The No Asshole Rule: Part 2

I thought it would be instructive to introduce readers to my new book with 13 of the most fascinating and funny things that happened since it was published a few months back.
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As I wrote in my last post, I have written other management books, but nothing quite prepared me to the range of reaction to my new book, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't. My personal blog contains many of the stories I've heard and lessons that I've learned about how workplace assholes and their management (and talks about other aspects of management, too). But I thought it would be fun and instructive to introduce Huffington Post readers to my new book with 13 of the most fascinating and funny things that happened since it was published a few months back. Check out my last post for the first six and here are the remaining seven:

7. My favorite complaint letter.
I have had fewer complaints about the mild obscenity in the book's title than I expected, although some media outlets are especially squemish about printing the word "asshole." Many use "A-hole" or "A**hole." The most squeamish has been The New York Times, which listed it as The No ******* Rule on their bestseller list and in advertisements. But the best complaint I got about the title was in a letter to The San Francisco Chronicle in late February. It think it is eloquent. I repeat it in full below:

Editor -- You may call him a respected Stanford professor ("Crusade against the jerk at work,'' Feb. 24), but I call Robert Sutton a fallen educator, who has descended into the vulgarity and coarseness of our times.

The red-faced Chronicle is too embarrassed to repeat his book's unexpurgated title. The subject matter may be valid, but the odor of crudity and grossness has now seeped like sewage into our bastions of learning. Such low language from a Ph.D. is typical of the foul-mouthed, tasteless vulgarity that has corrupted television, radio, newspapers and other media with offensiveness and obscene billingsgate we used to hear from the mouths of naughty boys.

Sure, Sutton will sell a laxative of books with his sleazy title, but why slander that vital organ of our body? This will come to no good end.


Palo Alto

8. Two nations, divided by a common language. Whenever I am interviewed for radio or TV, I always have to have a little conversation about whether I can say the word "asshole" or not -- in the U.S., it is generally forbidden except on satellite or internet radio stations, but many other countries (like Canada, Australia, and France) seem to have fewer restrictions. These conversations are generally pretty funny, but the best happened what I was interviewed by a BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) "presenter" (English for "announcer"). She told me that her producer had agreed to let me use the word "asshole" to describe the title of my book on the air without censoring so long as it wasn't used "gratuitously." Then I asked her about using the word "arse" on the air, and she said she wasn't sure because she believed that many people in the audience would be more offended by "arse." The presenter added that she used the word "asshole" instead of "arse" at times because it is less offensive in her country. I laughed because, with members of the media in the U.S., I sometimes use the word "arse" instead of "asshole" because they find it less offensive.

9. A lovely moment in the MBA classroom. The No Asshole Rule was used last term as one of the texts in an MBA class at the University of Illinois. The teacher, C. K. Gunsalus is the former Associate Provost at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she is currently a Special Counsel and Adjunct Professor. C.K. wrote me about what happened when a guest lecturer complained to the 70 or so students in the class about the dirty title of the book:

Dear Bob,

We're three weeks into our MBA class on Leadership and Ethics, in which we're using your book as one of our texts. We had a lovely moment in class today you might appreciate. We had a guest speaker, who had scanned the syllabus upon arriving in the classroom.

The speaker said, at one point, something along the lines of "I see you're reading a book by Bob Sutton with a word in the title I simply detest."

An unidentified student in the back of the room (there are more than 100 people in this class) yelled out:"Yeah, I hate the word 'rule', too,"

Thought you might enjoy this moment.

10. The book reviewer who changed his mind.
My publisher sent an advanced copy of the The No Asshole Rule to the book reviewer at a well-known magazine. He was sufficiently offended by the title, that he declined to review it, and wrote back "What is next, the no dick rule?" But once the book started getting some attention, he read it, liked it, and wrote some nice words about it in the magazine. I have to give the reviewer credit as he has had a great sense of humor about the whole incident.

11. The No Asshole Rule goes to Bible studies class.
I confess that, when I wrote the book, I expected that the title would be especially offensive to religious people -- and I am sure that offended some of them. What I didn't expect, however, is that some Christians are strong supporters of both the language in the book and the message. I've written about this quite a bit on my personal blog, especially in a post called "The Sacred and The Profane." The part that surprised me most was a post from blogger and psychology Professor Richard Beck who wrote a post called "1 Corinthians and The No Asshole Rule." Beck started out by saying:

'Two weeks ago it was my turn to teach my adult Bible class at church. We are going through 1 Corinthians and I was up to teach the famous Chapter 13, "Love is patient, love is kind..."

And I thought to myself, "Richard, what are you possibly going to say in class that hasn't been said before about 1 Corinthians 13?"

Then it hit me. I started the class by doing a book review and reading selections from Dr. Robert Sutton's new book The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't.

He ended the post by saying:

'So, we reflected on all this in my Sunday School class. And after reflection on the No Asshole Rule, I read these famous words:

"Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs..."

Basically, don't be an asshole.'

Richard has continued to blog about The No Asshole Rule and Christianity, and recently conducted a poll on his website, where 75 percent of the respondents (45 of 60) supported the use of the book as a teaching tool in church without censoring the language.

12. The surgeons who vowed not to be assholes like their mentors.
As I said in my last post, a compelling body of survey research suggests that medicine is among the occupations infected with the highest rates of "asshole poisoning," and it appears that such nastiness is especially prevalent among surgeons, who aim their venom at nurses, medical students, and surgical residents. As such, I was most heartened by this email from a surgeon who, along with his fellow surgical residents, vowed to stop the cycle of abuse that is often perpetuated in surgical training:

I am a surgeon and have worked in academic medicine my entire career. I trained at an "elite" training program at an Ivy League teaching hospital. As you can imagine, my specialty has been a haven for assholes and, even worse, sociopaths. My training program was better than most; but, we still had our share of assholes. During my training, I witnessed episodes of unbelievable mental cruelty on a daily basis. As residents, we met every Friday for a few beers at a local bar after another arduous work week. We kept a leather-bound journal book. The highlight of the happy hour was nominating and electing the "Attending Asshole of the Week" or "AAOTW." Each aggrieved individual would recount their episode with an attending that would merit their nomination as the "Asshole of the Week." The group voted and the "winner's" name was entered into the journal book. A brief synopsis of the "asshole incident" was also placed in the journal. We had one attending who was such an asshole, he automatically won if there was a tie. It didn't matter if he was in the running that week or not. The journal was passed on every year to the new chief residents. It was a closely held secret among the residents. I understand they still have a journal.

This was 20 years ago. It is possible to look at these sessions as "bitch" sessions with no meaningful result. However, every one of my resident colleagues learned from those sessions. We learned how destructive "asshole" behavior was in our specialty. We vowed not to imitate the pathologic behavior we encountered daily. Twenty years later, we are now the program chairs and department chairmen. We are spread across the country. I am proud to say that everybody who was a part of that Friday group runs their training programs with an unwritten "no asshole" rule.

13. My favorite CEOs. The main focus -- and greatest hope -- behind The No Asshole Rule is that it possible to build a effective company that screens out assholes in the hiring process, and when people do blow it, and lost their tempers or otherwise demean people (after all, it is something that just about everyone does now and then), steps are taken to stop such behavior and to make clear that it isn't acceptable or desirable. It turns out that this is more than a naïve dream of mine: There are plenty of companies that talk about and enforce "no jerk" or "no asshole rules." One example is the Washington Mutual, a highly successful bank. I've had extensive communication with Lou Pepper, who was CEO in the 1980's when the bank's expansion and success really started taking-off. Lou sent me an email when he heard about the book because they enforced the rule at the bank during the years he was in charge, and continued it after he retired -- an rule that he believes is essential to their success, especially to their customer service culture. Another example is SuccessFactors, a human resource management software company that has all new employees sign a statement that says (among other things) that "I'll be a good person to work with -- I will not be an asshole." Lars Dalgaard, their amazing CEO, likes to say "It is OK to have an asshole, but not to be one." If you go to the company website, there is a great clip of Lars talking about the rule on CNBC. Note that SuccessFactors is living up to its name -- they are one of the fastest growing software companies in the world right now.

Stay tuned. My next post will about the ARSE Test. The online "Asshole Rating Self-Exam," which has been completed by over 85,000 people.

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