The No-Asshole Rule

That’s the name of the new book by Stanford engineering professor Robert Sutton. Guy Kawasaki blogs about it today, describing Sutton’s “Starbucks Test” for spotting jerks:

It goes like this: If you hear someone at Starbucks order a “decaf grande half-soy, half-low fat, iced vanilla, double-shot, gingerbread cappuccino, extra dry, light ice, with one Sweet-n’-Low and one NutraSweet,” you’re in the presence of an asshole. It’s unlikely that this petty combination is necessary — the person ordering is trying to flex her power because she’s an asshole.

Security expert Gavin De Becker dispenses similar — if considerably less lighthearted — advice in his book Gift of Fear: Survival Signs that Protect Us from Violence.

Whether you’re listening to an engineer or a security consultant talk about those who creep us out, you’ll notice a recurring theme: Jerks are not hard to spot. In fact, they’re glaringly obvious. The twist is that we are socially conditioned to “make nice.” We either ignore assholes (the typical male response) or somehow think we are being “overly sensitive” about their jerkiness (a typical female reaction).

Creeps in the workplace are bad news for your career; if you’re an entrepreneur or business owner, it’s even worse. One creep client, partner, or subcontractor is enough to sink your whole business — even take your personal life down the drain as well. (De Becker has a sobering story of a travel agency owner and his employee-from-hell.)

So…if someone you’ve recently met, or are considering doing business with, makes you feel sick to your stomach, or sets the hairs on your neck on end, there’s a reason. Chances are that he or she is on a course to violate your project, your bank account, your sanity, or you.

While Sutton’s book considers a range of assholes (from the harmless to the dangerous) and proposes a range of ways to deal with them, I have to admit I favor the De Becker approach to dealing with them: Don’t apologize, don’t explain, don’t engage, and don’t fight. Just….leave. De Becker believes that many creeps and jerks are encouraged by engagement — even what you or I would think of as a very unpleasant, negative response somehow energizes them.

Life is too short to spend it dealing with assholes. Unfortunately, a poll on Kawasaki’s blog found that 45 percent of his readers report that they work for bosses who are assholes.

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