1990’s who had this type of personality. At the time he had two partners who were sweethearts. They were true gentlemen. Trevor was a jerk. He would berate his staff in the office. He would scream at the other side of the table in negotiations. He would short-pay or outright stiff realtors on their commissions.
After having a working experience with him, people would swear up and down they would never do a deal with Trevor again.
Yet when he began developing “the next big thing” in Manhattan, everyone would line up outside his office like he was giving away bags of money.
This type of jerk – the Trevor type – will hijack your success if you are not careful.
He will cause you sleepless nights. He will make you second-guess your judgment. He will take years off your life. All of this happens because he gets inside your head and you can’t get him out.
You curse about the jerk that knocked down your kid and then you move on with your life. But Trevor stays with you because of the emotional impact he has on you.
The residual effect is worse. You have a kind of relationship posttraumatic stress disorder after working with a Trevor. You begin to break out into a cold sweat at the thought of even a healthy conflict in a work setting. This hurts your relationships and hampers your ability to do good work.
Yet we continue to take on work with people we suspect, will be a problem. We do this because we want the money or the prestige or the glamor.
We always regret that decision.
Here are three questions to ask yourself before you take on a partner, hire an employee, or engage a client, you suspect, may be a jerk:
Question one: Are there any facts that support my intuition this person may be a jerk?
Look for things in the public record that support your feelings. Try to be objective but if you find multiple newspaper articles, more than one lawsuit filed against him, convictions of crimes – run away.
Question two: How does he treat the restaurant worker, cab driver and your assistant?
Always take a suspected jerk to lunch before getting into bed with him. If he is rude to the staff at the restaurant (or to your assistant on the telephone) run the other way. That type of behavior is indicative of how he treats everyone.
Question three: The JFK – LAX Test. Would you want to sit next to this person on a flight from New York to Los Angeles?
Many relationships have begun (and been deepened) on transcontinental airline flights. If you cannot imagine talking with this person for six hours, you will never be able to enjoy doing business with him.
If the answer is “no” to any of these questions, run as fast as you can in the opposite direction.
This is both a wake-up call and a warning. No matter how badly you need the money, want the prestige, or crave the glamor for your ego, it is NEVER worthwhile to work with a jerk.
Trevor is currently having financial trouble. He’s been through a divorce, a bankruptcy and a few other business and personal issues. His former partners (they separated from him when times were good) own one of the most successful Real Estate development companies in the world.
One of the most important benefits of being a business owner is being able to select your clients. Do not let the money, glamor or prestige cloud your judgment.
There is never a good time to work with a Jerk.
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