401-423-2400 Kristin@Zhivago.com

Why I Don’t Work With Jerks

Jerks are people who decided, early in life, that they were going to be jerks. It was their way of trying to come out on top. It didn’t matter whose face they had to stand on, on the way up.

With jerks, it is always “me” against “them.” Every interaction is a battle. If they want something, they try to figure out how to get it by manipulating, lying, and cheating.

I long ago decided that I would not take on jerk clients. It’s a waste of time to help them anyway. There is no way they are going to do things that actually benefit customers and employees. Even if they pay lip service to goodness, sooner or later their true nature will come out, and everyone will know what a jerk they are. Policies created by jerks always benefit the jerk at the expense of someone else.

It’s pretty difficult to live a jerk-free life, but I certainly do try. On those rare occasions in our personal life when I am forced to deal with a jerk, I am reminded why I work so hard to avoid jerks in my business life.

Nothing is their fault. Everything is your fault, even when it is impossible – even ridiculous – that it could be your fault. They are combative and demanding. They do more damage than good, and when you call them at it, they just make more excuses or vehemently shift the blame.

I’m glad to see that social media is making it tougher for jerks to hide behind a flashy façade. But at the same time, the jerks have gotten better at lying and making their side of the story sound plausible.

If you suspect that someone might be a jerk, you are probably right. Back away early and often. You won’t regret it.

I recently turned down a potential new client who gave me jerk vibes. While the salesperson inside me is always reluctant to turn down a new client, I felt relieved after I did it. I knew I had escaped the endless agony of dealing with a jerk. And I would also have more time to devote to all the good people who need my help.


  1. Kristin,

    Having just finished reading the Checklist Manifesto I was curious:

    Do you have a mental or written checklist for determining who is a jerk from who isn’t or do you just rely on your gut instincts alone?


  2. Hi, Giselle.

    I don’t just trust my gut, although my gut has gotten pretty dependable, in spite of my natural tendency to want to believe the best of people.

    I have a jerk test.

    In the case I mentioned in this article, I knew just by the way the guy was acting, and he was also doing something jerks always do: Peppering the conversation with, “Do you know him?” “Do you know them?” Because “who you know” is more important to jerks than “who you are.” So that’s one simple test.

    But here’s the never-fails jerk test. Don’t tell any jerks about it.

    I started using the jerk test years ago when we were running an ad/PR agency in Silicon Valley, and my husband and I were in business together. It’s hard enough working with your spouse – and we are best friends – but having a jerk on the client list makes life miserable. So my goal was not to bring a jerk client into our lives. The most important question: Which type of person was the CEO? Lower-level jerks exist in every company; I knew I could deal with them.

    In the Big Meeting, with everyone sitting around the conference room, I had to figure out who the jerks were, quickly. In one of those meetings, as it became obvious that they wanted to hire us, I said, “We have one rule at our company. We don’t work with jerks.”

    And there it was, plain as day. The answer.

    The nice people laughed. They thought it was cool.

    But the jerks were offended. Their body language – at the very least, the look they gave me – gave them away. Most times, they would sit back in their chair, fold their arms, and glare at me. I knew they were thinking, “How dare she say she won’t do business with me?” If the CEO was glaring, I knew what I had to do. Back away.

    That’s when I learned that being a jerk is a conscious decision, and also that jerks know who they are, even though they spend their lives trying to fool everyone else.

    Hope that helps you.


  3. It definitely helped! Entertaining, funny but most of all TRUE! Thank you!

  4. Hi Kristin,

    WoW! This little article on jerks was refreshing and comforting to me this morning. I have recently had to deal with the emotional feedback that always comes to us after we make a decision to stop (or refuse to start) doing business with a JERK!.

    We have been working for a client for the past 10 years or so who definitely meets your criteria of a JERK. He and his company have been one of our most productive revenue sources for our little construction company over these years. In this time of sluggish economy, it was very hard for me to say “enough is enough” and just stop doing business with this guy. While the revenue will be missed, the relief and peace of mind all of us here at our little company have breathed a sigh of relief knowing that we don’t have to put up with his C_ _ _ any more.

    So there you have it. Once again, your message was very timely and appreciated.

    Robert Johnson.

  5. Congratulations, Robert. Now you’ll have more energy for the good guys. There are plenty of great people who need your excellent services. Whenever I drop a jerk, all sorts of good things start to happen.

    Nice to hear from you, have a great jerk-free day!


  6. Well said Kristin!

    A good friend of mine is staging Peer Gynt this weekend and I did a quick Peer Gynt/Wikipedia brush-up so I wouldn’t miss anything and saw the moral of the story:

    Are you a human or a troll?

    “The answer given by the Old Man of the Mountain is: ‘Out there, where sky shines, humans say: “To thyself be true.” In here, trolls say: “Be true to yourself-ish.”‘”

    Troll, Jerk – same thing.

  7. Yourself-ish. Priceless.


  8. Hi Kristin,

    I love this article. You are spot on. I have two jobs. In my personal, artistic job I most certainly do not work with jerks. They destroy the creative process, are always critical just to be miserable, and try to leave you feeling unappreciated.

    In my 8-5 job I cultivate ongoing relationships with lenders who do daily repeat business. I will sometimes work with a jerk in this capacity because I’ve noticed that jerks don’t often last too long in good organizations and are replaced with competent, well-meaning people.

    A similar thing happens when selling in this environment. I won’t write off a lender whose decision maker is a jerk… I will call back occassionally to see if they still have a job.

    But for the most part, and especially in one-to-one instances, you are correct; it is not worth the time and aggravation to work with a jerk.

    Best regards,

    Scott Byorum

  9. Avoiding jerks will greatly reduce job related stress and make one more productive. Therefore as much as possible eliminate working with jerks.

  10. Hey, Lloyd. Not sure what to say about this comment.

  11. Interesting question. First of all, I’d have to give him the jerk test. If he flunked, then no, I would not work for him. I think later in his life he might have passed the jerk test.

    Frankly I’m not sure he was a jerk; I think he decided to adopt a particular management style, to make sure that the people working for him rose to the standards he envisioned. He didn’t suffer fools gladly, which is often one of the dominant characteristics of a certain type of leader, and also not uncommon for someone who decided, early in life, that he was “on his own.”

    I suppose this is a good opportunity to address the fact that he has a reputation for not needing to listen to customers. It would be unwise for any CEO to think, “Well, if Steve could do it….” Big mistake. Only Steve Jobs was Steve Jobs. If other tech CEOs turned out such elegant products without listening to customers, I’d have to seriously question the truth I have come to believe in – which is that your customers can tell you what they would like to be able to do, if you ask them correctly. You have to know this before you innovate and promote, and guessing does not work.

    Apple’s products stood out because they were so different from the typical un-elegant tech offering. So the industry, on the whole, has a long way to go before any CEO can believe that he doesn’t need to listen to customers.

    One more thing, while we’re at it. Steve was not a techie. Most founders of tech companies are technical. Steve was a marketer, a teacher, and a visionary. He didn’t fall in love with his inventions; he fell in love with the idea of what great inventions could do. In a Rolling Stone article about him, there was a little story about how at some point in his life, after searching for enlightenment, he realized how much Thomas Edison had done for the quality of life in the world.

    And this is why I don’t think Steve was a jerk. Jerks don’t spend any time thinking about such things.



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