Skip to content

How to Outwit Workplace Jerks, Bob Sutton

nfwyt4 min read

This is from a presentation by Bob Sutton who is a professor in Stanford University and author of book The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt

Debi Hope tweet

When you work for an asshole, the damages done are

Damage Done

Do remember, Negative emotion is more contagious than positive emotion.

Some diagnostic questions are

  • Duration ? - How long does it last ?

    • 5 mins like a customer in a coffee shop
    • months/years like a boss, then you got to have strategies to deal
  • Temporary or Certified asshole ?

    • Temporary : People turn into assholes if you put them in a hurry, deprive them of sleep, if you put them around bunch of jerks and give them power they turn worse and worse.
    • Certified : Some cross times and places they are certified assholes.
  • Power ?

    • If you are the CEO, fire the asshole
    • If you are at the bottom, you got to have different approach
  • One or Many ?

    • If you have one asshole to deal with ? Avoid him. Be where they aren't
    • Many, everybody is asshole all the time. Its going to have all negative effects on you
      • Its not recommended to bark back, but if you don't really defend yourself, you will really be in trouble.
  • Damage ?

    • You should analyze yourself and see how much you are suffering ? Worse you are suffering more dramatic action you got to take.

Survival Methods

1. Make a clean get away
  • Get out if situation is bad, but don't be stupid about it by burning bridges.

  • JetBlue Flight Attendent example.

  • Can you find another role in the same organization ?

    There is a difference between what you do and how you do it

    Most classic alpha males are "All transmission, no reception"

    • Classic HIPPO - Highest Paid Person in the Room(opinion)
    • Literally HIPPO - Tiny ears and Giant Mouth
2. Asshole avoidance techniques
  • Find ways to limit the frequency , duration and intensity of exposure

  • Keep your distance from them, then you have less communication and less influence.

    150ft. away from them, will feel like a different country.

  • Who you sit next to in open office is really important.

    • If you sit within 25ft. of a toxic person. 1) You will become toxic. 2) You might get fired.
    • If you sit next to a collaborative superstar, it is good for your career.
  • Slow the rhythm - Learn to wait days and sometimes weeks to respond to nasty and demanding emails. For 10 emails, respond with one email and keep it short.

  • Find people who can protect you

  • Early warning systems - When you have a nasty boss, co-workers collude together to monitor that person. Below quote from the movie 'The Proposal'

    Beware, The Witch is on her broom
    -- Andrew Paxton

3. Reframing - Mind tricks that protect your soul
  • Change your perceptions so assholes are less threatening and less upsetting - even good things.

  • These are methods where you work on changing the definition of the situation, so it doesn't affect you so much, even though you dont change the situation.

  • Becky Strategy - She started to see her tormentors as witty, funny as comedians and she would focus on admiring her skills as opposed to feeling personally attacked.

  • If somebody is treating you like dirt. Get some empathy for them. Start feeling sorry for them like 'Sympathy for the devil'.

    He is a guy with a bad user interface but a good operating system
    -- Said by some system programmer

  • Rise above it

    When they go low, we go high
    -- Michelle Obama

  • Talking to Jacob(CEO, Philz Coffee)

    Q: What do you do with asshole customers ? Jacob(CEO, Philz Coffee): Our philosophy is be nice to them, fuck them, be nice to them.

    After interviewing some people at Philz Coffee, what we found is, when they are nasty, kill them kindness. Reason you do it is, feeling sort of superiority, "You won't stoop to their level".

  • Temporal distancing: Look back from the future

    • How will the current troubles will look when you look back one week/year from the future. When you see it like this, you experience less anxiety, anger and sadness.
  • Take a clinical perspective

    • Imagine yourself as a doctor who is doing a Phd on assholism. When someone acts as a jerk in front of you, you tell yourself, how lucky you are to have a amazing specimen of this behaviour upclose. This is sort of your stamp or bug collection sort of.
4. Fighting back

Consider how much power you have in the situation, how much documentation you can get, and what your options are.

  • Think on how much power you have, dont be over confidence.

  • Asshole Journal

    • Collect evidences on the incidents(in certain states or countries it is against law to record in secret, so beware).
    • To fight back against bully, you need to collect evidences and its better if you do this as a group. When more people join you in the fight, more power you have and less likely they say its your problem and you are crazy.
  • Sometimes people see, when you cooperate or backoff, they take that as a sign of weekness and throw more around you. These are people who take kindness for weekness.

    • You can confront in a meeting that such and such behaviour is unacceptable.
  • Benjamin Franklin Method

    Remember the more harm you cause, the more hate you feel. The more kindness you express, the more you come to love those you help
    -- You Are Now Less Dumb, David McRaney

    • Turning haters into friends
      • Try getting them to do you some favours.
      • By doing that, they have cognizant inconsistency problem which comes to the above quote and they will start to think like that. I am doing this person favour, so they must be good.
  • If you have power, apply "THE RULE"

    During the interview, i tell them if i discover that they are an asshole, i am going to fire them.
    -- Paul Purcell, Chairman of Baird.

  • This technique is by Stanford's Perry Klebhan to remove destructive big personalities like alpha types. When you have power, pick all the assholes in all teams, put them in a team like gather up all the bad apples. This have two effects,

    1. One you are removing all assholes from their teams.
    2. Similar peoples attract, they like each other and might perform very well.

# References