Many Agressive Co-Workers May Not Even Know They Are Jerks
June 30, 2014

Many Agressive Co-Workers May Not Even Know They Are Jerks

Gerard LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

A new study from researchers at Columbia Business School suggests that people who are aggressive at work probably don’t realize they are being too pushy and assertive.

“Finding the middle ground between being pushy and being a pushover is a basic challenge in social life and the workplace. We’ve now found that the challenge is compounded by the fact that people often don’t know how others see their assertiveness. In the language of Goldilocks, many people are serving up porridge that others see as too hot or too cold, but they mistakenly think the temperature comes across as just right—that their assertiveness is seen as appropriate. To our surprise, we also found that many people whose porridge was actually seen as just right mistakenly thought their porridge came off as too hot. That is, they were asserting themselves appropriately in the eyes of others, but they incorrectly thought they were pushing too hard,” said co-author of the study, Daniel Ames, professor of management from Columbia Business School.

The study, “Pushing in the Dark: Causes and Consequences of Limited Self-Awareness for Interpersonal Assertiveness,” will be published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin this month. Frank Flynn, a professor also from the Columbia Business School, took part in the study showing that many people – based on previous research – are perceived as either over-assertive or under-assertive by others, but think they have appropriate behavior.

The study consisted of four tests to relate assertiveness and self-awareness. Three out of the four involved MBA students enrolled in a negotiation course at the school, and the other was done in an online survey of 500 adults from the United States.

The test for the MBA students involved a mock negotiation with paired up students covering issues like licensing rights. Then each pair were asked questions about the assertiveness of themselves and their partner. Then the two were asked to guess what the other one said about them. One question was whether people knew what their counterparts thought of them.

The results of the study revealed that 57 percent of the people seen by their counterpart as under-assertive, thought they had been appropriately assertive or over-assertive. Plus, 56 percent of the people seen by their counterparts as over-assertive, thought they were appropriately assertive or under-assertive. The study results suggest that people who are seen as getting assertiveness wrong are 50/50 on recognizing their own assertiveness.

“Most people can think of someone who is a jerk or a pushover and largely clueless about how they’re seen. Sadly, our results suggest that, often enough, that clueless jerk or pushover is us,” Ames stated.

The findings also revealed that many people who were seen having appropriate assertiveness, thought they were being too assertive – or had crossed the line. This could be a costly misconception. The person who thought they were too assertive could try to repair the relationship, possibly agreeing to a less valuable deal. As the researchers stated, they were “attempting costly repairs for something that wasn’t broken,” costing both sides with what could be a better deal.