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Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

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Robert Sutton, the No Asshole Rule

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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I was talking about this with Andrew Smith at Pub Fiction the other night and he suggested I blog it. I’ve never done a request before, but I guess it’s not a bad idea. Got a suggestion? E-mail me.

Robert Sutton, a Stanford professor of management science, knew he hit a nerve with the response to his article “Breakthrough Ideas for 2004: More Trouble Than They’re Worth.” Harvard Business Review, 83(2): 19-20. That article would later turn into The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t (Amazon).

Sutton defines a jerk as one who oppresses, humiliates, de-energizes or belittles a subordinate or a colleague, causing that person to feel worse about him or herself. Tactics include personal insults, sarcasm, teasing, shaming or treating people as if they were invisible. He distinguishes between “temporary” jerks, those with the potential to act like jerks but who don’t do so all the time, and “certified” jerks, who are routinely nasty. The certified jerks are the ones who pose the greatest threat to an organization’s culture. (SF Gate)

Guy Kawasaki did an informal poll on Google and generated the telling graphic below. The practice of law, one might surmise, has more than its fair share. It may be no small coincidence that Sutton’s wife is a corporate lawyer in Silicon Valley and encouraged Sutton in writing the book through her own experiences at the office.

kawasaki-google-summers-book.jpg
Guy Kawasaki: The results of an informal ‘google poll.’

It’s not uncommon to hear the idea expressed in legal circles that being known as an asshole is either synonymous with or an unavoidable consequence of doing ones job. Sutton takes care to point out the true cost of assholes to their organizations and notes that even rainmaking assholes often ultimately cost the firm more than they bring in. For a in-depth description, check out his interview with Moira Gunn below.

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Interview with Moira Gunn on IT Conversations

Further reading: Robert Sutton article in Law.com, Chuck Newton, Stay Violation, Robert Sutton Video, 50 LessonsRobert Sutton’s Blog.

Are you an asshole? Take the ARSE test.

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  1. [...] I blogged recently on No Asshole Rule, a question of whether firms should take proactive steps to eradicate unreasonable behavior in the work environment by forcing offending employees to change their ways or getting rid of them, even when they’re otherwise profitable performers. [...]

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