Friday, June 29, 2007

Booknote: The No Asshole Rule

Sutton, Robert I. The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't. New York: Warner Business Books, 2007. ISBN: 0-446-52656-8.

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Business, management, organizational behavior.

Dr. Sutton did not set out to write this book, according to his Introduction. But after publishing an article in the Harvard Business Review that got a lot of responses, he went ahead with it. The rule is quite simple: No Assholes in your workplace. Don't tolerate them. Don't put up with them. Don't bring them to your workplace. However, there are times when you are already stuck with the asshole(s). The book will define the term, tell you the damage these assholes do, and explain how to enforce and maintain the "No Asshole" rule. This book is here as well to help those who are stuck with such assholes, and yes, they deserve to be called assholes. We know who they are, and no other word will do them justice. And by the way, assholes don't have to be loud and obnoxious. You have to watch out for the ones who do their damage under the radar, so to speak. And by the way, assholes know no gender; men and women can be assholes. See the first chapter for how to identify assholes.

So you know, we all have our asshole moments. As Dr. Sutton says, if you have never acted like an asshole, send him an email and let him know how you managed that superhuman feat (11). But those brief moments are the temporary assholes. The ones we are worried about are the certified assholes. Those are the ones that take being an asshole to an art. Look for consistency. Dr. Sutton writes, ". . .if someone consistently takes actions that leave a trail of victims in their wake, they deserve to be branded as certified assholes" (11-12). Also, assholes are not to be confused with people who may just be a little aggressive. Dr. Sutton does remark that constructive conflict in an organization is a good thing. Here, though, we are talking about those mean people who make it a sport to demean others in lower positions than they are.

Now, why is this issue significant? Dr. Sutton writes,

"Every organization needs the no asshole rule because mean-spirited people do massive damage to victims, bystanders who suffer the ripple effects, organizational performance, and themselves" (27).

Dr. Sutton also gives guidance on how to cope if you are stuck with asshole(s) at work. One of the techniques is the concept of reframing. Dr. Sutton writes:

"Some useful tricks include avoiding self-blame, hoping for the best but expecting the worst, and my favorite, developing indifference and emotional detachment. Learning when and how to simply not give a damn isn't the kind of advice you hear in most business books, but it can help you make the best of a lousy situation" (131).

A lot of business gurus out there simply spout the virtue of being passionate about your workplace. Well, that is very overrated.

"All this talk about passion, commitment, and identification is absolutely correct if you are in a good job, and are treated with dignity and respect. But it is hypocritical nonsense to the millions of people who are trapped in jobs and companies where they feel oppressed and humiliated--where their goal is to survive with their health and self-esteem intact and provide for their families, not to do great things for a company that treats them like dirt" (136-137, emphasis in original).

Dr. Sutton expands on the point about detachment. In fact, one of the strengths of this book is that he explains everything in very clear terms, and chapters offer good summaries of what you read. There are also plenty of illustrative examples. Additionally, he also reminds us there can be an asshole in everyone of us, so, remember, the first step is recognizing you can be asshole. From there, you can work on not letting out that boogeyman. Overall, a great little book. It is an easy read. It is straightforward and direct. It is now a matter of deciding whether to implement the rule or not. And if that is not an option right away, gradually working towards some solution then, or at least living to fight another day., even if it means eventually doing it someplace else.


Anonymous said...

I work in health care, and in this field are plenty of assholes. Mind you, a lot of the assholes are up in "corporate" administration. Health care isn't the same as it used to be. Now it's all about money and power. And it seems whoever has control of the money, has the power!! This infection spreads worse than an aggressive cancer sometimes. A situation where regular "peon" employees are purposely placed in harm's way to appease the corporate drones controlling the money and the power. It was my boss who was infected. Hospital is under construction (Getting more powerful). Have a point where they want employees to stand out in the bitter cold 20 below zero and sweltering heat in the summer, and are threatened with corrective action if they do not abide by this policy. This is to welcome the 100's if not 1000's of patients, visitors and staff who come thru daily and give directions. The grounds are so confusing, anyone could get lost. This "asshole" should be banned from being a boss.

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Anon.: Thanks for stopping by. I love the euphemism of "corrective action." What exactly are the assholes trying to correct, one has to wonder. You definitely should send your story over to the book's author to add to his collection. In the meantime, hang in there.