Robert Sutton: The No Asshole Rule

by buildingpharmabrands


Robert Sutton, a Professor of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University and a cofounder of the Stanford Technology Ventures program wrote an eminently actionable book on one of the most common corporate maladies. It is titled, The No Asshole Rule.

It is said that when Julia Kirby, who was a senior editor at Harvard Business Review in 2003 asked Sutton for suggestions, he submitted an article on the No Asshole Rule. What is more, he managed to talk the HBR, which is known as a conservative publication into printing the article with the word asshole in it. This is because Sutton believes that while the word is offensive to many, no other word captures the essence of this type of person. Click here to watch The No Asshole Rule presentation by Robert Sutton.

Sutton says that the asshole behavior includes bullying, interpersonal aggression, emotional abuse, abusive supervision, petty tyranny, harassment, and incivility in the workplace. He shows in his book that such behavior affects the bottom line of a business through impaired organizational performance, including increased turnover, absenteeism, decreased commitment to work and impaired individual performance.

Why the No Asshole Rule? It is essentially to disallow anyone to get away with demeaning, nasty, or disrespectful behavior toward others in the workplace. People who continually behave that way and bully others need serious reform or should be shown the door, Sutton says.

The No Asshole Rule book teaches you how to deal with different types of people in the workplace such as, bullies, creeps, jerks, weasels, tormentors, tyrants, serial slammers, despots, unconstrained egomaniacs etcetera.

What are the symptoms of the people who suffer such a behavior? If the targeted person feels oppressed, humiliated, de-energized or belittled. Usually the people of lesser power are targeted.

What are the tactics used by offenders? There could be many ways. Consider these dirty dozen for example:

  1. Personal insults
  2. Invading one’s personal territory
  3. Uninvited physical contact
  4. Threats and intimidation, both verbal and nonverbal
  5. Sarcastic jokes and teasing with insulting as the sole purpose
  6. Withering e-mail flames
  7. Status slaps intended to humiliate their victims
  8. Public slamming or status degradation rituals
  9. Rude interruptions
  10. Two-faced attacks
  11. Dirty looks
  12. Treating people as if they are invisible

How to Implement a No Asshole Rule?

  1. Make it public. Have written policies and make it public by what you say and what you do. Say the rule, write it down, and act on it.
  2. Weave a rule into Hiring and Firing policies. Assholes will hire other assholes. Keep resident jerks from hiring other assholes.
  3. Apply the rule to customers and clients. No one deserves to be abused.
  4. Status and power differences are the roots of many evils. Keep them minimum by building accountability into every position.
  5. Focus on conversations and interactions. Involve the employees in decision making and in making positive changes to the organizational processes and procedures.

We cannot allow a few demeaning people to overwhelm the warm feelings generated by many of the civilized people in our organizations. In the final analysis, assholes are us. We have been guilty of being assholes. To build an asshole-free workplace, let us start looking in the mirror.