- The Asshole Survival Guide
- Robert Sutton
- HMH Books
In the past 10 years, Robert Sutton has received 8,000 e-mails about jerks in the workplace.
Except jerks is not the word his correspondents use. Ever since he wrote The No Asshole Rule in 2007, the Stanford University professor says people have been eagerly sharing their stories of office jerks, hoping he might offer a solution.
Survival Guide is his detailed answer and although it doesn't have a bullet-proof, definitive solution, it does offer a thorough look at the possibilities.
Sutton opens with six diagnostic questions, the first to ensure there is a problem that requires much attention: Do you feel as if the alleged jerk is treating you (and perhaps others) like dirt? Check your own biases and quirks and how others feel to be sure the problem merits much attention.
After that, determine how bad the situation is. How long will the ugliness persist – a long time, or can you put it behind you quickly? Are you dealing with a temporary jerk (so perhaps you can let it pass) or a certified jerk? Is it an individual or a systemic disease, which has spread all around the office like a contagious disease? How much power do you have over the jerk? (If you have more clout than he does, do you have more options to act?) How much are you really suffering? That last one is the bottom-line question, because if you are deeply hurting you must act.
Don't lie to yourself about the situation. He lists nine fibs we are prone to tell ourselves: 1) "It's really not so bad" 2) "it's getting better" 3) "things will get much better sooner" 4) "I will leave for something better right after I finish this one important thing" 5) "I am learning so much and making such great connections that the abuse is worthwhile" 6) "only I can make things better – nobody else can replace me" 7) "it may be bad but I'm tough and can compartmentalize this, keeping it from damaging me" 8) "it's much worse for others so I shouldn't complain" and 9) "it may be bad here but it would be worse somewhere else." Sometimes those statements can be true, but more often the person is living in a fool's paradise, deceiving themselves.
Sutton believes in quitting, saying famed football coach Vince Lombardi was wrong when he said "winners never quit and quitters never win." Getting out can be sweet, needed relief. But most people, he acknowledges, can't or won't escape – they are stuck.
An alternative is to avoid the jerk as much as possible, just as you would try to reduce your exposure to a virus afflicting the workplace. Some possibilities:
- Keep your distance: Research shows people are four times more likely to communicate with a colleague who sits six feet away than one who sits 60 feet away. So work from home or see if you can get a desk farther away from the problem. If you’re a boss, ship the problem to another floor or another location.
- Try ducking strategies: Limit how often you are subjected to their poison, through going often to meet clients off site or arriving late at meetings he chairs.
- Slow the rhythm: If you get a demeaning e-mail that requires a response, take a few hours or, over time, a few days, to respond, getting the person used to a slower cycle of communications. When talking to them, slow down your own words, with long pauses, and talk softer and softer the louder the jerk gets.
- Hide in plain sight: One way jerks leave others feeling disrespected is by ignoring them as people. Yet Sutton says that can be a double-edged sword if you try not to stand out, wearing clothes that aren’t flashy and maintaining a bland, blank expression.
Sutton has other techniques, including mind tricks to help protect your soul, and offers tips on fighting back when feasible. Finally, he urges you to be part of the solution by making sure you aren't a problem yourself. It's a solid book that can offer some help if you are faced with a jerk at work.