BOOK REVIEW: The No Asshole Rule

Here at Lovefraud, most of the conversation is about the sociopaths we’ve encountered in romantic relationships. But sociopaths are equal opportunity exploiters, and are often abusive in some way to almost everyone in their lives. Therefore, we can encounter sociopaths anywhere—especially in the workplace.

I recently read a book that’s helpful for avoiding, or surviving, abuse on the job: The No Asshole Rule Building a civilized workplace and surviving one that isn’t. The book is written by Robert I. Sutton, Ph.D., a professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University.

Yes, there is a mild obscenity in the title, and the A-word appears throughout the book. Still, I’d describe the book as delightful. Why? Because Sutton understands the problem of nasty people, is entertaining as he describes it, and conveys positive coping strategies that leave you feeling like you can deal with anything.

What is an asshole?

First of all, whom are we talking about? Sutton differentiates between “temporary assholes”—someone who is cranky on a bad day, and “certified assholes”—people who are persistently nasty and destructive. Here are Sutton’s two tests for identifying certified assholes:

Test One: After talking to the alleged asshole, does the “target” feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energized, or belittled by the person? In particular, does the target feel worse about him- or herself?

Test Two: Does the alleged asshole aim his or her venom at people who are less powerful rather than at those people who are more powerful?

Most sociopaths meet these tests. It’s probably fair to assume that all sociopaths are assholes, although not all assholes are sociopaths.

Damage in the workplace

Sutton believes that every organization needs the “No Asshole Rule” because, he writes, “mean-spirited people do massive damage to victims, bystanders who suffer the ripple effects, organizational performance, and themselves.”

Those who demean and offend others drive people out of organizations. According to research quoted by the author, 25% of victims of bullying, and 20% of witnesses of bullying, leave their jobs, compared with a typical rate of about 5%.

Turnover costs money, as do the other problems that problem people cause. In fact, instead of relying on anecdotal evidence, Sutton recommends that organizations calculate their TCA, or “Total Cost of Assholes,” by assigning dollar values to factors such as:

Loss of motivation and energy at work

Stress-induced psychological and physical illness

Reduced innovation and creativity

Time spent appeasing, calming, counseling or disciplining assholes

Time spent “cooling out” employees who are victimized

Time spent interviewing, recruiting and training replacements for departed assholes and their victims

Legal costs for inside and outside counsel

Settlement fees and successful litigation by victims

Surviving nasty people

Many people are working for or with assholes. The best solution is to leave the hostile environment and get a new job, but that may not be possible, especially in today’s economic environment. So Sutton provides tips on how to survive toxic workplaces.

One technique is “reframing”—changing your mind-set about what is happening. This doesn’t necessarily change the nasty person, but it reduces your psychological damage by changing how you look at the situation.

For example, some victims of bullies begin to believe “I must have something wrong to be treated that way,” especially in cases where the bullies are actually saying that. Most of us here at Lovefraud have never done anything to deserve the treatment we received from sociopaths, and the same applies to bad treatment from workplace bullies. By understanding that they are what they are, and we should not take the demeaning behavior personally, goes a long way towards protecting our spirits until we can escape the situation.

The No Asshole Rule has great tips for dealing with all types of bullies, tyrants and sociopaths, whether we meet them in the workplace or in our personal lives. I highly recommend this book.

The No Asshole Rule is available on

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17 Comments on "BOOK REVIEW: The No Asshole Rule"

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truth – I covet my best volunteers and take them with me from organization to organization. 🙂

Onejoy, some volunteers are better than paid employees, I agree. Most of the volunteers that I worked with (I was on the payroll) had a definite personal agenda, and the Director simply didn’t care if those agendas would be harmful to the facility and program.

So, I learned to shut my mouth, keep my eyes open, and document. 😉

My father is a proud wearer of the “asshat” of the family. He speaks of his acceptance of being an asshole. He fits many if not all definitions of a sociopath which gave him grace from me and the damage done to me forgiven many times over until I was tired. I appreciated him being an upfront asshole unlike others who wore the sheeps clothing. My mother has a love/hate relationship with my father and I am his only biological child. They are still married after many years but I have inevitably had to dodge her from putting that hat on my head. Just this summer I screamed at her “Stop trying to put his asshat on my head. I WILL NOT wear the family asshat proudly like he does and you seem to be the only one doing everything to pass it on to me! I don’t want it and I am not him!” You should’ve seen her face. I said this after repeated statements of “you’re just like your father” because I told my daughter to stop stepping on my shoes under a table (scuffing them up), telling my daughter she needs to behave in some way. So parenting made me just like my father in her mind because she worked to keep that asshat on him and not on herself. Right now I see them both wearing them. I do love them. It’s just a fact.

Later I found the asshole he admitted to and proudly claimed, was only a portion of his plight and the reality was he had some sheep outfits. He hid some uglier asshole parts of himself and I then learned don’t let your guard down to the guy who seems to gladly acknowledge he’s an asshole because he probably has even worse issues hidden.

I would also like to say, many of the men I worked with or partnered with in business were said to be type “A” personalities. There were tests we took through the human relations department and these men would come out proudly carrying their “A” for a result. What they didn’t know is to those of us who didn’t get an “A”, we knew this designation didn’t stand for “leader, gets things done and motivated.” It stood for “ASSHOLE” 🙂

My attorney was a type “A” personality and I told his timid paralegal and receptionist this fact. I also told them it stood for asshole. They had a private giggle of knowing. It seems many of these men have their faces turn red when they get mad. I wonder if this is where the name “hot head” originated..:)

Eraslyn, yes, there are those who are proud to be assholes, and generally in my experience those people are also psychopaths or at least VERY high on the trait scores.

Of course there are plenty of A-holes who are just jerks….inconsiderate, but not “mean”—who don’t go out of their way to hurt you, and don’t delight in duping you (duping delight)

I don’t tolerate those well either. I think I will just stay away from that kind of A-hole.

Dear Hopeforjoy,

Having worked for a sociopath please allow me to insert my two cents.

Look out for the following:

A perfect resume.
Jobs where they are self employed or working for friends.
References who are not past supervisors.
References who barely know them.
Degrees without school names or dates.

Sociopaths can stay in one job for a long time, and are often promoted.

As an employee:
Unusual expense accounts.
Lots of wining and dining on company time and dollar.
They are always mad at or trying to get at least one person fired. (they always need a target to vent their spleen)
Will have multiple interoffice affairs.
Will need time off for legal matters or court.
Wages garnished.
Multiple calls verifying employment.
Taking credit for other people’s work.
Always needing extensions for due dates.
Showing up to work in yesterday’s clothing, unshaven and stinking of booze.
Addiction problems.

As a manager:
All of the above and more!
Always trying to get someone fired.
Subverts the hiring process to hire ‘friends’.
Staff are promised things that cannot be delivered on (training, promotions, trips).
Staff are on edge, not sure who to trust.
HR is demonized by the sociopath – “don’t go to them expecting help”
Manager will never share credit when speaking with superiors.
Staff experience the same ‘honeymoon phase’ as sociopaths in the wild.

Hint: if you think you are about to promote a sociopath internally you can ask for references from former employees. Call up people they’ve had fired and ask for their input.

Plaid and Stripes:

OMG…so many of these fit the spath I knew:

Sociopaths can stay in one job for a long time, and are often promoted

Will have multiple interoffice affairs

Will need time off for legal matters or court

Taking credit for other people’s work

Showing up to work in yesterday’s clothing, unshaven and stinking of booze

Addiction problems

As a manager: (He is even way higher than a Manager)

All of the above and more!

Subverts the hiring process to hire ’friends’

Staff are on edge, not sure who to trust

Staff experience the same ’honeymoon phase’ as sociopaths in the wild

And he keeps getting promoted!!

Plaid and stripes, I think I found out more when I was in management by talking to the former EMPLOYEES of someone I was interviewing for a job or promotion rather than their former bosses.

Now, I don’t mean that all managers have too be “popular” with their employees, but they must over all be looked at as FAIR….and HONEST… believe me as a manager I was not always “popular” with some of my staff because I insisted they do their jobs, but in well run hospitals where I worked my staff that were there very long and I got on wonderfully because as long as they did their jobs they were happy and I was happy and I had their backs. In units were they were not well run, I stayed on the arses of those who did not do their jobs but they had no significiant consequences and I had no power to give them any, eventually they usually got fired but it didn’t make for a happy situation with people who didn’t do their jobs on the unit.

If someone is given the RESPONSIBILITY too manage and NOT given the AUTHORITY to manage the situation is always unhappy. If you throw in to the mix a psychopath….it gets nasty fasty!

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