workplace success

Interpersonal Challenges are Common Among Highly Successful People: Here's the Easiest Way to Stop Them

Posting by Tami Berry, M.D.

Posting by Tami Berry, M.D.

Interpersonal challenges become more common and equally important the higher up we go within an organization. Therefore, identifying the interpersonal challenges of successful people is a very important topic that many do not think about regularly. As a physician and general surgeon, I know from firsthand experience the importance of making an active effort to manage interpersonal relationships. In learning about this mostly during my many years as a senior surgical resident, I know the detrimental impact unhealthy interpersonal relationships can have on the workplace, patient care, and one’s overall well being. Any effort we take to improve our interpersonal relationships is a boon to the entire ecosystem within which we live and work.

Clearly, the higher you go in any organization, the more technically skilled the employees are. This holds true in residency training and the healthcare system in general (ideally). As you are climbing your way up the rungs of the ladder, it becomes clear to you that interpersonal skills, or the lack thereof, become more pronounced. In fact, having good people skills often determine how high you rise within an organization or profession, how far you will ultimately go and how high your patient satisfaction scores are. Even if you aren't interested in rising to the highest of ranks, it is obvious that healthy interpersonal relationships are key to the well being of teams, groups and the overall health of the organizations within which we find ourselves involved.

By changing our interpersonal relationships, we are changing our behaviors. In order to do this, we must change our thoughts. While this sounds simple enough, this is no easy task. Change is hard. The reason why change management principles and departments exist is because change is difficult for the majority of the population. Whenever we are seeking to improve anything, I always simply look for the low-hanging fruit first. What are the slightest changes I can make that will have the greatest positive impact? Choosing to be nice to everyone you work with for the day is a great goal to start with. Realistically, it may take an unreasonable amount of energy and effort in terms of the mental and behavioral toll it takes to achieve. A quick way to make a positive change in this category of improving interpersonal relationships would be if we just stopped being jerks and treat people like humans. It is way easier to improve a negative attitude than it is to be nice all the time. Besides, being nice can mean a lot of different things to different people (am I now holding doors for everyone, am I now forced to ask him about his weekend plans, do I have to compliment a certain amount of people a certain number of times, etc.). To be frank, I can't figure out how to be nice all the time. But I can refrain from being a jerk which is something everyone can do all day every day.

To simplify this process, below is a list of behaviors you can stop doing right now to ensure you don't land on the "I'm a jerk list" which is a great list for at work and even at home. If you catch yourself doing any of these top 10 jerky behaviors, make the choice today that you will stop them. Trust me, your colleagues will notice and feel the difference; you may even come off as nice by simply not being mean.


  • Making Destructive Comments: These are often needless sarcasms and cutting remarks that we think make us look smart or witty, but they only serve to undermine and demean others
  • Not Listening Respectfully to Others: The inability to demonstrate respect for all team players and their contributions. This is a passive-aggressive form of disrespect for others.
  • Passing Judgment or Viewing Others as Beneath You: The need to rate others and categorize or file them in a hierarchical order based on our narrow and sometimes self-serving standards.
  • Negativity that Shuts Down the Input or Opinion of Others: This often shows up as a need to express or show our negative thoughts even when we weren't asked.
  • Failing to Give Proper Recognition and Failing to Express Gratitude: The inability to praise, reward or honor the work of others around you.
  • Claiming Credit We Don't Deserve: This is the most annoying way to overestimate our contribution to any success that happens. It's a quick way to gain resentment from others.
  • Blaming Others Rather Than Taking Responsibility: The selfish need to deflect blame away from ourselves and onto events and other people. "It couldn't be my fault."
  • Refusing to Apologize: The inability to understand consequences and take responsibility for our actions or admit when we were wrong or when we have wronged others.
  • Failing to Recognize How Our Actions Affect Others: The inability to empathize or have compassion for others. This shows a lack of self-awareness and emotional intelligence.
  • Playing Favorites: The inability to see that we are treating others unfairly and not choosing to fix this behavior. This threatens team effectiveness in profound ways.

I know that being nice can be a real challenge. Sometimes just not being a jerk is often easier than trying to figure out how to be nice. When you catch yourself in the act of one of these jerk-like behaviors, then stop. And then ask yourself what other action can you take instead that will have a more positive outcome? Virtually any other option is better than the one you’re about to follow through on. A good strategy is to keep an eye out for how these behaviors show up in your life in overt or even subtle ways. Once you recognize the patterns, you will be more equipped to prepare for them in a non-jerky way. By doing so, you will make life a whole lot better for yourself and all who work with you.

Here's to your well being and the well being of all who meet you, know you, work with you and love you.

Tami Berry, M.D.

P.S. I hope you've enjoyed my Top 10 List: How Not To Be A Jerk. I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas, especially if you've had success not being a jerk today!

Honorable Mention: This blog was inspired by the work of Marshall Goldsmith, specifically his book titled What Got You Here Won't Get You There. A great read from a world-renowned leadership guru. I highly encourage you to pick it up if you have the time. One of my favorite ideas that I took from this book is to decide to stop doing what harms you or others. Instead of making a to-do list today, I made a stop-it list. At the top of my 'stop-it' list was stop procrastinating and write this post! I hope it helps you.