Monday, March 12, 2007

Bob Sutton's book - the No Asshole Rule

Bob Sutton is a Stanford University professor who's written a book called, "The No Asshole Rule". The book is about, well, assholes at work. Although I haven't read the book itself, I've read an excerpt on the 800CEOREAD website.

Sutton says, "[S]tudies show that many workplaces are plagued by "interpersonal moves" that leave people feeling threatened and demeaned, which are often directed by more powerful people at less powerful people."

Sutton says that it's usually powerful people - especially bosses - who are horrible towards their subordinates. He quotes the example of a pregnant female employee, whose boss began timing her visits to the bathroom, and then counted these minutes against her lunch or break times. You can read more examples on the 800CEO read site. (If you want to buy the book, here's the 800CEOREAD link and here's the Amazon link)

If you think that subordinates can be equally nasty to bosses, the reality is that this happens very rarely. Sutton says, "Much of this nastiness is directed by superiors to their subordinates (estimates run from 50% to 80%), with somewhat less between coworkers of roughly the same rank (estimates run from 20% to 50%), and "upward" nastiness- where underlings take on their superiors-occurs in less than 1% of cases." [emphasis mine]

Sutton identifies twelve "Everyday Actions That Assholes Use":

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" used as insult delivery systems
6. Withering e-mail 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

From what I've read, Sutton's book is excellent in that it has brought out the issue of nasty people - particularly bosses - into the open. Coming from a Stanford professor who is willing to use such a direct and hard-hitting title for his book, his words carry a lot of weight and credibility. Lesser mortals would be considered wimps or simply trouble-makers. Sutton is due a huge amount of credit for calling a spade a spade - something that's rare in the rarefied world of academia.

If you've read my manifesto, you know already know that I state that it's the system at fault, rather than individuals. Having said that, I feel the work of people such as Sutton is complementary to what I'm saying. We need both - a good system and good people.

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