On being a jerk

Don't be a jerk

There’s a great post from Patrick Lencioni (he of 5 Dsyfunctions of a Team fame) about the difference between being a Jerk (with a capital J) and a jerk (with a small j).

What is a Jerk?

In explaining the difference he says:

“.. Now, when I spell jerk with a small letter “j”, I’m referring to someone who is willing to say or do something that pushes a peer or subordinate far out of their comfort zone in order to make them or the team better. This often comes in the form of a pointed comment during a meeting, or a dose of tough love delivered one-on-one. For a few minutes, hours or even days, jerks may be unappreciated, even resented by the people who are on the receiving end of their input, until those people come to the realization that what the jerk said or did was exactly what was needed.

Jerks with a capital “J” are different animals. They are the ones who consistently demonstrate harshness and attitude, with no apparent reason, certainly not for the good of the team and its members. They almost seem to enjoy treating others roughly and rarely, if ever, acknowledge that their attitude may have been inappropriate or uncalled for. Of course, these Jerks don’t earn the respect of their team members, rarely sustain any meaningful level of success over time, and should be avoided whenever possible...”

The scale from ineffectual to aggressive

I think it’s one of the hardest things about managing people; giving feedback to someone, when you know that will cause the other person (temporary or permanent) pain. Most people flick between the scale of completely passive and totally aggressive (that is being a total Jerk).  Passive is where you might go through the personal pain of giving someone feedback, but in such an ineffectual way that the message is diluted to the point of being useless.

The art of being able to deliver feedback in a way that the message arrives intact, is exactly that, an art. It is something that takes time to practice. It isn’t necessarily easy- but can become easier, with time and practice.

Some tips to give good feedback and not be a Jerk

My new book, “Do What You Say You’ll Do” has these tips on giving feedback effectively:


  • Ignore it and hope it will get better (and then store it up with a number of other issues to present all at once).
  • Do it in public. As Justin Langer, coach of the Western Australia Cricket Team says “praise publicly and criticise in private.
  • Blame the system – the forms, the process, whatever. You can provide really effective feedback any time irrespective of what the formal performance management timeline or process says.
  • Own the feedback : do not say “I’ve been told to tell you”. Own the issue, don’t pass the buck to someone else.
  • Feel like you have to be “tough” and aggressive. Quietly assertive will get you a lot further than aggressive. If you don’t know how to do assertive, get some help, practice with a script, learn!
  • Ignore it because you are worried that the person will:
    • Get angry
    • Not like you anymore
    • Bitch about you behind your back
    • Retaliate with their own list
  • Plan the delivery of the message in advance:
    • What do you want the person to hear?
    • What is the specific issue?
    • How do you want it to be different?
    • How can you help?
  • Think about the timing of the message
  • What else is going on for the person who is receiving the message?

When in doubt, use Brian Cook’s methodology on giving feedback: “right time, right place, right way”

Until next week, happy reading!

Tammy Tansley Consulting - Change and Culture

Ps. Did you read my last week’s post on the Innovator’s Dilemma?

Patrick Lencioni, feedback, Brian Cook, Do What You Say You’ll Do, Justin Langer

Have you got questions, or would like to take the next step? Simply get in touch for a friendly, obligation-free chat, and/or :

Sign up to my free mini course :
– Be A Better Boss In 7 Days

Check out my year-long accountability program:
– Permission To Achieve Your Dreams

Find out more about Your Leadership Story Retreat

Read my books:
– Enterprise Agreements – Made Easy
– Do What You Say You’ll Do

Want more?

If you’d like to receive my musings on all things leadership and culture related and beyond, pop your email address in below. To say thank you for sharing, you’ll immediately receive a free chapter from my book, and a free infographic on the ten tools of leadership.

1 Step 1
FormCraft – WordPress form builder