“It is a universal dilemma. What to do with the jerk at work, the
person who is so disliked by their colleagues that no-one wants to work
with them?”

The traditional answer, says The Economisttoday (for subscribers only) is to “tolerate them if they are at least half-competent – on the
grounds that competent jerks can be trained to be otherwise, while
much-loved bunglers cannot.”

The jerk at work has become an issue because the latest issue of the Harvard Business Review
publishes new research by Tiziana Casciaro and Miguel Sousa Lobo,
academics at Harvard Business School and the Fuqua School of Business,
that shows work partners “tend to be chosen not for ability but for
likability.” This is the HBR’s summary:

Drawing from their study encompassing 10,000 work relationships in five
organisations, the authors have classified work partners into four
archetypes: the competent jerk, who knows a lot but is unpleasant; the
lovable fool, who doesn’t know much but is a delight; the lovable star,
who’s both smart and likable; and the incompetent jerk, who…well,
that’s self-explanatory. Of course, everybody wants to work with the
lovable star, and nobody wants to work with the incompetent jerk. More
interesting is that people prefer the lovable fool over the competent
jerk. That has big implications for every organisation, as both of
these types often represent missed opportunities. Lovable fools can
bridge gaps between diverse groups that might not otherwise interact.
But their networking skills are often developed at the expense of job
performance, which can make these employees underappreciated and
vulnerable to downsizing. To get the most out of them, managers need to
protect them and put them in positions that don’t waste their
bridge-building talents. As for the competent jerks, many can be
socialised through coaching or by being made accountable for bad