Monday, February 4, 2008

No assholes allowed

It was a beautiful weekend, one that held that promise of spring being just around the corner. I took advantage of the weather to take Compass Rose to one of the deserted islands along the coast. Besides walking on the beach and having a great campfire on Saturday night and morning, there isn't much else to do but sleep, eat and read. For the latter, I took along Robert Sutton's book, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t.

It's an interesting read. I think that I found it particularly enlightening because Sutton comes from academia and isn't a lawyer, a CEO, or Hollywood celebrity. He's a Ph.D. and professor in the Dept. of Engineering at Stanford. One of the things that he lists is how to spot an asshole. Here's his dirty-dozen list of everyday asshole actions:
  1. Personal insults

  2. Invading one’s personal territory

  3. Uninvited personal contact

  4. Threats and intimidation, both verbal and non-verbal

  5. Sarcastic jokes and teasing used as insult delivery systems

  6. Withering email flames

  7. Status slaps intended to humiliate their victims

  8. Public shaming or status degradation rituals

  9. Rude interruptions

  10. Two-faced attacks

  11. Dirty looks

  12. Treating people as if they are invisible

If you recognized yourself in any of these, then maybe this book is for you. But a few slips, doesn't make you a certifiable asshole. It has to be continuity in these traits that makes you one of those.

I liked the section on how to avoid being an asshole. Here's a summary of what Sutton has to say:

  1. Face your past. The past is a very good predictor of future behavior. For example, were you a bully in school? If your parents and siblings were assholes, you may have caught the disease. Knowing that you’re an asshole is the first step towards change.

  2. Do not make people feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energized, or belittled. If you find yourself having these effects, it’s time to change your behavior no matter what you think of yourself.

  3. Do not mistreat people who are less powerful than you. One of the sure signs of an asshole is treating people who are in less powerful positions in a degrading manner.

  4. Resist assholeholics from the start. The easiest time to avoid becoming an asshole is at the very beginning. Don’t think that you can do “what you have to” to fit in and can change later. It won’t happen.

  5. Walk away and stay away. Don’t be afraid to leave a bad situation. It’s unlikely you’ll change the assholes into good people; it’s much more likely that you’ll descend to their level.

  6. View acting like an asshole as a communicable disease. If you have any sense of decency, when you’re sick, you avoid contact to prevent spreading the disease. So if you act like an asshole, you’re not just impacting yourself; you’re also teaching other people that it’s okay to be an asshole.

  7. Focus on win-win. Children (young and old) think that the world is a zero-sum game. If another kid is playing with the fire truck, you can’t. As people get older they should realize that life doesn’t have to be a win-lose proposition--unless, that is, you’re an asshole.

  8. Focus on ways you are no better or even worse than others. Thinking that you’re smarter, faster, better looking, funnier, whatever than others turns people into assholes. Thinking that you’re no better or even worse keeps you humble.

  9. Focus on ways you are similar to people, not different. If you concentrate on how you and others have similar goals, desires, and passions, you’re bound to be less of an asshole. How can you treat people that are similar to you with disdain?

  10. Tell yourself, “I have enough stuff (money, toys, friends, cars, whatever). Discontentment and envy is a major factor in becoming an asshole. If you’re happy, there’s no reason to stomp on others.

I liked these and found that a lot of them seemed similar to the 12 steps. I won't comment on how to recognize that someone else is an asshole because if I recognize that, then doesn't that make me one?


  1. nice. i like those. thanks for sharing that. that will come in useful!

  2. What a painful piece of reading.

  3. Personally, I made up my mind just reading the title of your post. Really great.


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