How To Be A Conversation Jerk

Sometimes I talk to someone who seems like a jerk – I often become annoyed, and then immediately question if I also have some of those traits.  We tend to be most irritated by people who have similar negative traits that we have.

Are you aware who the conversation jerks are in your group or your company?  They tend to be annoying to talk to (and usually annoying to work with).  If you don’t know, then you might be the jerk yourself.  Here’s some tips I’ve gathered on being a ‘people’ person – so that people don’t get annoyed working with you.  Credit to Marshall Goldsmith – most of these are collected from his classes and books.

Winning Too Much

Are you always pushing to win every argument, to always be right?  It can be very annoying for the other person.  Even if you’re competitive, it’s ok to punt sometimes and let things go.  Not every battle is worth going to the mat on.  Lots of petty wins end up costing you much more than you get (you’re creating social minefields for later).  It’s ok to roll over and sometimes take the L so you maintain relationships and keep things moving. 


We interrupt for usually 2 reasons – 1. We are emotional and in a fight mode OR (more often) 2. Our point is SO IMPORTANT that we need to stop the other person to convey it.  Being interrupted is annoying, no one likes it.  If you find yourself doing it (and can be aware of it), immediately apologize, acknowledge you interrupted and let them finish their point.  What you are saying can wait.

Talking Over Others

This is another aggressive conversation tactic, like interrupting. You are trying to talk louder because you believe your point is much more important, but be aware–it’s very rude. This can be exacerbated on video calls when there is connection interference, but it can make you seem like a bully if it happens too often.  Remember, your information is rarely so urgent that it cannot wait.

Negatives & Contradictions

Did you start your sentence or idea with, “But”, “No”, or “However”?  These are all negatives that essentially say to the other person in conversation, “Whatever you just said is wrong and here’s why.”  It’s a great way to make yourself feel good at the expense of others.  Even if you are right, you are saying it in a way that puts you in opposition to the other person.  Choose other words that convey your point and also collaborate.

Not Acknowledging Points

If you aren’t actively thanking people and pointing out that their ideas are good / welcomed, you might inadvertently be dismissing their contributions.  Make an effort to use positives such as, “thank you for bringing that up,” “that’s right,” and “good point.”  This folds people into the circle and rewards participation.  If you end up getting “too much participation” (rarely happens), it’s easy to re-focus everyone.

Solo Show

I also find aggressive conversationalists don’t like to share the spotlight.  They like to answer every question or just talk endlessly and monopolize the meeting.  If you find yourself the only person talking, throw to other folks, ask questions.  Even if you are leading a meeting, you don’t want to sound like you are pontificating.  You aren’t a standup comedian, people aren’t coming to see you talk.  They are there for a purpose, remember that and share time.

Side note – most people who use any of the above techniques THINK they are smart.  They usually believe everything that they say has incredible value.  I have an unfortunate revelation for 99% of us.  We are not as smart as we think we are.  The other 1% are the Bill Gates and Zucks of this world – people tend to be tolerant of the negative behavior there because they are running 100 billion dollar businesses (but it doesn’t necessarily make it ok).

Ok, so what do I do?

Swallow your pride and shut up.  You don’t have to be right, you don’t have to prove how smart you are.  When you are about to talk, pause a moment.  Make sure you are saying the right thing AND saying it in the right way.  Are you about to say something that could be perceived as condescending?  Are you getting heated up / emotional?  What’s your goal in what you are about to say?  How could you say it without leaving someone else annoyed / hurt?

Everyone you are working with is trying to do their best – respect the work they are doing, their contributions, and most importantly, please respect them as individuals. 

Beware of Expert

This may be a controversial topic because the word ‘expert’ is a loaded one – what does ‘expert’ mean to you?  When I hear someone apply the expert label to themselves, it’s always a bit cringey.  

If someone tells me how much they know about something (and perhaps also how they have been disrespected in their field), then I can be reasonably sure they harbor some insecurity issues and their ego has been bruised.  It typically has no reflection on their knowledge and ability.  Talk is like fast food, cheap and easy.  

Frequently self proclaimed experts are just people who enjoy telling you “no” and why “that won’t work”.  It’s most frequently a negative mindset that is dangerous to collaborate with – be cautious when you are paired with this type of person.  They relish in arbitrarily following rules and shutting down ideas.

I would rather work with a combination of two groups of people – some open minded folks with experience AND some other people with limited experience who don’t know what can’t be done.  This is where the real initiative and breakthroughs come from.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying to not have knowledge and ability in your field or not to improve to a very high mastery level.  Kaizen (constant improvement) should be a value we all have locked into our utility belt.

You should however be aware of how you are perceived and how you market yourself.  You can be seen as someone with expertise but also be aware there is something (probably many things) you don’t know, and something you could learn.

Work in a humble way to improve yourself and constantly learn with the awareness that you could unintentionally / accidentally stumble into being an expert.  At which time, you should reset your ego and remember to return to the learning and improvement mindset.

The ‘expert’ knows ‘everything’ and has nothing left to learn.  They also will love to tell you about it.

I can say all this with confidence since I used to be an expert too.