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Books: The No Asshole Rule

The No Asshole Rule
Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't
by Robert Sutton (2007)

Sutton's book is based on an article originally appearing in Harvard Business Review. While other terms for the problem people he describes might be jerks or bullies, Sutton said he would write the article only if it retained the word asshole. He was surprised HBR agreed.

Sutton differentiates between the occasional asshole (any one of us at some time or other) and those who are certified assholes, i.e. people who show a consistent pattern of emotional abuse to less powerful people, leaving them feeling oppressed, humiliated, bullied, belittled, or de-energized.

Sutton also makes it clear he is not opposed to conflict, rather sees conflict as critical to organizational vitality and creativity. He sees little value in an organization of wimps, and discusses the differences between destructive conflict and constructive fighting. He also provides a convincing case about the loss of economic value because of assholes, especially compared to the success of organizations that attend to positive work cultures.

This book reminded me of when affirms two organizational initiatives we undertook over a decade ago, when I served as the chief executive of a family service agency. One was adopting a policy of civility, i.e. the expectation that all interactions were to be free of name-calling, raised voices, intimidation, or foul language, be they between staff, clients, and anyone else on the premises. The second was writing into job descriptions (and therefore the performance management system) an expectation for 'contributing to a positive working environment.' Now as a consultant and executive coach, I recommend both practices to many of my clients.

Sutton provides a questionnaire to assess your own character, and gives suggestions for making changes if your behavior is more like a jerk than you would like. In short, I recommend this little book that could help us all make the world a better place.

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