Secondhand Jerk Effects


Engaging in joking and sarcasm will get you a few chuckles. Lord knows we need humor to get through some workdays. But there’s almost always an element of negativity in funny remarks.

It’s hard to be funny and not cross that fine line into backstabbing. Like everything in life, it’s the way that you do it that carries weight, and reveals your intentions. A gentle poke at someone’s weakspot can be just that, gentle. Perception is in the eye of the person receiving the poke.

The problem with jerks and jerk behaviors is that we often don’t recognize how what we say can be negative. And we don’t ask, don’t try to genuinely be helpful. We might even assume the person knows we are “just kidding.”

Bystanders also suffer ripple effects. A jerk poisons more than one victim. The damage spreads to coworkers, family members and friends who watch or hear about attacks, creating a larger pool of secondhand sufferers.

The results can be devastating, zapping people’s energy and, when serious, can cause absenteeism, loss of productivity, high turnover, depression and disengagement.

Research from the scientists who study these things is clear:

  • Nasty interactions have a 500% greater impact on our moods than positive interactions.
  • It takes numerous encounters with positive people to offset the energy and happiness sapped by a single episode with one jerk.

Organizations may inadvertently shelter jerks and, in some cases, promote them. The message: It’s OK to be a jerk, as long as you produce results. Some of these people get away with it because they’re considered to be mavericks, or eccentric or artistic in temperament.

I’m wondering about how to call someone out on their jerk behaviors at the moment they cross the line. It’s hard, isn’t it, without seeming like a jerk yourself… what do you think?

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