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.