The Office Jerk – could it be you?


Most of us would like to think we’re the friendly, helpful person at work – willing to give a hand whenever needed. New research shows that this is not the case, with many people that are seen as either under-assertive or over-assertive thinking that they’re just appropriately assertive.

It’s great to be self-assured and confident, but it’s another story when you’re accused of being bossy or overpowering. A new study from the Colombia Business School shows that 56% of people that think they’re under-assertive or have it ‘just right’ are actually seen as over-assertive by their counterparts.

Jill Abramson was recently fired from her position as the executive editor of the New York Times for a variety of reasons, with one being that she was seen as too “bossy”. The New Yorker claims she was terminated for asking to be paid equal to that of her predecessor, Bill Keller. It was reported by the New Yorker that Abramson was ousted for being too “pushy” and “bossy”, two words that would never be used to describe a male. The findings from the Columbia Business School (CBS) suggest that there’s a great chance Abramson wasn’t aware that people viewed her this way.

“Finding the middle ground between being pushy and being a pushover is a basic challenge in social life and the workplace”, says Daniel Ames, professor of management at CBS and co-author of the new study.

“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.”

The new study is called “Pushing in the Dark: Causes and Consequences of Limited Self-Awareness for Interpersonal Assertiveness” and will be published in

Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin

 this month. Ames and fellow researcher Abbie Wazlawek, a doctoral student at CBS, conducted four studies to test their theory about the connection between self-awareness and assertiveness.

They hypotheses were correct, finding that more than 50% of people either assume they are under-assertive or over-assertive when they are in fact, the complete opposite.

Have a think about it… could you be the office jerk? “Most people can think of someone who is a jerk or a pushover and largely clueless about how they’re seen”, says Ames. “Sadly, our results suggest that, often enough, that clueless jerk or pushover is us.”

Next time you bow to someone’s demands in the office, or bark out the demands yourself, make a conscious effort to think about how others are perceiving you…. There is still time to find the perfect assertiveness!

Journal Reference: 

D. R. Ames, A. S. Wazlawek. 

Pushing in the Dark: Causes and Consequences of Limited Self-Awareness for Interpersonal Assertiveness


Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin

, 2014; 40 (6): 775 DOI: