Nearly everyone has worked with a blowhard who has trouble getting along with the rest of the office. Now researchers say they have found evidence of when it hurts (and helps) to be a jerk in the workplace. In short, being a jerk helps get your ideas taken seriously in a situation that’s not conducive to working outside the box, but hinders employees at organizations where creative thinking is placed at a premium.
In a journal article titled “Is Being a Jerk Necessary for Originality? Examining the Role of Disagreeableness in the Sharing and Utilization of Original Ideas,” two professors conducted studies of mock marketing campaigns and chat rooms to test how ideas are shared in a business setting. The results of the two studies indicate what many of us know: That combative personalities help in many situations, but people often don’t know how to tone those tendencies down when they aren’t appropriate.
The experiments aimed to show (in a controlled environment) how being a “jerk” translates over into work context. In the first experiment, students on a university campus divided into groups of three to develop marketing campaigns for a university’s online learning division. The second experiment consisted of controlled interactions within a chat room; both studies focused on how participants with more abrasive personality traits interacted with their more agreeable peers. When they homed in on the results, the researchers found that the more open-minded and creative thinking a group was, the less amenable they were to taking the ideas of a “jerk” seriously.
Lily Cushenbery of Stony Brook University, who worked on the article along with Penn State’s Samuel Hunter, added in a press statement that “Disagreeable personalities may be helpful in combating the challenges faced in the innovation process, but social context is also critical. In particular, an environment supportive of original thinking may negate the utility of disagreeableness and, in fact, disagreeableness may hamper the originality of ideas shared.”
A similar study released last month found that, under some sets of circumstances, a sense of entitlement might make people more creative.