September 6, 2007

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The No Asshole Rule, by Robert I. Sutton, Ph.D. (abridged, narrated by the author; Hachette Audio, 2007, 3 hours on 3 CDs)
Reviewed by Lisa Parsons news@hippopress.com

Eleanor Roosevelt was so wrong.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” she is reported to have said. But an asshole can.

(Note: For the purposes of this review, we’ll save you the trouble of deciphering “bleep-holes” and the like. Just don’t read this one aloud around the kids.)

An asshole is someone who makes you feel like dirt. As Robert Sutton puts it, they are “people who demean and damage others, especially others with relatively little power.”

Of course this book will attract attention just for its provocative title. But it has a surprising amount of depth and good advice. You can laugh about the notion of calculating the “total cost of assholes” (TCA), but it could be a worthwhile as well as a humorous endeavor (such behavior can cost money via overtime, errors, counseling of the offending employee and others, etc.). So on the one hand Sutton’s book feels good, as it frees us to label difficult people for what they are, and on the other hand Sutton is helping us do something about the problem, regardless of what you call it.

Sutton holds a Ph.D. in organizational psychology and consults for corporations, so he is focused on the workplace, but his principles apply to any situation. After all the workplace is just a small nation, or a large family/dorm.

Sutton brings in research from the worlds of business and psychology to show how best to deal with these demanding, demeaning folks. You can’t banish them from the Earth, and maybe you wouldn’t want to, he says — having a few misbehavers around helps remind people how not to be, and can boost the overall performance of others — but you can mitigate the damage. Key points:

• Don’t thusly brand everyone who annoys you. We all have bad days. Save your anger and energy for the hardcore chronic cases.
• Assholes attract other assholes. Beware this.
• The bigger the gap between haves and have-nots, the more the haves act like jerks. This is why you tend to find the worst offenders among the highest ranks of an organization. This also means that you can reduce a group’s asshole quotient by limiting the power differential between haves and have-nots. Every group needs a pecking order, but don’t give unnecessary power to the top guy.

The CD is abridged, so it lacks some of the book’s content; this could be a plus or a minus. A definite plus (in this instance) is that it’s read by the author, whose passion for his subject comes through in his voice. A — Lisa Parsons