The No Asshole Rule

The No Asshole Rule
The No Asshole Rule by Robert I Sutton

The No Asshole Rule is a policy that I think everyone would say they support. It’s related to the Golden Rule. It’s pretty simple: don’t act like an asshole, don’t hire people that are assholes, and don’t tolerate asshole behavior at your company. The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One that Isn’t by Robert I. Sutton, PhD, is about managing workplace conflict. Robert I. Sutton is a Stanford University professor of management science. Even though most people would say that they support this rule, all too often silence is golden and going with the flow is easier. 


Asshole behavior includes  invading personal space, demeaning comments, interruptions, dirty looks, silent treatment, and insults as well as overt physical abuse. (Usually people refer to it as people being jerks or workplace bullying.) How does this kind of behavior get accepted? Well, actually, being an asshole can be successful in the short-term. Used strategically, asshole behavior can gain the person personal power and stature. It can intimidate competitors. It can even motivate employees to short-term success. The author took great pains though, to emphasize that being an asshole all the time will not benefit anyone. 

There is a definite cost to everyone involved when an employee is an asshole. “The damage that assholes do to their organizations is seen in the costs of increased turnover, absenteeism, decreased commitment to work, and the distraction and impaired individual performance documented in studies of psychological abuse, bullying, and mobbing.” (36) Employees also suffer psychological and physical effects from being the victim of bullying, or even if they are a witness to it, that require costly medical care. 

So, it seems obvious that being an asshole or having a bully at work is detrimental. What can you do about it? If you’re in a position that allows you to shape policy, make this one of your top priorities. Tell it to people, write it into procedures and walk the talk! Don’t be a hypocrite. Try to reduce status related differences; that is, treat everyone as people worth respect even if some of them get a smaller salary. Educate and role play “constructive confrontation.” Constructive Confrontation is a method in which people respond to the ideas they disagree with and not make arguments personal. (Sounds hard!) And ultimately, it comes down to daily actions in which your small moments shape how you act and how others perceive you.

The book talked about different facets of asshole behavior: what it is, how it affects businesses, how to mitigate it, and how to recognize whether you are the asshole that everyone complains about. Many times, Sutton emphasized that asshole behavior often is inflicted upon people with lower status. I wish more time was spent discussing what to do in those situations. What should you do if you don’t have the power to reshape policy or fire the asshole. What if your boss is the asshole? Sutton did suggest that these people find new jobs, but I felt this answer was too simplistic.

This is a useful book with great potential. The bulleted lists that highlighted key points are very useful. Many statistics were quoted from various studies across the globe about workplace bullying. These statistics were interesting and ensured that the reader realized that their situation wasn’t so unique. However, being a visual learner, I would have liked some graphical representation of the numbers to make the data more tangible.

About shortlibrarian

I am a woman working in the Twin Cities as a programming Librarian.
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