Dealing with jerks at work

The No Asshole Rule delves into the problem of bad behaviour in the workplace and what it can cost your business.

by Stefan Stern
Last Updated: 16 Nov 2015

There's no nice way of saying this. Some people are just... assholes. Professor Bob Sutton of Stanford insisted on this point almost a decade ago, and nothing has emerged since to disprove him.

What is asshole behaviour, and why is it a problem at work? The broad term 'incivility' might cover it, but the list of different types of assholedom is impressive: humiliation, backbiting, insults, sarcasm, threats, glaring, invasions of personal space... I could go on, and unfortunately some bosses do.

And that is partly the point: assholes kick down, they rarely insult their own bosses. Bad bosses bully their way through life because they think they can get away with it. Sometimes they do. But usually it is at a cost to their business.

Sutton proposes two tests to determine whether someone is an asshole or not. Firstly, after encountering the person, do people feel oppressed, humiliated or otherwise worse about themselves? And, secondly, does the person target people who are less powerful than him or her? Of course, just occasionally, an asshole can also be a great leader. Steve Jobs is the prime example.

Professor Sutton picked a rude word to make his point, but sometimes you have to call a spade a spade and an asshole an asshole.

Stefan Stern is visiting professor at Cass Business School. Follow him on Twitter: @StefanStern

The No Asshole Rule by Bob Sutton is published by Business Plus, 2007

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