Meet the New Circle Jerk of Work
Jessica Miller-Merrell | HR| By
There’s a group of my very close friends who refer to the endless congratulatory bullshit that happens in a lot of places where influence and knowing who you know is king. We refer to it as “circle jerking.”
First off, this article and post is totally suitable for work or SFW. It’s not about that other type of circle jerking… I’m talking about influence, relationships, and circle jerking in the context of business and business success.
Circle jerking is about limitations and the echo chamber that sometimes these close relationships and group-think often bring. Myself even as an introvert, I am all about meeting new people, building new relationships and making connections but sometimes it’s your community or group of friends that’s holding you back. This is really much of my now job as a sort of ambassador and anthropologist for HR. The circle jerk is keeping you from being authentic, getting uncomfortable and doing great things. My close group of besties are strong, powerful and successful business persons, both women and men who’ve experienced circle jerking first hand and have chosen to break out of the echo chamber individually and separately resulting in a very eclectic, honest and candid conversations about reflecting on circle jerking.
Backstabbing at Work
The circle jerk is a group of individuals who just stroke each other’s ego, telling everyone within the circle they are awesome and then behind their back, talk – saying horrible things. All the while stroking their own ego, talking down to others they are often jealous of without considering the feelings or life of those they are potentially hurting and damaging. The circle jerk is drama, negativity, and just all the kinds of bullshit that sometimes people who appear to support another might bring.
While the original context of circle jerk is not suitable for work, my definition is about about group appreciation, recognition within an echo chamber that’s truly self serving…
I work very hard to be an authentic person online and in real life, I find it extremely draining the roles you have to play and politics at work. I don’t follow the politics or games played on a daily basis. It’s one of the reasons I was promoted in my career quickly. I told it like it was. I got shit done. People like my brazen honesty and the chances I took but these are also the very reasons why I got fired from my last job as a practitioner in HR and Recruiting. I blame the circle jerk of workplace politics. It’s just not for me. Honesty and being genuine and happy in what you do in work and life is the best policy.
The circle jerk often infiltrates communities, friends and groups of individuals, and it’s only when looking back that you really understand the ugliness and hurt that the relationships actually bring. Circle jerks are like a bad addiction. Sometimes it takes a group intervention of true friends, and individuals working through some sort of twelve-step program to remove themselves from the addictive negativity.
A couple years ago, I was invited into the circle of someone I admired very much. This person was someone I looked up to, I admired and followed their career online, but meeting them in person I felt manipulated, violated, and just ugly inside – which was the tradeoff to being in the inner circle of this particular circle jerker. For me, the cost of admission into the circle just wasn’t worth it.
So I avoided the circle, took stock and really thought about the toxic circle and realities of influence I see, while being personally smack-talked and smeared by said circle jerk circle because of my choice to not accept the invitation or to participate in the toxic and negative community. My decision was used against me in the form of nasty whispers and conversations reported to me only after the fact. I was hurt. I cried a lot. I was angry, and I made the decision to avoid the drama and not fuel the negatively by not engaging. I was naive and learned this ugliness is often the price one pays for personal success, being unique and different bring. So I unfriended, removed myself from conversations and now choose to rise above these negative conversations and attacks that were happening.
Circle Jerk Meet Crabs in a Bucket
The funny thing about circle jerks is that the community in question often wants the same things. Fame, money, a job, fortune, status, stuff or a happy family. We seek comfort of the circle jerk to reside in the power of group think or reassurance and when there are things we covet from those others who are part of the circle jerking. We spend time complimenting, promoting while exhibiting characteristics of jealousy, anger, and just out right nasty. The circle jerk is like a steaming pot of crabs who are desperate to leave the pot no matter what the cost may bring. Instead of helping the collective and lifting each other up, outside of the pot, we pull the crabs down back down just as they are about to escape finding success, opportunity, and possibility.
That’s the truly evil side of circle jerking and the ugly side of success and influence I never considered when I first started working, blogging or even thought would happen in sharing my ideas, opinions, success, or community.
Who and What’s In My Circle
I believe communities especially those of influence should help not hurt the members of said community, but benefit them and give back intensely. Those who are truly successful not just in business but in life focus on elevating the individuals who contribute, take ownership and are a part of said community. Real success isn’t contributing to a circle jerk and being just one of the girls or guys but creating your own circle where you can influence, grow and make memories with a group of friends, colleagues and people who are interested and have a passion for the same things. This, my friends is the foundation of my blog and the amazing community of writers, contributors, comments and friends I’ve built through elevating and helping others to form our own circle jerking-less circle by being honest, kind and open to collaborating with others regardless of their influence or perceived success they might bring.
Stacy Donovan Zapar says
Love the brutal honesty. Took me too long to lose my PollyAnna lens and realize this stuff happens everywhere… Corporate America, HR/Recruiting Industry, Social Media. I’d rather step away from it all than get sucked into it.
When are we going to learn that a rising tide raises all ships?
Jessica Miller-Merrell says
As a very social person, it’s hard to make choices like these. I am also a believer in people being innately good in most cases but found that I would get sucked into lots of unnecessary drama and just crap wasting my time and money. Not worth it.
So true, Stacy…
But it seems many do not want all ships raised. Perhaps the equality of it all bothers them.
Thanks Jessica for being so real. Many of us are just here to do the work, not gain stardom or a fan base – we are compelled to learn and share. Not reduce and tear down…
Sad, truly sad that we cannot all rise with the tide….
This is completely my life. I am often shamed for being honest, direct and upfront. I’ve found places and people where this doesn’t happen and it is getting better. I actually was almost fired once because I disagreed with the boss’s daughter on something and I was completely right. In addition, they ASKED for my opinion and expected me to blindly agree. I’m glad I haven’t sunk to playing games like these to get ahead. I get ahead by being a rockstar and having the ability to take a step back, take feedback, learn and grow. That’s worked at work but also in life. We don’t get to be better people by putting others down, we get to be better people by STRIVING for it. Thanks for this post and thanks for being honest! I know its hard to put hard stuff out there like this, as I have often debated blogs such as this one myself. Thanks for being brave 🙂
We’ll all hang in together, Belinda!
It’s how you rise above.
Jessica Miller-Merrell says
I see a lot of my qualities in you, and I love you for that. It’s very rare to be smart, saucy and opinionated all at the same time but you pull it off wonderfully. I realized that in this world there are not many people who are not happy and spend their days removing the joy from others. Fight to keep that spirit alive.
My daughter is very much like this too. She’s 5 now and very carefree, loving and just has something magical about her. I don’t want her to loose that uniqueness that’s there in her heart because of some asshole. We have to make a choice which is why I choose to write about this. It’s something I never thought about or even understood until about two years or so ago. And since then, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting, being hurt and trying to understand why this stuff was happening. It’s happening because people are threatened of your awesomeness.
Keep being awesome.
Very well written Jessica.
I had worked in such environment earlier for sometime and cringed and disliked it every minute of it. I stood out as thorn in the flesh of the said circle or circles :).. the day I quit that job… it was such a relief.
Thank you Stacy.. found this article in your facebook feeds and picked it up..
Stacy Donovan Zapar says
Good to know, Ravi. That’s what social sharing is all about… Glad great content found its way to you! 🙂
It says a great deal about a person who can stand up and stand out and not be crushed by the minions who believe they are gods. You are an innovator who has no time for that kind of nonsense or downer.
We make our own path – occasionally we are helped along, perhaps by someone like Jessica or a middle manager who sees potential and does not want it to whither or go to waste. But often, it is up to us – personally – to make our own dreams happen, and conquer our own part of the world.
There is no conquering if your world is full of knocking others down or standing on top of someone else to just move a step ahead. What a waste of precious resources: time and energy.
There is a much better place and space to be.
Steve Levy says
Great Jess, just GREAT! Ever heard of the Equine Paradox? Why are there so few horses but so many horses’ asses?
What ever happened to the “honesty is the best policy” talk that all parents have with their children? Is a life lesson like this thrown away with the first t-ball game and associated jawing between parents? Is it the entitlements that come with (as an example) Ivy League education regardless of performance? When was honesty devalued and how did it escape so many from seeing it happen?
At some point when you look at the person in the mirror, that person will be looking back – who will they see?
A real honest person never has to hide…
Jessica Miller-Merrell says
I so agree. I haven’t heard of the Equine Paradox but it sounds like it fits very well here. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a year or so and I kept saying I was going to blog about it. Since I’ve been busy with the move I put the topic on the back burner and this last week have done some more reflecting and was reminded of how much drama their is in certain cities, industries and people I come in contact with.
Appreciate the comment and taking the time to read.
NoniShaney Cavaliere says
This is so to the point and I really agree. I’ve run into many of the same issues. The same thing that has gotten me hired (my loyalty to honesty and no bs meter) are the same thing that has gotten me laid off. I no longer want to be one of the incrowd, because in my field I see more happening by the “not cool kids” than the “thought leaders”, that choice may not be as glam I choose that road anyway. I want to do passionate, great work without all the office politics and bs. I have a dream that I can make a living doing that.
[…] There's a group of my very close friends who refer to the endless congratulatory bullshit that happens everywhere. We refer to it as the circle jerk. […]