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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Donna, thank you for this review! I LOVE the title, even if it can be construed as vulgar or profane – it says what needs to be said in the title, alone! LOL!!!

Everyone that I’ve ever known has worked with someone who was a “problem child.” Whether they were situational, or certifiable, behaving badly on the job absolutely creates a ripple-effect that moves beyond the company/business and into the customer/client realm.

I particularly like the idea that SOLUTIONS and suggestions were offered to readers on how to manage these types of people! There are so many, many, MANY books out there that identify, define, and explain, but they don’t necessarily provide strong techniques on how to manage specific situations without becoming “like them.”

Thanks for posting this review! If I win the lottery, I know about a dozen people that I can send this to, along with copies of your “Red Flags” book!!!!!

Brightest blessings


Truthy! i’m sittin here counting all my past experiences with these people and running out of fingers and toes! LMAO!! yes i can see how some A__holes are spath but not all. some just arent special. LOL!


Ox Drover

This sounds like a “lighthearted” look at sociopaths, and a realistic way to look at what people encounter in their every day lives. Rather than using the terms psychopath or sociopath, the author gets across the problem (people who are abusive) and differentiates between the “temporary” jerks and the “permanent” jerks in a way that “ordinary” people can understand and relate to.

Everyone understands the term ASSHOLE and can identify what one is pretty easily. And I think everyone can identify a temporary versus a permanent version.

I think this sounds like a valuable book, I wish it wide distribution.


I put this book in my cart at Amazon. I like the author’s style of writing and I’m looking forward to reading it. I’m getting my degree in Human Resources so it might come in handy if I’m involved with the hiring process.

It seems I am always looking for signs of disordered people now, I can’t read enough literature or gather enough information about them.


P.s. I wonder if we all get a little like that after a sociopathic encounter, almost an obsessive need to know about them. I think that it will help protect me from future spath interactions but I will probably be fooled again at some point. Just lord, don’t let me EVER get into a relationship with one again.


I’m in a mood which would have me send this book to my ex’s boss and/or co-workers, but I understand the importance of no contact and grey rock (thanks to this wonderful site) so I shall restrain myself.

you can send it anonymously.


Hi HopeforJoy, Always looking for that ‘other’ item that I can add to get the Super Saver Free Shipping at Amazon, I see that there is a companion book, Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best… and Learn from the Worst, a compilation of stories ‘Based upon the thousands of letters, emails, and conversations Sutton has received since the publication of NO ASSHOLE RULE, he now focuses his common sense approach to what it is that delineates the great bosses in our world from the ones who are just good, so-so, or even worse.’ This looks really interesting to me, and something that might interest you in your work.

I work with volunteers a lot and I feel responsible for them. I would like to be better at choosing and supervising them. I have had a little mentoring, but mostly I have figured it out through working with people. Would like some training.

Right now i have a roster of friends who are helping with everything from scheduling people to help me, to cooking, to taking me to my doctors’ appts to doing my laundry. it takes a huge amount of coordination and knowing/ finding out which tasks work for people and which don’t. I have one friend who was not able to handle the intensity of a hard doctor’s appt., so I will no longer ask him to take me to appts – because he is a good friend of mine, and I am a good friend to him, I know that this is best…even though he keeps offering. I have asked him for help with things within his comfort zone, so that neither of us end up stressed and our relationship isn’t strained.

One thing I still have trouble judging is when I have asked for too much time from people. because of the nature of some of the work I do, the volunteer responsibilities can be extensive over a condensed period of time – sometimes i don’t know it’s been too much for a person until after the event. The litmus test is always: do they come back?

Way off topic here, but the point is, i do care about people working for me. Assholes don’t. There are times when the nature of the work makes me or a company look like an Asshole, there are times when I do asshole things – but I am not AN Asshole.

I’d like to read both of these books. Thanks for bringing the first one to our attention, Donna.


Hope, its so good to “see” you! And, yes – it is tempting to send a copy of the book to the exspath’s supervisors, but the institution where he is employed is a HOTBED of assholes and sociopaths, so it might end up being another “textbook” for the disordered.

Onejoy, one of the hardest parts about working with volunteers is that they’re not on the clock – they aren’t being paid for their time, and many of the volunteers that I worked with were very abusive of this. They would trade work for studio time, and most of them came in with the notion that they were going to “change things around here” to become more efficient, etc. Most volunteers have an agenda in most cases, I’ve learned. It’s to either pad their personal resume, enjoy being associated with social/artistic/whatever groups, or something even more nefarious. It’s determining who is actually there to benefit the program, organization, or whatever it is that makes accepting volunteers a chore.

I once suggested that volunteers where I worked be interviewed and submit to a criminal background check, and the director responded that it would be an unwarranted expense. I let the matter drop because it wouldn’t be my head on the chopping block if something happened as a result of the director’s choice of volunteers. So be it.

Where time is concerned, that can be a quandary. It depends upon what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and whether or not relieving them and passing the baton to someone else to finish the job is appropriate. Ugh.

Brightest blessings

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