Monday, April 09, 2007

The No Asshole Rule, by Robert I. Sutton, Ph.D.

The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, by Robert I. Sutton, Ph.D.

The premise of this book is laid out in the subtitle: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t. It tells of the effects of bullies in the office and how to create an environment that avoids them. I found it to be a little light in the latter goal, but an excellent book overall. Nobody wants to work with idiots, but I was surprised to find that evidence shows that jerks at work aren’t just unpleasant, but they can have serious adverse effects on a group. Research says nasty interactions affect mood five times more than positive ones; makes me think the old saying, “one bad apple can spoil the whole bunch” has more truth in it than I’d have guessed.

I had an interesting discussion about this book with a friend. I found the word asshole to fit the premise fairly well; bully and jerk for instance bring up much different images in my mind. My friend is much more civilized than I am and doesn’t approve of such language and certainly doesn’t use it himself. He made the excellent point that to folks with his mindset, simply using the word asshole can make you seem like well, an asshole. It really brought the point home that what is innocent or funny to one person can be offensive to another. Does this mean that political correctness is a good thing for society? I still say no (hell no, actually!); this thinking leads to prejudice for simply questioning ideologies and outright censorship. As a manager, though, I do need to juggle the various views and personalties of my team to reduce the impact of asshole-ish tendencies.

This was a very timely book for me. I’ve been recently disappointed by the lack of integrity the senior management at my company has displayed. The problem is mine; I continually look for a place about which I’m passionate. Sutton writes, “Passion is an overrated virtue in organizational life, and indifference is an underrated virtue.” While I’m not going to abandon hope in an enlightened workplace, I do need to try and concentrate more on the positives. Sutton also has a counterpoint to this advice: to avoid becoming an asshole yourself, get out as fast as you can. Hmmm.

Creating an asshole-free environment is not just management’s job; the group needs to discover ways of peer enforcement as well. Management of course has an important role in all this; they have to not only give lip service to the concept, but walk the walk as well. Simply saying that assholes won’t be tolerated won’t have much effect if the top salesman or friend of the boss gets a pass when push comes to shove. At a personal level, we can make a difference by controlling our own actions. There is a quiz in the book (recaptured online for your edification) that can help you decide. I get between a four and a six depending on how I’m feeling at the time. Are you an asshole?

First Sentence:
Who deserves to be branded as an asshole?

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