Summary of the book The No Asshole Rule: This guide to “Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t” (one that does not include “bullies, creeps, jerks, weasels, tormentors, tyrants, serial slammers, despots or unconstrained egomaniacs” wants to fill a void and remove a taboo. That’s quite an ambition!) The damage caused to a company by an “asshole” should be put into figures, in human and in economic terms. There needs to be a combat against this tribe to make a company a healthy environment. Last, but not least, stop yourself from turning into one, because it can be contagious.
By Robert Sutton, February 2007 in its original edition. Full title: The no asshole rule: building a civilized workplace and surviving one that isn’t
Note: This is a guest chronicle by Martine.
Chronicle and summary of the book The No Asshole Rule
Robert Sutton explains that he discovered the No Asshole Rule at Stanford, during a meeting with some colleagues. There was a question about recruiting a new professor and one of the participants spoke up: “Listen, I don’t care if that guy won the Nobel Prize… I just don’t want any assholes running our group.” They all laughed at this, but they understood how serious the problem was. It was about maintaining the peaceful atmosphere that reigned in their department. From then on, they got into the habit of always asking the same questions: okay, the candidate has all the right credentials, but would hiring him violate our no-asshole rule?
To his great surprise, not only did the Harvard Business Review accept to publish his first article on this topic, in February 2004, it kept the most uncouth expressions, and the publication led to a large number of reactions. Some people expressed fear and despair (victims), others exasperation and powerlessness (bosses, managers), all in support of his problem.
The author hopes that the book will be a practical guide. He is convinced that a civilised workplace is not a utopia. Trust and respect can replace intimidation and disdain.
How to defend yourself against the jerks and the idiots
Chapter 1: What workplace assholes do and why you know so many.
A precise definition is necessary if only to make a distinction between someone who is having a bad day and the “sustained display of hostile verbal and nonverbal behaviour, excluding physical contact”. (Definition by the researcher Bennett Tepper). This somewhat general definition can be completed with two criteria to determine the reality of “asshole” behaviour:
- After a talk, does the “target” feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energised or belittled by the person?
- Does the alleged “asshole” aim his or venom at people who are less powerful rather than people who are more powerful?
And using the list that the author calls the “dirty dozen”.
- Personal insults
- Invading one’s personal territory
- Uninvited physical contact
- Threats and intimidation, both verbal and nonverbal
- “Sarcastic” jokes and “teasing” used as insult delivery systems.
- Withering email flames
- Status slaps aimed to humiliate their victim
- Public shaming of “status degradation” rituals
- Rude interruptions
- Two-faced attacks
- Dirty looks
- Treating people as if they are invisible.
A distinction must be made between a bad mood or a passing, isolated incident and a “certified asshole”. You get that title if you leave a long trail of victims in your wake, everywhere you go. The author gives several examples of “certified assholes” – company bosses, cinema producers…
Here is an illustration of criterion no. 2 – the way in which a powerful person treats a subordinate is always very revealing. Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin, had an idea for a test to select candidates for a reality TV show called “The Rebel Billionaire”. He went to pick up contestants at the airport, pretending to be an old, arthritic driver. He was poorly treated by two of the candidates who were mean and condescending. They were both fired from the show!
However, Sutton warns that the goal is not to replace assholes with wimps and polite clones who will make your company boring and uncreative. You must take advantage of “positive friction”. This is taught to many new hires at Intel in “constructive confrontation” classes, in other words an exchange of ideas in a climate of mutual respect. Once the confrontation gets personal, mean and aggressive, then creativity, satisfaction and performance collapse.
The author goes on to give some statistics about incivility in the workplace. 30% of employees in British companies are the target of acts of harassment at least once a week. Some sectors are more affected than others: penal institutions, schools, postal services, health. Out of a sample of 594 interns in medicine, 37% said that they had been victims of harassment over the course of the previous year. 94% said that they had witnessed acts of harassment.
“The evidence fits your experience”, concludes Sutton. “Assholes are everywhere”.
Warning – no hasty judgements. Now that we have defined the asshole, we must be careful not to place someone whose bad behaviour is accidental into the category of “certified asshole”. Don’t forget that the “porcupine with a heart of gold” really exists!
Chapter 2: The damage done. Why every workplace needs the rule.
The damage to the immediate victims
Frequent use by superiors of unpleasant, demeaning remarks and insulting comments leads to resignations. They undermine the efficiency of teams. People feel less involved, they become depressed, suffer from anxiety and professional burn-out. The worst is certainly public humiliations, but the small everyday nastiness, from looks to mockery disguised as a joke can have a devastating effect in the long run. Meanness has 5 times more effect on mood than kindness (study by the researchers Andrew Miner, Theresa Glomb and Charles Hulin). In other words, it takes 5 times more demonstrations of kindness to make up for a single encounter with an ‘asshole’.
The indirect damage
The victim is not the only one who suffers. Those around them (their family and immediate colleagues) are also subjected to the aftermath of the acts of an ‘asshole’.
One British study showed that over one third of witnesses wanted to intervene, but didn’t dare. Just like the direct victims, witnesses try to leave the company (25% of victims of harassment and 20% of those who are ‘merely’ witnesses will leave their job according to a study by Charlotte Rayner in the UK).
Assholes are victims of themselves
Their behaviour brings them no joy or satisfaction, quite the opposite. Their own performance and reputation suffer. They can also encounter humiliation, when their misdeeds become public knowledge -in the press, in the courts. Finally, they can simply get fired.
The organisation suffers
Damage ranges from loss of focus, motivation and performance to absenteeism, high staff turnover and trouble recruiting. The penalties that can also follow (complaints filed by the victims of discrimination and harassment) have significant consequences too (financial, company image). Finally, heavy damage can be inflicted from revenge, from the fear of admitting errors or mistakes, even reporting theft. A company’s poor reputation, due to poor management or arrogant executives, can scare away investors. Shares in Cerner Corporation dropped by 22% within three days of a somewhat violent “managerial” email going public. The CEO, Patterson, admitted his mistake, and little by little the share price rose again. Tyrants don’t just scare human resources, they can also alienate investors.
This is the “Total Cost of Assholes”, the impact on the company in terms of recruitment, holding onto employees, lost customers, loss of productivity, etc. While it is difficult to make a precise estimate, it is worth trying to. It is an indicator that should appear prominently in analytical accounting.
Take the example of Ethan, a prodigious sales rep for a Silicon Valley company, one of the best paid in his field. He is the perfect example of the “certified asshole”: permanently bad tempered, rude and insulting, rivalry instead of team spirit, hostility. One day, the company decided to deduct a large portion of the collateral expenses generated by his behaviour from this somewhat unusual employee’s bonuses. The figure was underestimated because it did not take into account the prejudice in terms of fear, aversion and mental health that he caused: the time spent by his head and HR smoothing over ruffled feathers, the costs of hiring and training a secretary, overtime hours related to Ethan’s last-minute demands, therapy so that he could learn to manage his anger…Ethan of course flew into a terrible rage, but at least the cost of this ‘asshole’ was taken into account.
Calculate the TCA in your company
Damage to victims and witnesses
- Misdirected effort: efforts are spent avoiding unpleasant encounters, surviving them, avoiding reproach… and not so much on performing tasks.
- Establishing a climate of fear that reduces employee initiatives, their desire to take risks and their opportunities to learn from their own mistakes and those of others (being frank may not be the best policy).
- Loss of motivation and energy
- Deterioration in mental and physical health due to stress
- Possible deterioration in mental capacities
- Repeated baiting can turn the victims into assholes.
- Absenteeism High turnover and time spent at work looking for another job.
The consequences for the assholes
- Victims and witnesses are wary of helping them, cooperating with them or giving them bad news.
- Retaliation from the victims and witnesses
- Impossible for them to realise their full potential in the company.
- Humiliation when the behaviour is flagged.
- Job loss.
- Lasting negative impact on their career.
The consequences for management; legal and management fees
- Time spent calming, advising, penalising and time spent smoothing the ruffled feathers of victims, customers, suppliers, sub-contractors and any other outside person who is an important victim of the asshole.
- Time spent reorganising teams or departments for damage limitation purposes. Recruitment and training for replacements after the assholes or their victims leave.
- Managerial burn-out, a reduction in their personal investment, accumulated moral distress.
- Therapy sessions (anger management or self-control).
- Costs of internal and external legal advice.
- Costs of out-of-court settlements and trials (victims). Costs of out-of-court and legal damages won by assholes who are adept at procedures (for example for unfair dismissal).
- Fees for consultants, coaches and internal and external therapists.
- Costs of health insurance.
When the assholes are in power:
Negative effects on the business
- Hampering improvements to the systems in place
- Weakening innovation and creativity.
- Less cooperation and cohesion.
- Less freely given effort.
- Disturbances in internal cooperation.
- Costs of retaliation on the part of the victims against the company.
- Less cooperation from outside companies and providers.
- Increase in tariffs billed by outside providers
(“bonus” for working with assholes).
- Difficulty attracting the best talent.
Chapter 3: How to implement the rule, enforce it and keep it alive
Implement the no-asshole rule
1. Announce the Rule, put it in writing and apply it.
If you cannot or don’t want to apply it, don’t say anything. Silence is less damaging than an announcement that is not put into practice.
You can make the No Asshole Rule the cornerstone of your company culture. You can paste your fundamental values and the virtues of mutual respect all over the place, but this will not be enough. You have to act and react, show that they are not just empty words. If bullies are promoted, for example, the acts will not be in accordance with the values on display. The company reputation is bound to suffer and there will be a loss of confidence.
2. Keep them out of the recruitment process.
Assholes hire other assholes. If it isn’t possible to keep them out of the process, get as many “civilised” people involved as possible during the interviews and the decision-making process. They will counterbalance the propensity of assholes to hire people like themselves.
In some sectors, being an asshole pays: sport, artistic milieux… Sometimes, the more successful you are, the more you feel you have the “right” to behave like a douchebag.
Sometimes destructive personalities are associated with “exceptional talent”, as if they are inseparable from one another.
But this is not written in stone. Google is a least one company in which “it doesn’t pay to be an asshole”. Efforts are made to weed them out during the job interview – and to not hire them.
If there is a casting mistake, then at the least, they will not get promoted. Poor grades, poor assessments… Positions of responsibility slip away from them.
At Southwest Airlines too, employees are hired and fired for their attitude. The application of a pilot who is rude to a receptionist will be refused without a moment’s thought.
Within the perspective of the No Asshole Rule objective there are expressions that must be considered to be inappropriate. These include “brilliant bastard”, “talented prick”, “awesome asshole”, etc. Behaviour towards other people should be assessed just as much as competence.
3. Get rid of them as fast as you can
Generally speaking, companies wait too long before getting rid of the incorrigible jerks. When they do get around to it, they wonder why they waited so long, because the benefits are visible immediately.
It is important to integrate the objective to the recruitment policy. Ideo insists on a pre-hire course during which arrogant individuals who lack civility are weeded out. References are welcome at the time of hiring. Finally, there is a feeling of co-option, as though the entire company is the recruiter. The method aims to prevent “homo-social reproduction” of assholes (the term is from Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a Harvard professor), as recruiters tend to be drawn towards candidates that resemble them.
4. Treat them like incompetents.
Even if they are extraordinarily brilliant, individuals who systematically behave like assholes should be treated as though they are incompetent.
The weeding out of destructive profiles can be applied to clients and users too. Employees don’t have to put up with rude and disrespectful behaviour, especially not aggression. The rules need to be clear and applied firmly (gyms, airline companies…)
5. Power encourages arrogance
Giving individuals – even ones that look friendly and courteous – a pinch of power can turn them into super-jerks.
6. Adopt the «power-performance paradox”.
Because all power corrupts and even a small dose of power conferred on an individual can transform them, it is a good idea to erase differences in hierarchical status as much as possible. Reducing the distance between the highest level employees and the lowest level employees always brings positive consequences. Performance, quality and productivity receive beneficial effects. The example of Costco in reducing gaps between the CEO and the employees pays. Revenue, profits and share prices keep on rising. We know that a company needs a hierarchy, but minimising unimportant differences in status and power always pays off.
7. Manage moments, not just practices, policies and systems
Efficient management involves being prepared to change the small things in order to achieve a genuine behavioural revolution. Observe reactions and interactions. Make efforts to “improve” the relationship with the person opposite while the conversation is taking place. You need to combat intimidation, provide training in civility and teach how to avoid small conflicts turning into big ones.
8. Show an example of constructive confrontation. Teach it.
Develop a culture in which individuals know when they need to fight for their ideas and when confrontation needs to stop (see the example of Intel given above)… “Fight like you are right, listen like you are wrong” (Karl Weick, University of Michigan). Learn to listen to others, and to support decisions that have been agreed upon. Work for the company and be constructive.
Robert Sutton illustrates an episode from his professional life when he thought that he was engaged in constructive confrontation, but it turned out that he had offended someone. Mistakes are always possible. Keep watch for them, control impulsive reactions and remember that the small things can make people angry.
9. Do you need a “Just one asshole” Rule?
Why not? A “symbolic asshole”, a negative model, can be there to remind you of what not to do, about the unpleasant and immediate consequences of being rude. The contrast between the reprehensible behaviour of a single deviant makes good behaviour stand out. It has a scarecrow effect. You can keep one jerk, but be sure not to promote him on one hand, and on the other hand, help him to understand how damaging his behaviour can be! The others have to understand that there are no benefits to being an asshole.
10. Connect the company grand designs and the small individual kindnesses
Management becomes efficient when there is a virtuous circle between the “big” actions of companies and the small actions of individuals, when they talk and work together.
How to stop your “inner jerk” from getting out
Emotions (anger, spite, fear) are very contagious. Psychologist Elaine Hatfield and other experts in “emotional contagion” have studied imitation, mimicry and synchronisation in conversations. Somebody who is condescending will cause negative reactions and generate a vicious circle. Other researchers have highlighted the tendency in a group whose leader is aggressive to transform, for a while, into an “exact photocopy of the pack leader”. Psychologist Michelle Duffy studied a sample of employees in hospitals and found that when faced with bosses who acted like assholes, people ended up becoming like them. She concluded: “This moral insensitivity spreads like a virus”.
In the same way, the appearance of anger leads to actual anger. “The wise man who associates with the bad man becomes an idiot” (Arab proverb, as told by Hatfield’s team about emotional contagion).
How to prevent contagion
“It is easier to resist in the beginning than at the end” said Leonardo da Vinci. Find out more before you accept a job.
Even if you join a den of jerks, do not find any justification for following them. Cut your losses before you invest too much time and effort.
If you cannot leave, keep as far away from them as possible. Limit your contact with them, keep encounters short. The writer and screenwriter Nick Hornby offers a reminder: “One of the best pieces of advice I can give the younger generations is that you have the right to leave the room”. This does not just apply to a concert or film that you find boring, you can also protect yourself inside a company.
Considering your colleagues to be enemies or worse still, rivals, is a pernicious game. Company life is a blend of cooperation and competition. Winning is wonderful, on condition that you help and you have the respect of others. If you crush everyone along your path, you are not just damaging your team, you are damaging yourself. If you lose your humanity, your ascension will be short-lived.
It is possible to measure the degree of cooperation or competition by practising the famous “prisoner’s dilemma” (if both parties are honest and cooperate, they will also be rewarded; if they play against one another, they are both punished (low score); if one player plays to compete and the other to cooperate, then the one who plays to compete wines and the cooperative one loses)…
While many situations require this blend of cooperation and competition, try to find the win-win combination as much as possible. Words count. We should come up more than me, I. Control the competitive spiral.
Weed out envy and jealousy. “I have what I need” is a good formula that can avoid all kinds of excess. Like in this poem by Kurt Vonnegut, read during a reception at the home of a billionaire that Heller attended, with the writer and Vonnegut.
Joe Heller. True story, scout’s honour:
Joseph Heller, an important and funny writer who is no longer with us, and I were at a reception given by a billionaire on Shelter Island.
I said to him: “Joe, how do you feel about the fact that our host, just yesterday, made more money than your novel Catch 22 made in its entire history?”
And Joe answered: “I own something he will never have.”
And I said to him: “What might that be?”
And Joe answered: “The certainty that I have what I need.”
Not bad! Rest in Peace!
Kurt Vonnegut, The New Yorker, 16 May 2005
It shows that it helps to be at peace with yourself!
See yourself as others see you: compare the image that you have of yourself with the one that other people have of you. Accept criticism and regular assessments.
Face your past, your inner demons. Past behaviour is the best indicator of future behaviour (an old psychologist’s proverb). Assess your risks (childhood, cultural environment) … and foresee, handle!
Know yourself “admitting you’re an asshole is the first step”…
MIT has even put together a gadget (Massachusetts Institute of Technology): the Jerk-o-Meter. This is voice analysis software that measures empathy, stress and the tendency to go too far.
The advantage is that it measures behaviour in the moment. The disadvantage is that it is limited (it only analyses tone of voice).
Do the test in 24 questions:
TEST: Are you a certified asshole?
Answer True (T) or False (F) if the sentence describes your feelings and your relationships with your colleagues.
What do you really think about people?
- You feel like you are surrounded by incompetent idiots and you cannot help letting them know this every time the opportunity presents itself.
- You used to be a nice guy until you started working with this bunch of cretins.
3· You don’t trust people and this distrust is mutual.
4· You consider your colleagues to be competitors.
- You think that one of the best ways to climb the ladder is to push other people out of the way.
- You secretly enjoy other people’s pain.
- You are often jealous of your colleagues and you find it hard to be sincerely happy for them when they succeed.
- You have a small list of friends and a long list of enemies, and you are proud of both of them.
How do you treat other people?
- Sometimes, you cannot hide your scorn for the losers and weaklings that work with you.
- You find it normal to kill with a look, to insult and sometimes shout at these idiots.
Otherwise they won’t get anything done.
- You attribute the success of your team to your efforts. Without you, they would be nothing.
- You love to slip “innocent” comments into meetings, with the sole purpose of humiliating the person in question.
- You are quick to point out other people’s mistakes.
- You never make mistakes. When something goes wrong, you can always find an idiot to blame.
- You are always interrupting other people; what you have to say is more important.
- You are always licking your boss’s boots and those of important people. You expect those beneath you to have the same attitude towards you.
- Your jokes and pranks are sometimes a bit mean, but you must admit that they are very funny.
- You like your close colleagues and they like you back, but you are in a permanent state of war with the rest of the company. People who are not on your team are nothing but losers and enemies.
What are the reactions of other people towards you?
- When you talk, people tend to avoid your eyes and become nervous.
- You get the impression that people are very careful about what they say in front of you.
- Your emails get unpleasant replies and this often evolves into conflict.
- People seem hesitant about sharing personal information with you.
- People stop laughing or joking when you walk into a room.
- When you turn up, some people always have to leave.
Count all the times you answered “True”. This test has not been scientifically validated, but in my opinion:
- 0 to 5 True: apparently you are not an asshole, but you may be fooling yourself.
- 5 to 15 True: you are a borderline certified asshole: it is time to change your behaviour
- More than 15 True: you are a certified asshole: seek help immediately. But not my help; I don’t want anything to do with you.
When assholes reign: tips for surviving nasty people and workplaces
If 25 % of victims and 20 % of witnesses of acts of aggression resign, as we saw earlier in the study by Charlotte Rayner and Loraleigh Keashly (GB), that means that most victims endure and put up with the situation.
Luckily, there are strategies you can adopt when you have no other choice.
Cultivate indifference and emotional detachment
Use the Strategy of Satan’s Cauldron invented by Ruth and inspired by her experience in rafting (Have you ever fallen out when riding the rapids? What is important is to not fight against the current: trust your life jacket, float on your back, feet facing forward. In the event of a bump, protect your head and preserve your energy). When she is in a meeting and finds herself under vicious personal attack, the image comes into her mind. She stretches her legs out under the table and says: ok, I have been knocked out of the boat by this bunch of jerks, but I know how to survive. Her strength allowed her to not only overcome the harassment, but also to come to the assistance of other victims.
“Detached involvement” can help prevent burn-out; it can even be vital in some sectors (medical profession) in which you have to strike a balance between compassion and emotional distance.
Change your way of looking at things: reframe!
Do not feel guilty. Hope for the best but expect the worst.
Tell yourself it is only temporary.
Disney trains its employees in this way, to protect them from unpleasant customers. They should be considered an exception. Remember that the majority of customers are nice, so keep smiling and treat everybody well. That kind of attitude leads to positive interactions and can even appease the discontented.
Look for small victories
One of the characteristics of resilient people is that when faced with an enormous catastrophe, they regain a minimum of control over their lives through hundreds of minuscule but positive actions, a policy of baby steps. Take the example of the relatively well-known experiment conducted by Ellen Langer and Judith Robin on two groups of elderly people living in care facilities. The first group were told what would be done for them. There would be a plant in every room and an employee would take care of it, there would be film screenings on certain days… The second group were asked to be involved in looking after the plant, in choosing what films to screen, how the furniture was organised… Not only was the second group more active, positive and involved, they had a lower death rate than the group of “assisted” residents!
Protect yourself as much as possible: take heart, run!
Keep meetings shorter or find strategies (video conferences, stand-up meetings…)
Create havens of safety and support, protected from jerks. Find a place to rest or even create a secret social network. All forms of resistance are beneficial.
Beware however of the limits of social support. Confidants are mainly people with no power to stop the actions of the bullies. Even more serious, therapy sessions can degenerate into “crying rooms” that will prevent you from implementing more effective strategies. These include mental reframing, emotional detachment or small constructive victories.
Try de-escalating and re-educating; the risk is low, even if it fails. Turning the other cheek does not provoke the bully’s anger; in fact, it can even put him off his game! More obvious revenge strategies do however contain an element of risk. Aggression breeds aggression and you may be fighting against a more powerful adversary and putting yourself in danger. It is better to keep an eye open and wait for the right moment to arrive. Take the example of the radio producer whose boss was constantly putting her down, even dipping into her desk drawers to steal her treats. One day, she left some chocolates containing laxative among her sweets. He helped himself, down to the very last one. She told him about the prank. Punished and humiliated: it was one way to force him to mend his ways. It undoubtedly stopped him from ever trying it again.
Biting the bullet is good. Regaining your freedom is even better.
If you protect yourself and win some small victories, it is a way of gaining time. But you must be prepared to leave when the time comes. Some people get into a state of acceptance and dependence that may prevent them from looking for the best solution – quitting.
Assholes have their virtues too
This was a chapter that Robert Sutton did not want to write. But the paradox remains that some people seem to succeed because they are assholes.
A simple search on Google using the keywords Steve Jobs and Asshole turns up… 89,400 hits.
One participant at Apple meetings said this: “Everyone has their asshole story about Steve”. At the same time, everyone recognised his creativity, his determination, his capacity to breathe extraordinary energy and motivation into his staff. His perfectionism, his obsessional desire and his tantrums were crucial elements in his success.
So, is Steve Jobs not proof that some assholes deserve our support? For Sutton, the answer is no and he would not like to have worked with Jobs. At the risk of emboldening the perverted, he did however accept to analyse…
…The virtues of meanness
Gaining power and building a reputation, helped by the tacit encouragement of despotism and deference: in a world where “we lick boots and kick asses” (Lara Tiedens, psychologist at Stanford), using a strategy of anger and blame can help someone to climb the ranks by standing on other people’s backs.
For Kramer (in his article The Great Intimidators), the intimidators are not genuine bullies. Their goal is not to satisfy their ego. It is strategic and careerist. For Sutton, however, the consequences of their cruel games of hierarchy are the same.
We must stop considering the mean, the cynical and the aggressive as intelligent and brilliant or experts. On the contrary, we need to tear off their masks. In certain profession, in the mafia or sport (football, rugby, boxing and even baseball), this will not be easy.
Fear is also used as a factor in performance. Many leaders drill it into their subordinates. They excel through the fear of scorn and humiliation. We can think of General Patton. He worked on his grumpy face in front of the mirror, to be as terrifying as possible. He was, in fact, a genuine leader and his soldiers made it a point of honour not to disappoint him because they admired his courage.
Unfortunately, even if you are not a total jerk, there are times when you have to play the part of one. Perhaps you do it to get something you need, or what is due to you. You start politely, but this is ineffective. You need to toughen your tone, sometimes have an outburst of “strategic anger”.
So, it can sometimes pay to be an asshole, but watch out for the dangers. Conquering power, motivating troops, beating rivals, shutting mouths – why not? Doing it to another asshole may be beneficial. You can also be grumpy to get some peace, to get rid of unwanted callers.
Do you want to be an efficient asshole?
The main lessons
- Show anger. Be mean. This allows you to take power and keep it. Climb the ladder using your elbows to push colleagues out of the way, using anger as a weapon.
- Meanness and intimidation are particularly efficient when it comes to making your mark. Get out in front of your adversaries using belligerence, intimidation, arrogance, threats and by destabilising others.
- If you use sarcasm with your employees to wake them up, alternate (at least from time to time) with words of encouragement and compliments.
- Create a “toxic tandem”. If you are the bad guy, team up with a nice guy who can calm people, repair your damage and get favours and efforts from people, because they are grateful to the “good cop”. On the other hand, if you are too nice, hitch your wagon to a jerk. You will look good in contrast.
Being a full-time asshole is not efficient. Efficient assholes know when to stop and become decent people again.
So yes, there are brilliant assholes, but you don’t have to become one in order to succeed. Once again, there is no shortage of positive examples (Richard Branson, Oprah Winfrey, Elvis Presley). Companies that favour respect over contempt and confidence over fear generally have a clear competitive advantage. Appearing on the list of the “100 best American employers” (as ranked by the magazine Fortune) goes hand in hand with excellent financial performance.
In fact, most assholes succeed despite – and not because of – their abuse.
What’s more, they make the mistake of confusing tactics that gave them power with ones that are more efficient when it comes to management.
Finally, a third false notion can lead an asshole to persist with his bad behaviour – the measures that victims take to protect themselves. They avoid making the bully angry; they hide bad news and only give him good news, to maintain his illusion of efficiency.
Why do assholes delude themselves?
Do you suffer from an illusion of efficiency?
- You and your company perform well despite and not because of your behaviour. And you make the mistake of attributing success to your actions, but in reality they compromise your performance.
- You confuse the success of your manoeuvres to gain power with the success of your company. The attributes that allowed you to reach a position of power are often the opposite of those required to perform well.
- There is bad news, but nobody wants to be punished for bringing bad news. In consequence, people are afraid to give you bad news in case they are held responsible or humiliated. So you think that everything is going well, while problems pile up.
- People act around you. Fear makes people pretend. When you leave the room or the building, they adopt less efficient behaviour or even destructive behaviour – and you don’t see it.
- Instead of working in the interest of the company, people work to avoid attracting your anger. They put all their energy into avoiding your tantrums instead of solving problems.
- You are paying the price of being an asshole and you don’t even realise it. You have become so insufferable that people only agree to work with you if there is something in it for them.
- Your enemies say nothing (for now), but the list of enemies grows longer by the day. Your actions alienate you from people and you don’t even notice. And your enemies do not have the power to take you down today, but they are waiting and watching for the moment it becomes possible.
Chapter 7: The No Asshole Rule as a way of life
Little Joe is a typical Italian restaurant. It is friendly there, everyone likes it. One day, I was waiting behind a particularly rude customer. He made unsavoury remarks, tried to grope the waitress, complained about the food and swore at people who asked him to stop.
This douchebag continued until another customer spoke to him, loudly enough for everyone to hear: “You are absolutely terrific. You are exactly the person I’m looking for. I love the way you are behaving. Can you tell me your name? “
Disconcerted, then seemingly flattered, the rude character thanked him for the compliment and told him his name.
Unruffled, the other customer made a note and continued: “Thank you, you are very kind. You see, I’m writing a book about assholes… And you are the perfect man for chapter 13”. The entire restaurant burst out laughing, the douchebag shut his mouth and soon left.
This story is more than a nice memory. It reflects the seven essential lessons about the No Asshole Rule that we have seen throughout the book.
- It only takes a few arrogant creeps to ruin the entire atmosphere created by a host of civilised people.
- Talking about the Rule is all very well, but what counts is putting it into practice.
- The Rule lives – or dies – in real life situations, here and now.
- Should we keep a few assholes around (as examples of what not to do)?
- Applying the No Asshole Rule is not just for managers.
- Honesty and pride are powerful motivators.
- We are all assholes (or assholes in progress).
In conclusion, for Sutton, even when there is absolutely no positive effect on performance, tracking down and removing assholes remains a good objective. Simply because life is too short and too precious to have to put up with them. So, get to work!
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Conclusion about the book The No Asshole Rule
This book is a blessing, a necessity: Sutton dares to put his finger on the “evil of the century”. Above and beyond the obvious provocation, he looks at a serious management issue and the best ways to tackle it. Finally, this is a genuine survival handbook. It offers tips on how to defend yourself against morons.
- The practical aspect
- Many stories, with names and figures
- Somewhat repetitive (chapter 7 especially)
- The American context does not always translate well to a European context
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