Research published in this month's Harvard Business Review shows that when people need help getting a job done, they'll choose a congenial colleague over a more capable one.
These two criteria—competence and likability—combine to produce four archetypes: the competent jerk, who knows a lot but is unpleasant to deal with; the lovable fool, who doesn’t know much but is a delight to have around; the lovable star, who’s both smart and likable; and the incompetent jerk, who…well, that’s self-explanatory. These archetypes are caricatures, of course: Organizations usually—well, much of the time—weed out both the hopelessly incompetent and the socially clueless. Still, people in an organization can be roughly classified using a simple matrix. (Indeed, with relative ease you can probably populate the four boxes depicted in the exhibit “Whom Would You Choose?” with the names of people in your own company.)
Our research showed (not surprisingly) that, no matter what kind of organization we studied, everybody wanted to work with the lovable star, and nobody wanted to work with the incompetent jerk. Things got a lot more interesting, though, when people faced the choice between competent jerks and lovable fools.