This time Bob Sutton surprised me with his latest (coming) book - The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't - by raising a series of questions that I was not prepared for, and that I just love.
Quite a general interest read this time from the eminent business/management writer - hey my 15 year old picked it up and started reading it with great interest!
And kids should know all about assholes. Even if their "workplace" is less infested with hierarchies.
That is one of the questions that lingered all through the read - how does an asshole pick out his victims? As Sutton points to the workplace-asshole only pesters his boss in less than 1% of the cases, mostly picking his/her direct underlings. Easy prey as they are, and the asshole have little risk of retribution thanks to his/her position.
But then, what about among peers? What's common there?
Coupled that question with my own experience as I had a really hard time to remember any asshole I ever had to endure. Occasional asshole behaviour for sure (including my own I'm afraid, much obliged Bob for prodding me to give that one a serious thought!), even from nice people, good friends (still good friends) and of course the odd stressed bus/plane/train passenger - but not one certified long term asshole that I had the pleasure to know came to mind.
Hmm, first thought was of course "am I one of them?!". Ouch.
And that is a really great aspect of the book, kick your butt to think over you own behaviour - are you a certified asshole, an occasional one, do you handle assholes or do you add to the venom and stupidity? Most useful.
Luckily Sutton supplies you with a self-test (and then suggests that you better double check the results with somebody else) and many other clues - so I seem not to be a certified one at least. Hey guys out there, any other views on that?
Second thought would be that I never really had a boss. That explains a lot. OK, I did a few times prior to and during studies, but I was so detached from the situation (never dependent on the job) I simply left if I was less than perfectly happy. Not much of a viable asshole victim I would presume.
Third is more of a question: As much/some of the certified asshole drive comes from competitiveness (the self-test questions is full of clues of that) I wonder if not some of the phenomena is a culture issue. Not armed with a single scientific proof I do have a hunch that the North American society do put competitiveness higher in all rungs of life than the European ones from where I hail. As said, it is just a question.
Still I have not known a single one. Then I remember I was never really bullied at school either, sporadically an effort was made, but nothing had to be endured.
That's when Sutton's chapter five came to my help with it's "survival tips" and the theme of "small wins" and "ignore and avoid".
Using the fact that most bullying happens downwards in the hierarchy and coupling it with the "seize bits of control" method as suggested in the book, I read between the lines that insecurity and lack of control can act as a magnet for constant bullying and certified asshole behaviour. Perhaps "control over you own life" as in reality and as displayed (dogs smell fear) would be the ultimate first line of defence.
Ahh, that's it. The few times I've been a victim for surprising asshole behaviour was when I was less in the normal control of things, actually a bad one in a board of directors situation came to mind when the winds were not exactly blowing my way, and I felt it and displayed it. A clear invitation to potential assholes, even the occasional one as in that case - and as Sutton suggest will happen over and over again, I certainly joined and enhanced the stupidity unprepared as I was.
Some of the examples in the book of companies/firms that have no asshole rule are excellent and definitely strengthens my belief that the company culture is what it's all about, no single rule will help, only a holistic, complete, no-room-for-doubt culture can work. And that applies to everything, not only keeping assholes at bay I would say.
I found two issues in the book where I have a tendency to disagree, perhaps not strongly, but still (another trait of good books in my mind):
In chapter 5 - Tips for Surviving Nasty People and Workplaces - Sutton suggests (among many methods) revenge as a viable and fair method with some hilarious examples. Still I react to that notion, for me revenge is infantile, crude and worst; an invitation to escalation of any bad situation. Sure, if it works it makes one feel good and you would have a great story to tell to colleagues, but perhaps not worthy of a highly developed culture or individual?
In chapter 6 - Virtues of Assholes. Some good examples are supplied, still I get this urge to argue that the examples given (in particular the chap who's boss of the firm that produced the thing I'm typing this on) are situational assholes, people who are so completely consumed by some ideas and tasks that combined with a definite lack of social skills it creates overwhelming asshole moments. Then I read the self-test questions where disdain, contempt and glee over the misfortune of others seems to be the driving force for the true certified asshole - and that is after all something completely different even if some of the results are similar. I think I could live with the first type, but definitely not with the last.
All in all a most enjoyable read, a source for many thoughts for a long time and even a kick in the butt to be much more aware of own (hopefully rather rare) stupid behaviour moments! And that makes it worth it, so look forward to February 22 next year, just go out and buy it.
Now I have to give the book back to my kids...