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The No Asshole Rule

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  • 1. The No Asshole Rule Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t AUTHOR: Robert I. Sutton, PhD PUBLISHER: Warner Business Books DATE OF PUBLICATION: 2007 NUMBER OF PAGES: 210 pages
  • 2. THE BIG IDEA The No Asshole Rule by Robert I. Sutton, PhD Upon encountering mean-spirited persons, the first thing • most people think is: “Wow, what an asshole!” Just about everyone knows an asshole where they work – • people who are terrible to deal with, with whom interaction is tedious at best and excruciating at worst. Most of us have to deal with these assholes in our workplaces at one time or another, or are having to try to manage them at present. The No Asshole Rule shows how these destructive • characters damage their workmates and undermine organizational performance, and suggests creative ways and means to understand what makes them tick and deal with them – or get rid of them.
  • 3. Why You Need this Book The No Asshole Rule by Robert I. Sutton, PhD • The No Asshole Rule shows you how to keep tough-to-deal- with people out of your workplace, how to reform those you are stuck with, how to expel those who can’t or won’t change their ways, and how to limit the damage that these people can cause. • Author Robert Sutton confronts this topic simply and directly, and provides extensive and easy-to-use strategies into how these kinds of negative characters can be understood, identified and dealt with, or eliminated, for good. He delves into the theories concerning assholes and comes up with some surprising revelations and discoveries – not the least among them that many among us may be assholes in our own ways – and how to deal with these as well in order to improve the organizations we work for.
  • 4. What Workplace Assholes Do and Why You Know So Many The No Asshole Rule by Robert I. Sutton, PhD Who deserves to be branded as an asshole? It is first important to be able to identify assholes properly. How do we know we’re not distinguishing between people we simply dislike and those who really deserve the label? We need to be able to distinguish between those who are simply having a bad day from those who are persistently or consistently nasty and destructive. Here are two quick tests: • Test One: After talking to the alleged asshole, does the “target” feel oppressed, humiliated, belittled or de-energized by the person? Does the “target”, as a result, feel worse about him- or herself? • Test Two: Does the alleged asshole aim his or her venom at people who are less powerful rather than at those who are more powerful?
  • 5. What Workplace Assholes Do and Why You Know So Many The No Asshole Rule by Robert I. Sutton, PhD It’s obvious that assholes operate differently – some do their damage through open rage and arrogance, while others have enough skill and emotional control to act as assholes quietly and privately and are far less obvious. To be more specific, here are twelve common everyday actions that assholes use to do their dirty work and which illustrate the range of behavior that assholes can use. 1. Personal insults 2. Invading one’s “physical territory” 3. Uninvited physical contact 4. Verbal and nonverbal threats and intimidation 5. “Sarcastic jokes” and “teasing” used as insult delivery systems 6. Withering email flames 7. Status slaps designed to humiliate victims 8. Public shaming or “status degradation” rituals 9. Rude interruptions 10. Two-faced attacks 11. Dirty looks 12. Treating people like they’re invisible
  • 6. What Workplace Assholes Do and Why You Know So Many The No Asshole Rule by Robert I. Sutton, PhD • There are also such things as temporary and certified assholes. The former are only considered assholes because of one or two events; the latter display persistent patterns and have histories of episodes where they put people down. • It’s important to point out that we mustn’t choose to replace assholes with wimps and polite clones – their opposites – either! In many cases these people can actually damage a company badly, since they don’t often speak up even when under extreme duress and this could serve to drive problems underground, where they fester. • A certain amount of well-managed conflict is a necessity in order for a company to run smoothly. People need to be open to one another, but not to the extent that some become assholes. • Lastly, here is a fundamental lesson that runs through this book: the difference between how a person treats the powerless versus the powerful (recall that the less powerful are routinely targeted by assholes) is an excellent measure of human character.
  • 7. The Damage Done: Why Every Workplace Needs the No- Asshole Rule The No Asshole Rule by Robert I. Sutton, PhD • The effects of assholes are so devastating because they sap people of their energy and self-esteem mostly through the accumulated effects of small, demeaning acts, not so much through large dramatic episodes. • Tiny indignities take their toll and add up as we go along our workdays. They have cumulative effects on our mental health and our commitments to our bosses, peers and the organizations we work for. • Research shows that negative interactions have a fivefold stronger effect on mood than positive interactions, showing that nasty people pack a larger punch than their more civilized counterparts! In addition, assholes also damage more than just their intended targets. Coworkers, family members or friends who watch or even just hear about these ugly incidents, may also be damaged as well.
  • 8. The Damage Done: Why Every Workplace Needs the No- Asshole Rule The No Asshole Rule by Robert I. Sutton, PhD • Organization-wise, assholes’ actions result in increased turnover, absenteeism, decreased commitment to work, distraction and impaired individual performance. • A hallmark of teams and organizations led by assholes is that they are riddled with fear, loathing and retaliation. • When people feel mistreated and dissatisfied with their jobs, they are unwilling to do extra work to help their organizations (“discretionary effort”). • When people work for insensitive jerks, they find ways to get back at them through ways such as theft or even sabotage or arson. • If word leaks out that your organization is led by assholes, the damage to its reputation can drive away potential employees and ruin investor confidence. • You can actually calculate a Total Cost of Assholes to your organization by summing up the damage done to victims and witnesses, woes of certified assholes, consequences for management, legal and HR costs and negative effects on organizations. (And maybe even dock the assholes’ salaries to be able to get these costs back!)
  • 9. How to Implement the Rule, Enforce it, and Keep it Alive The No Asshole Rule by Robert I. Sutton, PhD • A societal standard appears to be, if you are a really big winner, you can get away with being a really big asshole. Success, fame and fortune can get a lot of people to condone nasty behavior. • However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Some of the most effective and civilized organizations disdain, punish and drive out assholes, and/or tolerate them and their behavior – but only up to a point. • Many companies reject assholes outright, say so openly and enshrine these statements as company policy, but as admirable as these sentiments may be, posting them somewhere or just talking about them are useless acts if these deeds are not followed up by sustained action.
  • 10. How to Implement the Rule, Enforce it, and Keep it Alive The No Asshole Rule by Robert I. Sutton, PhD Here, then, are ten steps to enforce the no-asshole rule: 2. First things first. Enshrine it in your company’s policy and act on it. 3. Realize that assholes involved in hiring and selection will only hire other assholes. Keep the resident jerks out of the hiring process – or involve as many good people as you can in it to dilute the effects of these jerks. 4. Get rid of assholes as fast as you possibly can! Regardless of how good or competent they may be, they will only cause a great deal of damage to your company. 5. Treat certified assholes as incompetent employees, even if they do extraordinary things, for the abovementioned reason. 6. Realize that power breeds nastiness – some people, if given even a little power, can turn into jerks. 7. Embrace the power-performance paradox. Your organization does and should have a pecking order, but do all you can to downplay and reduce unnecessary status differences. Powerful people tend to see others as means to their ends while giving themselves all the credit for their
  • 11. How to Implement the Rule, Enforce it, and Keep it Alive The No Asshole Rule by Robert I. Sutton, PhD 1. Manage moments, not just practices, policies or systems. Remember that most assholes operate through little gestures that may not be all too visible. Change the little things that you and your people do to pave the way for big changes to follow. 2. Model and teach constructive confrontation. Develop a culture where people know when to argue and when to stop fighting. Teach them to fight as if they are right, but listen as if they are wrong. 3. Adopt the one-asshole rule. Permit one or two token jerks to hang around to remind everyone else of the ‘wrong’ behavior. (Just make sure to manage them properly.) 4. The bottom line: link big policies to small decencies. Create a self-reinforcing cycle between the big things organizations do (stated philosophies, written policies, training, hiring, firing, etc.) and the little things that happen when people communicate and work together. Having all the right philosophies and practices in place is useless unless everyone treats each other in the right way right now.
  • 12. How to Stop Your “Inner Jerk” from Coming Out The No Asshole Rule by Robert I. Sutton, PhD • Here is a cautionary note: we all have to realize that it’s all too easy to become assholes ourselves! • Even the most naturally kind and mentally healthy people can turn caustic and cruel under the wrong conditions. The pressure of most jobs makes it difficult to get through one’s workday without (at least occasionally) losing one’s control and becoming a creep. • The first step towards not going down this path is to view acting like an asshole as a communicable disease. If you join a group filled with jerks, the odds are that you will catch their disease – you’ll end up just like them. Don’t give in to the temptation to join them in the first place. Better yet, stay away as much as you can – or simply walk out. Or, if you are stressed out and pressured, take a step back before you say something nasty that you might end up regretting. • Next, realize that seeing coworkers as rivals or, worse, enemies, is a dangerous game. Organizational life is nearly always a blend of cooperation and competition. Make sure not to be over-competitive and neglect the cooperative aspect of your work.
  • 13. How to Stop Your “Inner Jerk” from Coming Out The No Asshole Rule by Robert I. Sutton, PhD • Try to see yourself as others do. Try contrasting what you believe about yourself with how other people see you. You may discover something about yourself that will truly surprise you. You may in fact be exhibiting asshole tendencies! • Lastly, face your past – the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. If, for instance, you were a bully as a child, you are likely to be one as an adult as well. That sort of thing can carry over to adulthood, and very often does so. It’s important to note in this respect that the culture you’re raised in can amplify your risk of being an asshole, especially if you grew up in a violence-prone neighborhood or area.
  • 14. When Assholes Reign: Tips for Surviving Nasty People and Workplaces The No Asshole Rule by Robert I. Sutton, PhD This section is for those who, for whatever reason, are unable to easily and quickly leave an office or company where assholes rule the roost – and/or for those who can’t leave said offices at all. Some survival tips: 4. Reframe: change how you see things. If you can’t escape a source of stress, changing your mindset about what is happening to you – or reframing – can help reduce the damage done to you. For instance, you could try the following: a) Avoiding self-blame b) Hoping for the best while expecting the worst -- keep your expectations for the assholes’ behavior low so you won’t be disappointed when they act up and affect you and those around you, but continue to believe that you will be fine after the ordeal is over c) Developing indifference and emotional attachment -- passion for the job is all very good, but only in a good company. Focus on just going through the motions, caring as little as possible on the
  • 15. When Assholes Reign: Tips for Surviving Nasty People and Workplaces The No Asshole Rule by Robert I. Sutton, PhD 1. Look for small wins. The feeling of control – that you have the power to shape even small aspects of your fate – can have an enormous impact on well-being by reducing feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. Also, it will help to realize that most big problems can only be solved a little at a time, so you might be helping your cause by winning one small battle at a time. 3. Simply limit your exposure. By limiting how often and how intensely you face the assholes, you suffer less direct damage. Second, this will help you gain small wins – which will benefit you as well (see the previous point). 5. Find and build pockets of sanity where you can hide out from assholes – buildings, rooms, gardens and so on and so forth – and hang out with as many good, decent, kind people as you can find. You could also build a secret social network in those companies that frown upon such things (just be careful not to get caught).
  • 16. When Assholes Reign: Tips for Surviving Nasty People and Workplaces The No Asshole Rule by Robert I. Sutton, PhD 1. Fight and win the right small battles. Try (although this may be exceedingly hard to do) to gently reeducate assholes by explaining the demands you face or other reasons why you don’t deserve to be picked on. You could also try risky tactics like exacting revenge – or even calling the assholes’ bluff. Stand up for yourself, or find others who are willing to do so and face the assholes – and you just might find out that you can face them down and defeat them.
  • 17. The Virtues of Assholes The No Asshole Rule by Robert I. Sutton, PhD As horrible as it may sound, and running contrary to the points that have been made earlier on, there are upsides to being an asshole. Exhibiting some (but by no means too many) of the traits we ascribe to assholes can get you places and may even help boost your career. Note, however, that these steps can be used to justify or even glorify a penchant for demeaning others, so watch out and be wary that you do not fall into the same trap as so many others have. 5. Nastiness helps some people gain personal power and stature. Strategic use of power and blame – i.e. being nasty – can help push yourself up the hierarchy and knock others down, such that you move up the hierarchical ladder faster. 7. It can also help intimidate and vanquish rivals. Some people bully others to gain and sustain status. Acting as an asshole can scare all but your worst enemies away and can ensure that people will think twice before facing or confronting you.
  • 18. The Virtues of Assholes The No Asshole Rule by Robert I. Sutton, PhD 1. Fear can be a very powerful motivator. People can be driven to avoid public humiliation and punishment. If you act like an asshole, people could be driven to achieve more in the hopes of not being picked on, singled out or made fun of. (It’s been proven, however, that rewards are far more effective at boosting performance than punishments. Thus, you have to alternate the fear with encouragement and praise – also, do this so that you will not become a complete asshole.) 2. Playing the part of a temporary asshole can bring unfair, lazy and clueless people to their senses. You might have to resort to this to get what you need from people who aren’t delivering. Scare them and they just might shape up – or ship out of the company altogether. 3. Create a “toxic tandem”: if you’re too nasty, find someone who’s nice to balance you out, and vice versa. Aim for balance, otherwise people will leave and the company’s reputation may be damaged. 4. Realize that you can’t be all nasty all the time! It’s obviously counterproductive! In addition, you run the risk of transforming yourself into a bona fide asshole.
  • 19. The No Asshole Rule as a Way of Life The No Asshole Rule by Robert I. Sutton, PhD To sum up the preceding chapters and the entire book, here are seven key lessons about the No Asshole Rule. 2. A few demeaning creeps can overwhelm the warm feelings generated by lots of civilized people. Negative interactions have five times the effect on mood than positive ones. 3. Talking about the no asshole rule is nice… But following up on it is what really matters-- far more than just talking about it or marketing it in the first place. 4. The rule lives – or dies – in the little moments. Having all the right philosophies and practices and strategies to support the no asshole rule is useless unless you treat the person with you right now in the right way. This is an elaboration of the preceding point. 5. Should you keep a few assholes around? Very bad people can be a good thing if handled right. However, assholes breed like rabbits; their poison easily infects others. So be very careful if you decide to keep some assholes around for this reason – or if you cannot get rid of some of them easily.
  • 20. The No Asshole Rule as a Way of Life The No Asshole Rule by Robert I. Sutton, PhD 1. Enforcing the no asshole rule isn’t just management’s job. Because it’s not just those in management who might end up as assholes – and/or who are obligated to do something about an asshole wreaking havoc in the company. Everyone in the organization has to step in to enforce this rule if necessary! 2. Embarrassment and pride are powerful motivators. People will go to great lengths to save face and feel respected, and avoid shame and embarrassment. 3. Lastly, assholes are us. Everyone has been an asshole at one time or another (or maybe even more than once…). If you want to build an asshole-free environment, start by looking in the mirror, maybe admit that you have been an asshole in the first place, and resolve to change your company for the better by doing something about it. Take these lessons to heart and begin to pave the way for an asshole-free company, one that everyone will beat a path to!
  • 21. ABOUT BUSINESSSUMMARIES The No Asshole Rule by Robert I. Sutton, PhD BusinessSummaries.com is a business book Summaries service. Every week, it sends out to subscribers a 9- to 12-page summary of a best-selling business book chosen from among the hundreds of books printed out in the United States. For more information, please go to http://www.bizsum.com.