Episode #1359 Robert Sutton: No More Assholes

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Stanford's Bob Sutton rejoins Moe Abdou to discuss his latest book "The Asshole survival Guide." 


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Robert Sutton

Stanford Professor View Full Profile

How to deal with those who treat you like dirt

The great paradox about modern leadership is that it has never been more difficult to be an effective leader; yet it’s never been so simple.  While the former requires talent, smarts, and a far-sighted purpose; the latter nowadays simply calls for a keen eye.  No one will argue that in 2017, we’re surrounded by much more mediocre leaders than we are great ones - just look around - they’re in every field of endeavor, and I’m betting that before you finish this sentence, a vision of one will emerge in your mind’s eye.  Call them what you will; still, if you find yourself plagued with one, how do you insulate yourself from their toxicity?

For the better part of three decades, Stanford Professor, Bob Sutton has been helping leaders navigate destructive organizational friction by adhering to ‘The No Asshole Rule’.  Whether it’s a friend or foe, colleague or boss, learning to deal with people who bring out the worst in you is no easy task; still, with the proper mindset and framing, you’ll see how you can disarm their negativity and harness it for Good.  

Sutton’s forthcoming book is “The Asshole Survival Guide”, and in keeping with everything he does, it’s full of practical tips and strategies that you can immediately apply to rid yourself of the jerks in your life.  In my latest interview with Bob, I had the opportunity to explore the key concepts in the book - here are a few of the insights that you’ll discover:

  • Treating others like dirt is contagious - so if you work with a jerk, you are likely to become one too. 
  • If any of these situations are present, you’re likely to encounter jerks at work:
    • There’s a big power and status difference 
    • People are often in a hurry
    • People are often exhausted and sleep deprived
  • All of us under the wrong conditions are capable of being jerks - don’t be quick to label others as jerks. 
  • When dealing with assholes, each of us has a responsibility to be part of the solution, and not escalate the problem.  
  • You have to be proactive in managing your emotions when dealing with a colleague or a boss who’s a jerk - try these:
    • Find ways to reframe the situation 
    • View the situation as temporary
    • Pause and slow things down
  • A socially skilled asshole is much more difficult to deal with - avoid them.
  • Next time you’re in a challenging situation with an individual, do a power analysis and consider your options - if you’re the boss, can you fire the individual?  or can you transfer the person & make it someone else’s problem?
  • When you’ve lost faith in your Boss- the most effective way to fight back is to … “
    • Have patience 
    • Document everything
    • Form a posse 
  • The faster your organization is growing, the more important it is for you to have rules that prevent jerks from impacting others - here are a few examples:
    • Since the beginning - Southwest Airlines has always hired and fired for attitude.  Abusive personalities are never welcome.
    • Salesforce.com makes it easy for associates to change teams or departments - they have an internal labor market that encourages that.
  • Don’t be fooled by ‘The Best Companies To Work For’ Surveys as they rarely evaluate the managers/leaders in charge of the organization.
  • Most of us are blind to our weakness - make it a habit to look in the mirror, and cultivate people in your life who tell you the truth when you’re acting like a jerk.
  • Next time someone insults you - Rise above it.  “When they go low, you go high.”
  • Overconfidence is a big roadblock to using sound judgment - beware of the trap & seek humility. 
  • As organizations scale, it’s impossible for the CEO to have an accurate pulse on everything that’s going on.  The wise ones have hacks or heuristics that create less friction - 
    • At Walmart, there are only eight levels between the CEO and the greeter, as such they’re continually working to streamline and simplify every facet of their process.
    • Having beliefs about what is sacred and tabu in an organizations enables people to spend less time negotiating and creates unity of action.  
  • Be slow to label others as assholes - be quick to label yourself as one.  
  • Resources: