Search this site
Other stuff

All banner artwork by Brady Johnson, college student and (semi-) starving artist.

My latest books:


        Available now

       Available Now

Available now 

My book Machines are the easy part; people are the hard part is now available as a free download at Lulu.

 The Blue Skunk Page on Facebook


EdTech Update




« I remember it well | Main | Odds and Ends - March 4 »

All about assholes

It’s always, always, always better to be a nice person than an ass. ass.jpg
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? 

EmailEmail Article to Friend

Reader Comments (8)

No happy endings in those kinds of situations...having encountered a few of these, the best thing to do is to do awesome work...the influence of such people diminishes as you continue to deliver on the mission and articulate your vision.

Best wishes,
March 9, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterMiguel Guhlin
No happy ending here either. I work in a
Financial setting and am responsible for the department that monitors losses. The President of my Division rules by intimidation to cover his poor management skills, performance and theft of company funds. He encourages poor performance from my staff in the form of "don't ask too many questions" for fear of what they may find. He has directed the firing of competent employees based on a popularity contest as opposed to skill levels. Heaven forbid you question one of his co-conspirators, that my friend is a one way ticket out the door. His behavior is unethical and I believe illegal but continues unchecked by Corporate HQ. How could a so called manager conceivably justify firing someone over their weight ("fat and lazy"), ethnic background ("know it all Jew") or age ("he's an old slacker")?? I have lost all faith in Corporate America!!

March 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterS.J. Hamik

I have been intrigued by the problem of how to avoid accepting a new job in a jerk-infested organization, and I think I've found an excellent and unique way to avoid this costly and painful problem.

I just finished developing a website called that allows people to rate their current or former boss so that people who are considering a job change can search for bosses at potential workplaces and can receive reports detailing the ratings that each boss has received.

Bob Sutton, author of the best-selling book The No Asshole Rule, has called eBossWatch "fantastic, a great idea." I hope this helps some of you avoid jerk-infested workplaces.

June 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterAsher

I agree with Miguel. There are no happy endings in those situations and its best to just keep pushing and do a great work.

Good Luck


September 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterVenapro

Whoa! My workplace is filled with assholes, we nurture them right out of college, recruit them and then train them carefully so that they can't be anything else! I planned to retire this Jan. 2009 but with the 401K and the economy tanking, I have to stay a few years more. I looked forward to not interacting with Assholes on a daily basis, but alas it isn't to be. There are assholes from every generation here, but the most annoying are the 20 to 30 and the 30 to 0 year olds. The sense of entitlement is overwhelming and having a college degree makes them bel;ieve they are "God". We are all engineers ( mechanical, chemical, electrical) and well educated, but they act as if THEY invented these fields and treat people like dirt.. Communication skills are poor, vocabulary is limited and understanding of language is a crying shame. No ethics, no character, no clue just me, me, me and mine. It's so interesting that they call baby-boomers the "me generation", they seem to be the "clueless generation". Volunteering is all about a resume entry or an ego booster and the company keeps promoting them, because the capable are bailing out ...they have no choice. I am sick and concerned about the future of the company and am looking to move somewhere else as it's a company that is vital to our subsistence.
I love younger people and have always believed in their enthusiasm and drive, but these people make me wonder, what will be left in 10 to15 years of all this rabid ego-stroking and preening. We are suffering from it now and no matter who we hire it doesn't get better, it just gets worse.

The most telling encounter was having a new management person tell me that "ethics" don't matter in this field, ethics is an old way of ding things and I need to "get on board" or leave at the next stop!

January 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterpema

Hi Pema,

Sounds like you need a change. I increasingly feel that way myself, but I have to say that most of the younger people I work with are better than I ever was as teachers.

All the best and let's hope all our 401Ks improve!


January 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

Interesting article - I've read the book a few months ago and it really opened my eyes to how some people are prone to act.

I'm a software developer by trade - formally educated with well over ten years experience building and maintaining web-enabled systems. I had an electrical engineer - who's writing firmware for one of our devices - pontificate about how easy it should be to write software so an end-user can interact with the device. Something along the lines of you just need to make it look pretty. He doesn't realize that it's my job to get his device talking to the internet - then add value by allowing others to interact with it through other devices like text messaging, email and web browsers.

It amazes me that someone can trivialize another persons craft without even realizing it - or worse yet realizing it and just not giving a shit.

January 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterbmitzleplick

Assholes?What can we do about assholes? Sometimes we can tell them off but then they're bigger assholes.How can we get rid of assholes? Well sometimes we can't. Sometimes we just have to put up with them.There will always be assholes in this world. Maby they where put here to teach us not be assholes like them.If you have ever been an asshole and you feel bad about it then you're not atotal asshole yourself. Please try to stay good and people and even some assholes will even like you.

February 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterWrench THE Gator

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>