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Don't be a Jerk - Always Take the High Road

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take the high road

By Ash Langenberg

Maintain professionalism at all times. Keep emotions under control. Advocating forcefully for the interest of our clients does not require bullying, condescension, foul language, or temper tantrums. This applies to co-workers, opposing counsel, and vendors. Be a "mensch".

This week's JW way really intrigues me. I have often wondered how some people can't see the effects their words and actions have on others. When I was preparing for this week's message a few questions came into mind.

  1. Who gets to decide who a jerk is?
  2. How can I recognize when I am being a jerk?
  3. How can I prevent myself from being a jerk?
  4. What is a mensch?

These are just some of the questions I have asked in this process, but I feel all are relevant. The first question, "Who gets to decide who a jerk is?", is a simple answer… the other party. Being a jerk is all in the perception of others. If we can determine where the other person is coming from, what ideas of social normality they have, and what their expectations for the interaction are we can start to determine their concept of a "jerk" in the situation. While being a jerk, or the perception of a jerk, isn't always the same from person to person, or situation to situation, there are a few things that stay fairly consistent between people and ideas in our society. 

This leads me to the second question, "How can I recognize when I am being a jerk?" A jerk may have one or more of the following characteristics: Arrogance, they are on the offense, they are pushy or are intrusive, are mean, show disrespect, and constant complaining. 

  1. Arrogance, they talk about themselves often, without wondering (or caring) how other people feel, they are boastful.
  2. Offensiveness, they feel, or act, as if they have to "one up" other people, or take other people down a notch or two.
  3. Pushy or intrusive. Jerks often, while sometimes accidentally, get far too much into other people's business or push their own ideas too strongly. 
  4. Mean, they don't care for other people's feelings, can act as if they have a chip on their own shoulders, and can often act as if everyone around them is stupid or wrong.
  5. Disrespectful, while opinions are individual, a jerk acts, and feels, as if their opinions are much more important and more correct than other peoples. 
  6. Complaining, while complaining has a place, the consistency of it can cause issues, or cause other people to feel as if the person complaining is a jerk… why? See points 1-5. 

Now that I can recognize when I am being a jerk, how can I prevent this without becoming a pushover? The third question can be difficult. I know that personally when I am confronted by something, I can tend to become defensive, defensiveness can lead to me being a jerk… but it doesn't have to. Thinking before I speak (or sign) is one big way I can prevent myself from becoming a jerk, or being seen as a jerk. Learning where the other person is coming from, what their highest DISC personality type is can help with this. Meeting people on their level, even if it is a bit uncomfortable for me, can help in this situation. I am working on learning to quickly recognize the DISC type of other people, so I can meet them on their level, and hopefully we can come to understandings quicker. To see a DISC chart, visit http://wraithworshipper.deviantart.com/journal/DiSC-Personality-Types-for-Characters-481941812.

Another important tool in preventing myself from being a jerk is simply learning to keep my cool in heated situations. I know that I need do this better, but we are all a work in progress. One tool I have found is to practice my breathing. Not only does breathing deeply get more oxygen to my brain, and allow for my brain to process responses quicker, but it also is a visual representation to myself and the other person that I am trying to keep calm. This I have found can go a long way in preventing others from viewing me as a "jerk".

The last question I had questioned the definition of a mensch. Merriam-Webster defines mensch as "a person of integrity and honor". This is what I want to be seen as, not as a hot headed jerk, not as someone who doesn't stand by my word, or a person people are fearful to come and ask for help from. I want to live up to being a mensch, I want to follow JW way #16, and in order to do this, I need to follow the other JW ways as well, because they are all interconnected. 

  1. A Jerk cannot deliver outstanding advice, because they are too centered on themselves.
  2. A jerk wouldn't treat other people's money as their own, because other people's money isn't as important as their own.
  3. A jerk would not be passionate about the client experience, because they do not care about the client.
  4. A jerk couldn't walk in another person's shoes, because they don't understand other's perspectives.
  5. A jerk would not listen fully, because other people's words and meanings are not as important as their own, especially as they try to boost themselves up and lower others.
  6. A jerk would not manage expectations, because the only expectation that is important is their own.
  7. A jerk would not honor commitments, because in that moment, their wants are more important.
  8. A jerk does not act with integrity, because they are not concerned with what the right thing to do is, unless it is right for themselves.
  9. A jerk cannot leave their ego at the door, because their ego is part of the reason they are a jerk.
  10. A jerk does not communicate to be understood, because they cannot understand where the other person is coming from.
  11. A Jerk cannot demonstrate respect, because they are disrespectful.
  12. A jerk cannot practice blameless problem solving, because other people are to blame, not themselves.
  13. A jerk would not remember that we are in a business to serve clients profitability, because their own profitability is all that would matter in the moment. 
  14. A jerk would not respect the balance of professional independence and consistency within our firm, because, while they may want to be independent professionally, they expect everyone else to follow their lead, and the rest of the firm is NOT a jerk!
  15. A jerk cannot treasure, protect and promote our reputation, because being a jerk is NOT part of our reputation. 
  16. A jerk cannot take the high road, because their road is all that matters.
  17. A jerk will not be relentless about continuous improvement, because they already see themselves as the best of the best.
  18. A jerk cannot be an effective mentor, because they do not build others, teach them, only tear them down.
  19. A jerk will not embrace change, because that is outside of their comfort zone.
  20. A jerk will not maintain a healthy work/life balance, because they will be all or nothing.
  21. A jerk will not keep things fun, because others do not have fun around a jerk.

Founded in 1984, Jaburg Wilk offers extensive experience, diversity in practice areas and the ability to think like a business owner. We are an Arizona mid-sized AV rated law firm, the highest rating that a law firm can receive. Our attorneys, paralegals, and other support staff meet our clients' diverse legal needs and provide exceptional service through our 21 Fundamentals which comprise The JW Way.