Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A-Holes Revisited

A few weeks ago I blogged about The No Asshole Rule by Robert Sutton (Here).

90% of the book is what I expected. But there's a cool 10% that I didn't expect.

What I expected is the first 30 pages, which are a thorough beating over the head that assholes are bad.

So what's the other 10%?

Well, two things stand out for me.

First, the concept of Temporary vs. Certified a-holes.

It makes perfect sense, but like most things, it makes the most sense when someone else points it out! Everyone is a jerk sometimes. We all blow our fuses. We are all capable of being mean, cruel, petty, and hurtful.

Some of us fall into this category rarely while others are like this all the time. If this happens to you rarely, then you're pretty normal. And when you act like an a-hole, you're in a temporary state. It will pass.

"Certified a-holes" are like that all the time. It's their modus operandi.

The second thing that stood out to me was the fact that there's actually a surprisingly large body of mythology in our society around a-holes.

Some people believe you have to be an a-hole to get ahead, so they go down that path. Or they decide that they'll never be successful because they're not total jerks.

Some people put up with demeaning and abusive behavior because they believe that's the way it has to be, or that all bosses are that way.

In fact, some people believe you need to keep one a-hole around to provide a bad example. Obviously, the temporary a-hole in each of us is good enough!

In the end, Sutton recommends a strict zero tolerance policy.

- - - - -

Assholes in the Real World

I have long practice a zero tolerance policy for a-holes, although I didn't use that phrase. Here are the simple rules I enforce around this:

1) No one gets to yell or scream at someone else. This is true inside my company as well as between my company and our clients. We don't yell at clients and treat them like garbage; clients aren't allowed to yell at us and treat us like garbage.

2) We treat each other with respect. Yes, we all tell stories about "that" client, but we never make clients or employees feel stupid. On rare occasions when we violate this rule, we attempt to stop, recognize it, apologize, and start over.

At the same time, we expect to be treated with respect by clients. And when our employees are not treated with respect, it falls to me to make the phone call and let the client know that kind of behavior is not okay.

One thing I've learned over the years: Don't confuse arrogant with a-hole. I'm certainly arrogant, but I try not to be an a-hole. I've got lots of arrogant clients.

But even the stereotypical lawyers and doctors tend to be arrogant but not necessarily a-holes. In fact, the last lawyer we fired was because the office manager was a flaming a-hole. One lawyer was totally self-absorbed, and the other lawyers were just plain people you'd be happy to live next door to.

Overall, avoiding a-holes with a zero tolerance policy is surprisingly easy. Just do it.

If you find yourself saying you have no choice, that really means you've decided the price is worth paying.

When I look at the important clients we've fired over the years, I have to admit that most of them were not a-holes. They were disrespectful of our time and processes. They were unprofitable. They were time thieves. They were overly-cheap.

The easiest clients to fire have been those who consume too much and too many resources inside our company. We were making money, but spending all of our time on them.

Somewhere on the continuum, arrogance turns mean and evil and becomes a-hole. But most people aren't close to that.

In fact, most people are just plain nice people with rare fits of abusive behavior.

As a result, a simple zero tolerance policy goes a long way.

And the rest is just stories to repeat at the bar.


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1 comment:

  1. I must agree! Although I come from a Customer Service background the old saying, "Customers are always right" doesn't always apply. Some customers take that concept to far and thus abuse the natural want and need to satisfy customers. I guess this old saying is more true....."you can please some of the people most of the time but cannot please all the people all the time". This is an unfortunate natural order of things when it comes to any relationships (business or personal) and certain personalities just do not mesh well with all others! With that being said, I too have streamlined my clientel and purposely fired or excluded would be troublesome clients who do infact sap the life out of you for thier own gratification.

    Learn to say NO or as the Donald would say, "Your Fired"! Actually it feels good to say either when you have had it with repeat offenders........and it gets an unusual response out of them for which I cherish!

    Good Article!

    Todd Wahl
    Atlanta Technology Force, Inc.
    [email protected]


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