Does Being a Jerk Really Work?

work jerkA good leader knows when to be forceful and when to use finesse.

Of course, some have to fight their naturally aggressive impulses in delicate situations, while others must dig deep to find their inner Type A traits when the circumstances call for assertiveness.

A pair of laboratory studies outlined in a recent Journal of Business and Psychology article contrasted uncompromising approaches with more diplomatic methods in the workplace , and when each may be best, in terms of sharing and utilizing original ideas at work.

College professors Samuel Hunter and Lily Cushenbery sought to “investigate the relationship between lower levels of agreeableness (i.e., disagreeableness) and [the] innovation process, such as idea generation, promotion and group utilization, as well as potential contextual moderators of these relationships.”

Or, in plain English, the researchers essentially wanted to find out if being kind of a jerk helps one to spawn and advance ideas in the workplace.

The overarching theme emerging from both studies seems to be that obnoxiousness doesn’t necessarily give birth to brilliant ideas, but it may help coerce colleagues into buying what you’re selling.

That’s according to the findings of Hunter, an assistant professor of psychology at Pennsylvania State University, and Cushenbery, an assistant professor of management and director of the Leadership & Conflict Research Lab at Stony Brook University.

In their first study, 201 college students completed personality tests before strategizing together, in groups of three, to develop a marketing campaign. The authors found no real connection between disagreeableness and the originality of ideas created, but did identify a link between unpleasantness and group utilization of ideas.

The second study placed 291 individuals in an online environment to examine the originality of ideas shared with group members after manipulating both feedback and originality of ideas generated by others, and to determine the effect that creative and supportive co-workers have on the sharing of ideas.

This analysis yielded results similar to the first, with the caveat that a bit of belligerence may actually be an asset in environments where new ideas aren’t exactly welcomed with open arms.

“Disagreeable personalities may be helpful in combating the challenges faced in the innovation process, but social context is also critical,” said Cushenbery. “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.”

Ultimately, “being a ‘jerk’ may not be directly linked to who generates original ideas,” added Hunter, “but such qualities may be useful if the situation dictates that a bit of a fight is needed to get those original ideas heard and used by others.”