November 15, 2008

The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't

In a landmark article published in the esteemed Harvard Business Review, Stanford University professor Robert I. Sutton addressed a taboo topic that affects every workplace: employees who are insensitive to their colleagues... corporate bullies... bosses who just don’t get it- the kind of people who make you exclaim in exasperation, “What an asshole!”

Now in a definitive book that addresses this growing problem, Sutton shows you how you can work with unsavoury people- without becoming one of them yourself...

My two cents worth:

Please excuse my language but I’m kinda enjoying writing this review.

Let’s start with the correct definition of Asshole in this context: It’s not fair to call every person that pisses you off in the office an Asshole. A person who deserves such a grand title has to have a habit of aiming his/her venom at people who are less powerful and leaving the victim feeling oppressed, humiliated, de-energized and belittled, basically making them feel worst about him or herself. I bet you have someone in mind already right? (I do and I’ll definitely tell you about my experience later)

In The No Asshole Rule, Sutton provides recommendations on how the rule can be implemented successfully into an organization that is serious about changing its culture for the better. Allow me to state this clearly again, this book is suitable for organizations or top influential decision makers that are serious about changing its culture but if you are happy with the ‘pro Asshole’ rule in your organization then don’t bother but the book may give you some useful insights on the pro’s and con’s of keeping to this rule.

Included in the book are case studies and research on the effects of allowing Assholes to run wild in an organization. It de-motivates employees, diminishes productivity, causes low self-esteem, increases turnover and lo and behold: IT WILL AFFECT YOUR COST and in some cases PROFITS. (You don’t really need a book to tell you that do you? The increase in turnover alone is a waste of resources because you would constantly need to interview new people to come on board)

Victims of Assholism (he he... there is no such word of course just bear with me here) will also find this book useful as it provides tips on how to survive these nasty people. If you have worked in an organization, chances are you’ll be lucky enough to come across an Asshole at least once in your lifetime so the tips are quite handy. It also provides a self test to see if you yourself are a certified Asshole. (Phew! My results say that I’m not an Asshole but I do admit that I can be a ‘temporary Asshole’ at times... I’m only human)

I found this book’s content based on common sense but what makes the book insightful is the case studies and research presented on how a ‘pro Asshole’ rule can effect an organization and its employees. The No Asshole Rule is not one of those business books that can put you to sleep within minutes. It’s definitely a good read and I definitely had a trill saying the word Asshole so many times in a day. (I don’t swear a lot so I take this opportunity with open arms)

For more information visit Bob Sutton’s blog on other useful organizational tips.

My story:

I’m writing to share my experience of what working with an Asshole can do to your overall well being. I once had a boss that was so vile that I nick named my tormentor '666'. I was hired by the company because of my strategic abilities and my career achievements in the past. But when I came on board I became a runner; ‘fax this’, ‘pick this up’,’ do that’, ‘send this’ type of work scope.

Additionally, my comments were constantly ignored during meetings, when in rare occasion my opinion was sought I would be shot down for giving such a stupid idea (only for the idea to be presented again at an opportune moment for 666 to take credit). 666 constantly berated me and as if it was not enough to torture me from 9-5 Mondays to Friday’s, 666 would call me up over the weekends just to taunt me on matters that were not even under my portfolio and always made sure to point out that I was the most incompetent and dumbest person in the world before hanging up. In other words 666 was CRAZY!

I’m described by my closest friends to be a person who has a strong will, seldom do I bother to take notice of comments from idiots. But even the strongest person can fall prey to breakdown if the psychological abuse is provided in little doses consistently. Most of my other colleagues suffer the same torment but they all mentioned that I was her favourite subject of abuse.

There was little that we could do to overcome this challenge because despite being mean spirited, 666 was considered a treasure to the company. I hate to admit this but 666 produced results, was efficient and very hard working. The only flaw was that 666’s leadership qualities were based on fear. Because of 666’s leadership style, people feared making mistakes and even the nicest people were quick to point fingers to save their own skin...myself included; thus resulting in the lack of trust amongst peers.

The stresses of working with such a person can cause sleepless nights, I had nightmares related to work, I was constantly afraid of being humiliated, constantly questioning my abilities and worst I began to project the same attitude as 666. I was so stressed out that my relationship with my boyfriend and my parents were rocky. I was always snapping at them, imagine that, snapping at people I love the most. This was when I was also diagnosed with severe acid reflux and was rushed to the hospital at 5 am in the morning.

I could tell you countless stories of 666’s evil ways but what I’d rather do is concentrate on ways to keep your sanity intact while working with such a person. My suggestion for those who are suffering the same predicament; LEAVE- life is too short and you do not deserve the abuse no matter how incompetent you are. We all have our strengths that can be useful contribution to an organization and there are always ways to improve your weaknesses.

By the first month of employment, I made my decision to leave the company but couldn’t do so immediately as I wanted to be very careful with my next employment selection. If you’d like my recommendation on how to survive the torment, here’s what I did:

  1. Avoid contact with the Asshole as much as possible. Use the email or phone rather than face to face contact.
  2. Remind yourself everyday on your positive attributes. This kept my confidence intact whenever I question if 666’s baseless accusations were true. It helps if you remind yourself of the things you’ve achieved in life.
  3. Make jokes of the horrors you have experience so that you don’t take the verbal abuse personally. For example, every time 666 said something nasty, I’d joke and tell myself that 666 was only doing this because I’m smarter or prettier or whatever that would tickle my funny bone.
  4. Try not to get emotional- Always act professionally when a nasty comment is given. Don’t show them that their comments are getting to you. Just ignore them and trust me your indifference will annoy them more. All they want from the torment is to have a sense of power and they will only be satisfied if you show them your weaknesses.
  5. If you need to talk it over, confide in a friend. Trust me, you’ll feel better once you’ve let it all out and you’ll realize that you’ve just wasted energy on a useless cause.
  6. If your achievement at work is non-existent, find other ways to have a sense of accomplishment like re-decorating your house or take part in a book challenge. Even a simple thing like re-organizing your bank statements will give you a sense of achievement.
  7. Keep yourself busy and don’t mull over the comments too much, take it with a pinch of salt but be realistic. If you’ve made a mistake, take the point constructively, learn from it then move on. One of my colleagues started going to the gym and he mentioned that running on the treadmill helped him shed all the pent up aggression he kept inside.
  8. Don’t look at the experience negatively; you actually learn a lot from Assholes as they can be a benchmark of who you DO NOT want to be in life.
  9. Finally, if you’ve done all the above and many more and still feel abused then my only advise is LEAVE. Seriously life is too short to spend it with people who generate negative energy.


Anonymous said...

This describes me...

I’m described by my closest friends to be a person who has a strong will, seldom do I bother to take notice of comments from idiots.

But even the strongest person can fall prey to breakdown if the psychological abuse is provided in little doses consistently.

But even the strongest person can fall prey to breakdown if the psychological abuse is provided in little doses consistently.

But even the strongest person can fall prey to breakdown if the psychological abuse is provided in little doses consistently.

But... this blog helps...

Helps us to fight as much as we can...

As much as we dare...

To be defiant...

And think...


I pity you...

But even the strongest person can fall prey to breakdown if the psychological abuse is provided in little doses consistently.

... in little doses consistently.

What do you think Sally?

Aphra Behn

Unknown said...

Thanks for uploading my article. I hope it helps those who are in the same predicament I was.

LucienteLaLucha said...

There are far too many assholes playing the role of PRINCIPAL in my school district in South San Diego (Sweetwater). There is a looming teacher shortage, but these are massive egos and small brained idiots running our schools into the ground and abusing hard-working teachers. The principal at my school is continuously harassing me. I would like to see him booted because he is degrading education at our school by blaming teachers instead of punishing the disruptive students.