It’s always, always, always better to be a nice person than an ass.
You will make mistakes at home and on the job. So keep this in mind: People will forgive your mistakes if you are generally a nice person; they never forget them if you behave like an ass. from Machines Are the Easy Part; People Are the Hard Part. Illustration by Brady Johnson
Asshole is one of those words like bullshit that, while rude, is sufficiently descriptive and exact to be useful. My copy of Robert I. Sutton's smart little book The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't came in the mail yesterday. When I sat down with it I meant to only read the dust jacket but wound up nearly finishing it.
Based on an earlier article in the Harvard Business Review, Stanford professor Sutton defines an asshole as a person who meets these criteria:
Test One: After talking to the alleged asshole, does the "target" feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energized, or belittled by the person? In particular, does the target feel worse about him or herself?
Test Two: Does the alleged asshole aim his or her venom at people who are less powerful than at those people who are more powerful?
While Sutton suggests we can all be temporary assholes, he singles out the chronic and "flaming" assholes as not just unpleasant to work with, but actually damaging to a company's bottom line. He even provides a TCA (Total Cost of Asshole) formula to determine what an asshole might be costing an organization.
While Sutton's observations and examples come from the business world, those of us in education can also learn from this book. At least I know I have worked with assholes and have probably acted like one more often than I would like to admit. I would even argue that the "no asshole rule" - that assholes will simply not be tolerated as part of the organizational culture - is even more important in schools than in businesses. The damage that assholes can do to kids is greater and more long-lasting than that they can do to adults. Period.
One piece of advice about disagreements Sutton shares comes from the University of Michigan's Karl Weick: "Fight as if you are right; listen as if you are wrong." Something as a blogger - writer, reader and responder - I need to remember a little better.
Do you have an asshole story that has a happy ending?