The No Asshole Rule

Guest post by Amy Alesch.

The No Asshole Rule by Robert I. Sutton, phD, is one of those books you read and think to yourself, “I’ve always felt this and finally someone put it into written form with the backing of research.” I feel a sense of relief when this happens…this time I felt vindicated in my decision a couple years ago not to engage with people Sutton defines as assholes. The premise of the book is very neatly summed up in the title. Sutton advocates that organizations not tolerate “assholes”. If an organization must, only one or two must be allowed and those assholes essentially provide an example for other employees as to how not to behave and as an example of how assholes within the organization are punished.

Sutton begins by defining what the characteristics of an asshole are. He gracefully acknowledges that we all have our asshole moments (states). He outlines asshole behavior as a consistent pattern (traits), not a one-time episode. A simple test to assess if someone is acting like an asshole is 1) if an interaction with the alleged asshole leaves the other individual is left feeling humiliated, oppressed or belittled and 2) if the alleged asshole directs her or his malice toward people s/he perceives to have less power, rather than more. Sutton goes on to list the “Dirty Dozen” methods assholes generally use to demean their targets.

Sutton presents convincing evidence of the economic costs to an organization/business that hires and retains an asshole. These costs materialize in the form of high employee turnover, an unwillingness for other organizations or businesses to work with the “asshole”, reputational damage and the propensity for otherwise good employees to act out (stealing, decreased effort) in the presence of an asshole. Sutton goes on to assert that companies would do well to entwine the no asshole rule into hiring and firing policies and organization mission and vision statements. He repeatedly advocates for action behind the words, in these cases…in other words, do not say what you do not enforce.

Sutton ends with counsel on reigning in your own inner asshole (whether it be states or traits) and on how to deal with an asshole if you are in the unenviable position of working with one. The book provided a lovely archway through which we (book club participants) could walk through and commiserate about past experiences, provide feedback on current situations and talk about what we’ve done in the presence of an asshole. For me, personally, as I’ve said, it’s validated what has become a personal and professional mainstay for me. I highly recommend this book…to assholes, non-assholes and occasional assholes. There is definitely much to think about…the way we treat people, the way we like to be treated, what is actually the most effective organizational strategy and what we want and deserve from our professional and personal interactions.

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  • commented 2017-06-05 02:14:16 -0700
    This meticulously researched book, which grew from a much buzzed-about article in the Harvard Business Review, puts into plain language an undeniable fact: the modern workplace is beset with assholes Sutton (Weird Ideas that Work), a professor of management science at Stanford University, argues that assholes—those who deliberately make co-workers feel bad about themselves and who focus their aggression on the less powerful—poison the work environment, decrease productivity, induce qualified employees to quit and therefore are detrimental to businesses, regardless of their individual effectiveness.
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