In The No Asshole Rule, author Robert Sutton analyzes the impact of assholes in the workplace.
The author says that while some skilled asshole can provide short-term benefits for the company, they are highly poisonous to morale and culture, and companies should never tolerate them.
- Bullet Summary
- Full Summary
- Real-Life Applications
- Asshole behavior can provide some benefits for the individual as we mistake aggression for high status
- However assholes poison the environment and leave people and companies worse off
- Assholes are often cowards as they abuse down the organizational hierarchy and brown-nose upward
- Some companies tolerate assholes because they might be talented
About the Author: Robert Sutton is a researcher and professor of management at the Stanford University School of Engineering. He holds a Ph.D. in organizational psychology.
What’s an Asshole
Robert Sutton that we are all assholes sometimes, and in certain periods of our life.
However, the certified asshole is the one who constantly bullies or puts others down, and leaves their victims angry, humiliated, or afraid.
Since their behavior is continuous, their effect is also cumulative, and even low reactive people can start feeling their bite after a while.
12 Actions of Assholes
You can spot an asshole from the presence of these daily behaviors:
- Personal insults
- Invading personal territory
- Uninvited personal contact
- Verbal and non-verbal threats and intimidations
- Sarcastic jokes and teasing
- Scornful emails
- Public shaming or status degradation
- Undermining someone’s social status
- Two-faced attacks
- Dirty looks
- Treating people as if they were non-existent
However, the main rule of thumb is this: how do you feel after the encounter? Do you feel oppressed, humiliated or overall worse off?
Also read more here:
Lick Up, Kick Down
Often assholes can keep living in the organization or even advance because they treat customers and superiors well and reserve their worst behavior for people lower down in the organization.
Assholes Are Bad for Business
Assholes lower the morale of the organization and lead to disengagement in the environment where they are left free to act.
It has a huge on the organization as people are more likely to quit, take days off, talk behind people’s back and even steal.
When assholes get in positions of power their ability to devastate the work environment increases.
Assholes are bad for business
Why Businesses Tolerate Assholes
Some businesses and organizations tolerate assholes in the name of their apparent bottom-line impact or their talent and skills which makes them difficult to replace.
Sutton, however, says that in the long run, it’s always damaging for the company to put up with assholes’ antics.
He says that anyone who cannot get along respectfully with the people around should be considered incompetent no matter their amount of skills or talent.
And the company culture should be clear that all employees deserve to be treated with fairness and respect.
The payoff for the business is higher loyalty and employee morale.
Big Power Differentials Breed Assholing
Sutton says that the rule of thumb is:
the greater the status difference between managers and employees, the more the bosses tend to disrespect lower-ranking employees.
Thus, to reduce and discourage assholing behavior businesses would do well to reduce the status differentials and flatten the organization, potentially also decreasing the pay difference between employees.
Asshole Behavior Can Grant Short Term Benefits
The author says that aggressive and threatening behavior do can provide some benefits in the business world. A bit the same way it would work in wild animals or in a mafia organization.
Sutton says this happens because our brains associate aggression with high status.
However, this doesn’t mean that an organization should promote assholes or that asshole behavior is good. Indeed, behavior that can help win over a rival manager or team seldom translates into advantages to the whole organization (also read Snakes in Suits).
Furthermore, assholes are more likely to drive away the very best of the employees, those with options and greater skills.
This ensures that the organization bleeds talent and turns into a toxic, talent-poor environment.
Promoting an Asshole-Free Workplace
As we’ve mentioned before, flatter hierarchies and lower pay differential help.
Founders and upper management can also help by fostering a culture that restrains internal competition and fosters cooperation.
Subtler approaches also include replacing aggressive and warlike words and phrases such as “enemy”, “battleground”, “trenches” and similar.
Using pronouns such as “we”, “us” and “our” instead of “I” and “me” can help remind people that we’re all together in it.
However, the biggest rule is to get rid of assholes ASAP. If you let them fester, it might be too late: they drive the great people away and hire and attract other assholes.
Dealing with assholes means getting rid of them ASAP
Avoid Assholes – Or You Might Turn
Sutton says that if you keep hanging with assholes at work, you will eventually start behaving like one.
For example, he realized that he started treating his wife worst while he was employed in an asshole-infested team.
If you can’t change job, at least try to reduce contact with the assholes.
And I particularly liked Sutton’s recommendation of increasing your emotional distance with the asshole.
Use Assholes (or Distance Yourself)
I agree with the author saying you should keep distance with people disrespecting others or trying to get under your skin.
However, as the guy behind a website called The Power Moves, I’d actually welcome you to use the occasion to also spar with them and hone your power moves skills and social dominance understanding.
It’s too good an occasion to let it slip.
Lack of Details and Coping Strategies
While most of the analysis is good, there is a lack of powerful coping strategies. This is not an how-to book or a power move resource for you to destroy or learn how to effectively disable assholes.
It’s not also highly detailed in the analysis of social dynamics of domination and aggression.
The No Asshole Rule is not just personal opinion, but it’s a well-researched and data-backed work that I appreciated.
I liked Robert Sutton’s psychological analysis and understanding of the phenomenon of workplace bullying and aggression.
The Asshole Rule is a quick and helpful read.
Personally, I find that a blanket “no to assholes” might be more of a moralistic stance than a highly realistic one.
And I’m not sure that more asshol-ish behavior might also not lead to long-term success, in certain industries.
I wish I had seen some advice on how to handle assholes.
But if you want to learn to play the asshole game against assholes this might not be the right book for you (this website is).
But I recommend The No Asshole Rule to people who are responsible for business culture. And to those who want to understand better overly aggressive, dominant, and overall unpleasant people.