The No Asshole Rule

“The evidence is ironclad: there are a lot of assholes out there.”  (Click to Tweet!)

The No Asshole Rule, page 24

Though it is written as a management book, The No Asshole Rule is a way of life more than a management philosophy.

Jerks, bullies, users, intimidators. All fit into Robert I. Sutton’s definition of assholes. They are the people who leave their victims feeling depleted and bad about themselves. Typically, they inject their venom into people with less power than themselves. The harm that they inflict on their victims, witnesses, their organizations, and themselves are very tangible and costly.

The No Asshole Rule very clearly lays out the economic and psychological costs of associating with assholes and gives very practical tips to removing them from our lives.

Golden Egg

Get the Assholes Out of Your Life

“The brief nasty stares; the teasing and jokes that are really camouflaged public shaming and insults; the people who treat us as invisible, who exclude us from minor and major gatherings—all those nasty little slices of organizational life—don’t just hurt for a moment. They have cumulative effects on our mental health and our commitment to our bosses, peers, and organizations.”

The No Asshole Rule, page 30

Assholes obviously damage the targets of their nastiness, increasing their feelings of worthlessness; causing chronic fatigue, irritability, anger, and depression; increasing the friction between work-life (many bullying victims report that their stress at work comes home with them). Overall, assholes make life much less satisfying for their victims.

What is less obvious is the effect that assholes have on bystanders and entire organizations. Organizations that allow assholes to remain in their presence (even if they accept the antics of only one highly-successful asshole) suffer from their tolerance. Assholes not only decrease the organizational commitment of their victims, but they also decrease commitment of bystanders. People who witness or experience the wrath of an asshole leave their companies at a much higher rate than those who aren’t exposed to such shenanigans.

Witnesses to the bullying tend to keep their head down and not share their opinions out of fear that they might be persecuted next. Even when they know what is best for the organization, they keep their thoughts to themselves.

Finally, employees that work for an asshole boss often take revenge against the company through less scrupulous means. They get back by stealing from the company.

GEM #1

Removing Assholes from Your Organization

“Writing, displaying, and repeating words about treating people with respect, but allowing or encouraging the opposite behavior, is worse than useless.”

The No Asshole Rule, page 59

Many companies actively denounce asshole-ish behavior, creating codes of ethical conduct and complicated guidelines to be enforced by human resource professionals. Unfortunately, not all companies take action on their verbally expressed and written policies, often ignoring the rules in the case of top performers. But at companies that successfully implement the no asshole rule, “phrases like ‘talented jerk,’ ‘brilliant bastard,’ and ‘an asshole and a superstar’ are seen as oxymorons”.

Temporary assholes are dealt with immediately and are made to understand that their behavior is not acceptable. If their insidious behaviors continue, they are let go. Even for top performers, there should be no exception to the no asshole rule. Citing an example from Men’s Wearhouse, when a top salesperson in a store was fired for continuing to behave as an ass, the performance of the entire store improved (despite none of the remaining salespeople not selling as much as the star that was fired). It turns out that getting rid of high performing assholes might not be as damaging as you think.

Its also important to remember that the no-asshole rule doesn’t just apply to employees; it also applies to vendors, customers, and anyone else encountered in the process of doing your job.

GEM #2

Containing Your Inner Asshole

“We all have the potential to act like assholes under the wrong conditions, when we are placed under pressure or, especially, when our workplace encourages everyone – especially the “best” and the “most powerful” people – to act that way.”

The No Asshole Rule, page 12

The easiest way to avoid assholes is to not join them in the first place. When applying for positions, do your best to get to know the policies of the organization towards high-performing assholes. Know that you have very little chance of turning a den of jerks into pleasant colleagues. If you are able to see assholes before joining a group, you’d be advised not to join the group.

But many people get tricked into working with assholes, recruiters are particularly adept at hiding the nasty sides of organizations. In this case, reframing the way you see things can help reduce the damage done to you by bullies. Sutton suggests that hoping for the best, but expecting the worst won’t leave you disappointed when someone acts like an asshole. Remember not to expect an asshole to change, and you won’t be disappointed when they don’t. You can also look for small wins through the day, and most importantly, remain kind and polite. Don’t let their viciousness affect your professionalism. “Relentlessly responding to irate people with calmness and respect can be used with assholes in any workplace. If, through one conversation at a time, you can teach them that you aren’t going to catch their asshole poisoning, they may catch your calm and kindness and treat you with respect.”

Assholes can poison an organization and all the people in it. It is paramount for companies to limit the damage done by assholes by implementing the no asshole rule. However, it is also important that we not replace assholes with mindless drones that agree with everything. Disagreement is healthy; members of organizations just need to learn how to argue respectfully.

“Don’t replace assholes with wimps and polite clones.”  (Click to Tweet!)

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William Zahn

ABOUT William Zahn

WHO ARE YOU? I am a marketing professor and scholar who, in addition to education, is interested in writing and consulting. I am married with our first child on the way...
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