Bob Sutton: How to Outwit Workplace Jerks [Entire Talk]


(clapping) – Great to see you all. Welcome to the STVP, now classic series. Are we over 20 years, Tom? – [Tom] About 15. – Yeah, seems like it’s been going on a long time. And, I think this is the fifth or sixth time I have talked, it’s only my second talk about assholes, I talk about other topics as well. Let me describe kind of the adventure that led to the book I’m gonna talk about in some detail. So, I didn’t mean to write two books on assholes, the first one was kind of an accident, it was, as a result of writing a short article for the Harvard Business Review called, More Trouble Than They’re Worth, and I actually was inspired because a department, that has now been merged out of existence called Industrial Engineering that Tom and I were a part of actually had a no asshole rule, and at the same time my wife was managing partner of a large law firm and when you are managing partner of a large law firm asshole management is a part of your job, because lawyers are like that. So we were kind of getting it from two different perspectives so I thought that was kind of interesting. I got remarkable response to a short essay in the Harvard Business Review, so I wrote a book, I thought what that book, that was called The No Asshole Rule, I thought what that book was about was about how to build an organizational culture that was relatively free of jerks, okay? That’s what I thought it was about, but there’s sometimes what you think you’re selling and then there’s the market response and the response I got, which I continue to get I got three or four today cause I have a new book out, is a deluge of emails that essentially all say the same things, personal conversations, it just goes on and on, I actually have two phone messages right now that have this and essentially they all ask the same question which are, “Help I’m dealing with an “asshole, or a bunch of them, what do I do?” Now, I do have a PhD in psychology, so I’m sort of qualified to address this, but you can judge how well I address it. And I resisted for a decade answering, just to give you a range, I’ll give you some quotes, I got them from a CEO who asked me about dealing with, so this is the entrepreneurship part, where’s Tom? This is the entrepreneurship part. So, a CEO of a Silicon Valley company you would know asked me about dealing with douche-boards and boardholes, okay, so that’s ah, a Baptist minister who asked about dealing with mean parishioners and on. A dude from Walmart, a whole wide range, and this one, this is a lot more serious one, this is a woman who, so men you probably know, that a really great job for a young lawyer is to clerk for a federal judge, so you write opinions for them, you do research, you do all sorts of shit work too. And so she was in an asshole rich environment, okay. So here’s what she wrote me, it’s a little excerpt. “The judge has thrown numerous temper tantrums this year “for seemingly insignificant events, I love this, “late or incorrect water delivery, what a sin! “My two co-clerks yell and belittle each other and me “at every chance, one gets very angry and bangs his “phone on his desk violently when he’s upset “they are hell-bent on releasing their misery “into the world, what do I do?” So this is a relatively dramatic one, but not unrepresentative and then, as part of this, there was an editorial cartoonist named David Wilson who, for the first book, wrote, just drew some cartoons randomly and then we commissioned him to do some, so this is one of his cartoons and this is a guy who wrote me the inspiration for this cartoon that he had worked at, what he called, and he didn’t call them asshole factories exactly, how it was in the email, with the dollar signs, for seven years and he described this really hostile environment he described how he started having anxiety problems, sleep problems, trouble with his family, classic effects, we’re gonna talk about in more detail, and one of the things, and this is a theme, you know if was to do factor analysis or cluster analysis of my asshole emails, there was this thing where people do weird stuff with food. And so what was going on here was the owner of the asshole factory had this tendency when he had a bag of chips, he would stick his hand in it and he would eat his chips, kind of a violation. Okay, so on one hand you got all these emails, all these conversations, so I’m getting this sort of qualitative data, and I really try to answer them, I don’t answer all of them but I’m pretty good about responding to them. So that’s one hand, okay, then if we go back to 2007, it’s 2017, the other thing that happened, so I’m a behavioral scientist and those of you who know about the way that behavioral scientists work, is the way that you find research, typically, the way that we actually rank scholars, and we consider whether or not to give them tenure at the Stanford Engineering school is by going into something that’s called Google Scholar, that keeps track of all of the academic papers so one of the things that I would do was keep track and do a search every now and then among certain key words. Bullying, verbal aggression, phone rage, workplace victimization, things like this. If you do search, under what I’m calling, all or most things asshole, there’s about 200,000 peer reviewed papers that have appeared in the last 10 years. So, for academics this is a growth business and I could name 10 or 15 academics I know at first year universities who got tenure doing things air rage, verbal aggression, abusive supervision, so in my business, in academia, it’s a growth business. So those are the two things that sort of pushed me in this direction. Woops, sorry, I always trip on everything. So, let me go back one, so there is a whole bunch going on in this literature. But, there’s a tweet that I saw, it was actually tweeted originally out, retweeted by William Gibson, a famous science fiction person who coined the term cyberspace I believe. So he got the credit, but here’s what it said, “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low “self esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, “just surrounded by assholes.” Those 200,000 or so studies that I’m talking about a remarkably large percentage of them are sort of reflected by that, this one little tweet. So, if we’re gonna do a rough, sort of parsing of the academic literature on what I’m calling all things asshole, there’s two kinds of effects and my focus especially in the workplace, and I’m talking about studies that look at conditions, and this is my, I guess my definition of an asshole, that leaves others feeling demeaned, deenergized and disrespected. So that’s the kind of, that’s what would be my definition. Anxiety, depression, physical health problems, there was a longitudinal study in the U.K. that people who had abusive supervisors were more likely to have fatal heart attacks for example, and then you got a whole bunch of performance effects so, we might have the whether or not assholes finish first conversation, which people seem to love to have in Silicon Valley, but whether or not they are finishing first, the people around them are not, as the evidence is really clear on that. So, the way I like to describe it is, if it helps you get to the top of the hierarchy, you are climbing to the top and simultaneously destroying it at the same time. Okay, another thing about it that’s really important is it’s incredibly contagious, we have very good research that shows that negative emotion is more contagious than positive emotion. That if you’re around nasty people, you’re gonna catch it and there’s another thing that happens, and there’s even been some studies published since I finished this book in late 2016, that show that assholes prefer to hire and be around other assholes, especially assholes like them. So if you’re machiavellian, you wanna be around machiavellians. If you’re a narcissist, you wanna be around narcissists. So assholes attract. So, that’s another problem that you’ve got. Alright, so I’m gonna spend the rest of the time and what I’ll do is I’ll talk to you ’til about 5:20, and then we’ll make sure and open up for questions with all these people you better have a conversation. But if I was gonna take some mental provisioning if you are thinking about dealing with a situation like this or advising someone, keep in mind there are a whole bunch of enormous cognitive biases that we human beings all have where our tendency is to blame other people for our problems and so, this is certainly true of assholes and my advice to you is if you’re in a situation where you feel like someone is treating you like dirt or a bunch of people are, as a slight de-biasing technique, and we’ll talk about this more, be slow to label other people as jerks, be quick to label yourself, and even this probably isn’t enough, given how strong the biases. But, in much of the literature and I fall prey to this too, I tend to say, well there’s the assholes, those are the bad people and it’s the good people, that’s me and people like me, life’s more complicated than that. Alright, so, one of the things when I started working on this book, there’s somebody, how many of you have heard of Dan Pink? Well known, sort of management writer, his daughter Sophia, actually, is a student here. I think he may have another kid, anyhow, so Dan, he was giving me advice about this book, he’s a well known sort of management author, and he said, so what you need is to have sort of a decision tree or flow chart, which if you have this type of problem you do that, so, of course, because Dan’s a smart guy, I thought he was right, I spent like months and months trying to come up with it and the thing I kept running into is, and you all know this, that life is so messy that I can’t give that to you and the best I can offer you is that you’ve got to craft your own strategy or help the person you are advising to craft their strategy but still, there’s some things that you might keep in mind. One is, how long does it last? So, for example, one of the places we did interviews, was Philz Coffee, how many of you have heard of Philz Coffee Stanford audience, a lot of Philz coffee, so there, even if you’ve got a terrible customer who’s treating you like dirt, its not gonna last much more than five minutes, but if you’ve got boss or you’ve got a customer who you’ve been serving for 25 years who treats you like dirt, then maybe you gotta mobilize a little bit more and do something a little bit different. Another distinction I really like to make, and this is related to my assholes are us sort of theme is it’s important to figure out whether you’re dealing with a temporary asshole, or what I call a certified asshole. (audience laughing) All of us under the wrong conditions, and experimental psychologists are brilliant at turning people into jerks in the laboratory, and these are people randomly assigned to conditions, if you put somebody in a hurry, if you make, if you deprive them of sleep, if you put them around a bunch of jerks, and one of the best ways to turn people into jerks, which does fit into the local scene, you give people power and they get worse and worse, they get selfish. All sorts of things that reliably turn people into jerks, so we’re all capable of being temporary assholes under the wrong conditions, but for some people who across times, people and places, tend to treat others with disrespect, I would call those certified assholes. And obviously what you do with somebody who’s temporary versus certified is a different sort of handling. I already talked about power as something that potentially causes problems and turns people into jerks, power is also important because, if you are dealing with a jerk, if you’re the CEO and let’s say you don’t have a board, you can just fire them. But, if you’re at the bottom of the hierarchy, or maybe you’re in sort of more of a democracy, it gets more complicated and you gotta use a different approach. One or many, the other thing, if you guys just got one person, even if it’s just the boss, and you got one asshole to deal with, and everybody else is pretty civilized, then it’s kind of easy to avoid them, you just gotta kind of be where they aren’t, but if you are in a Lord of the Flies situation, where everybody is all asshole all the time you’ve got serious problems. First of all, its gonna have all sorts of negative effects on you and the second problem is that the odds you’re gonna turn into a jerk are really high, and the third thing, and we might talk about this some in Q and A, I don’t necessarily advise barking back at people who are jerks, but in a situation like that if you don’t defend yourself some, probably, you’re really in trouble. And then finally, the damage done, one of the things that really strikes me is that some people who have the remarkable ability to be around jerks and to barely notice them, and to barely get upset and some of us, I would include myself, are more thin skinned and so you gotta kind of do a self-diagnosis, which is how much am I suffering? And the worse your suffering probably the more dramatic action you should take. Okay, so that’s some guidelines, the basis of the book, these are four chapters that are the heart of the book, let me talk little bit about some methods from each one. The best thing you can do, let’s start out with this, is if you are in a situation where people treat you absolutely horribly, if you can get out, you should get out if you possibly can, in fact, the email that I just got this morning, which is a woman who bought the book and she told me, the book wasn’t as useful as she hoped because she worked for the IRS dealing with really, really hostile small business owners, she’s a lawyer, who are always late, and it was just mean people day after day after day, and I said to her, the only thing I can think of is either to get out or to form the thickest skin possible, I suggested she find a therapist if she didn’t quit, that’s the best I could do. But, so there’s lots of times when you should get out when the situation is bad, but to give you scientific advice do not be stupid about it, it’s a long life, if you burn bridges and piss people off, it gets harder to get another job and I think we all know this. One of my favorite examples, JetBlue, some of you may have heard of this, in 2010 there was a flight attendant named Steven Slater, what happened was, and if you’re gonna pick a job where people treat you like dirt, being a flight attendant’s a pretty good one. So this poor guy, Steven Slater, he’s on a flight with two women who are really being hostile to them, and he’s fighting with them about their luggage in the overhead compartment and everything, and then as the flight lands, I believe it was in Pittsburgh, one of them, and it’s taxiing, one of them opens the overhead bin, he gets hit on the head with the luggage really hard and he’s pissed, so he gets on the microphone, as the plane is pulling to the gate, he cusses out everybody on the plane, he activates the emergency exit slide, he takes two beers and he leaves the scene, okay. (audience laughing) It’s a true story, it’s well documented. So this is classic, Johnny Paycheck, Take This Job and Shove It material, he was like a folk hero, blah, blah, blah. But things actually sucked for him after that, he got fired, he was on probation, he had to pay a fine, he said he was depressed and sorry, so don’t be stupid about it if you possibly can, although sometimes it’s tough. So, there’s also this notion of whether it’s better to stick it out, there are sometimes, when although it sucks what happens at the end is worth it, or the cost of quitting are so high that you’ll pay too big a cost, so the attorney who wrote me about the horrible office she was in, this was like four or five emails back and forth, so I said, you gotta quit, you gotta get out of there, you are suffering, you are taking damage. We go back and forth and eventually it comes out, well she’s got all these student loans, and her mentors all tell her she’s one year in to a two year clerkship, that quitting is career suicide. So at that point I was like, okay well, let’s figure out how it will hurt you less. But, so sometimes it’s stupid to quit. The other thing that’s really important, and we’ve got very good evidence about this, you see like there’s things like good place to work survey the Google tends to be at the top, I hope Equifax is at the bottom, just a little editorial opinion. (audience laughing) But, the fact is that we have 30 years of evidence from Gallup that the quality of the organization on the best place to work survey, for example, is a terrible predictor of your immediate colleagues and your immediate boss and that’s what really matters for your well being and whether or not you have a jerk problem. So, if you can find another role within the same organization where, by the way, you usually have better information than if you just go to Google or something like that, you’re probably better off. And then I’ve already made this point, there’s a difference between what you do and how you do it, it might be fun to burn bridges, but beware. Okay, one other thing I talk a fair amount in the book, and this came from the emails about clients and customers, so having clients and customers who are nasty is a bad thing to do, sometimes you just gotta take it, but sometimes you can fire them, and so you might want to consider the conditions under which you can do that. Most major airlines, I know for sure this is true, Southwest and JetBlue from executives, they have a separate do not fly list from the security list, these are people who are such jerks they are not allowed to buy tickets. Restaurants, some restaurants, do the same thing, that they won’t give you, if you can’t get a reservation when it seems like it’s empty, that may be a sign for you. And I like this quote, this is a wine buyer from Berkeley, he wrote me, we have a rule that says that a customer can either be an arsehole, he’s originally English, or late pay but not both, so, you sort of pick your standards. Finally, before we leave this, let me talk about red flags, so, even better than quitting a bad situation, is before you take a job or start working with a client, is to try to figure out if you’re getting into an asshole rich situation. Now, you can do something like Glassdoor, not very useful, it might tell you overall about the company, but probably not about your boss unless you’re gonna be working for the CEO. One thing that’s really useful, sometimes gets dissed but we have more and more evidence, gossip. If you can find, is that me or you? – [Audience Member] It was me, sorry! – Oh it’s alright. So, if you can find people who have worked in the same situation, that’s very useful. One of the best things is to actually do a little project with them before, and so the little story here, so this was eight years ago, I think I have this right, my colleague, Huggy Rao and I, Huggy and I still work together, we did a book on scaling up excellence, it was around that time, and we were considering having a long-term consulting relationship with a client, let’s just say, a famous U.S. firm, and we flew to Boston and spent the day in the conference room with them. So, it was like eight people, and we had a classic alpha male, all transmission, so reception kind of dude, he just talked, he talked, he talked, he talked, and we were just dying, anyway, it went on and on and on, so finally, it’s two o’clock in the afternoon, and unfortunately I was sitting next to him, and he looks at me, as it says here, he was quiet for 15 minutes and he said, it looks like I am listening, I’m just reloading. So he was just, and then we got on the plane and Huggy says to me, that guy was a classic hippo. I said what do you mean by hippo? And he stole this, by the way, from Frank Flynn, who teaches at the Stanford Business school, one of his highest papers in the room, maybe you’ve heard this, and the other thing about hippos, and I love this picture of this hippo, is they’ve got these tiny little ears and giant mouths, (audience laughing) So this guy was a real hippo, and so we elected not to engage in long-term consulting relationship with him. Okay, so that’s the first one. The second one is asshole avoidance techniques. The way that I think about it, and this is a summary of a lot of studies, but essentially, assholes are sort of like kryptonite, that the more exposure you have to them the longer, the closer you are to it, the worse it’s going to be for you and we can show this in the lab, and lab and field studies. And so finding ways to limit your exposure is important. Some of the most interesting studies, which have been around for long time, going back to research by Tommy Allen in the 70s at MIT, shows that essentially, as you sit further away from somebody, further and further away, you have less communication with them and they have less influence on you, these studies have been going on for a long time, I mean essentially his research shows that if you can get 150 feet away from someone, it’s almost like they’re in another country. Now we’ve got some newer studies of open office environments and essentially what this group of researchers did, out of Harvard at the time, is where they were, was they looked to see the effect of a toxic person in an open office environment. And what they found, was if somebody, so it could be you, is within 25 feet of a toxic person, number one, the odds they will become toxic themselves goes up, remember how it’s contagious? And number two, the odds they’re are going to get fired also go up, so, and by the way, the more positive stuff just came out, they’ve got newer stuff that shows that if you sit next to a collaborative superstar, it’s good for your career, so who you sit next to in an open office is very important. Another thing, so, another thing that comes out of partly research and partly experience is that if you’re in a situation where you have somebody who is abusive, especially somebody who has, what I would call, or that researchers would call, machiavellian personality, these are people, often childhood bullies, who when they’re nasty to you and you look like you’re in pain or suffering, literally, they can show with these brain scanning studies that their brains light up, if you’ve got, or are dealing with an asshole like that, doing what you can to so slow the frequency and rhythm of encounters is really important. And I’ll give you an example, so this comes from a doctoral student I know, she is now a prestigious, professor at a prestigious university, she’s tenured, so she had a, what she called a bat shit crazy advisor. Early in her career with him, he would call her up at three o’clock in the morning and yell at her, he’s send strings of nasty emails and then have these in person meetings where he would also be nasty, so what she did was, she slowed the rhythm, for example, she said I’d wait to get seven, eight, 10, 15 emails, and then I’d do a short, polite response, I wouldn’t respond to them all at once. With meetings, she slowed things down where she would meet with him every two or three weeks, and as much as once a month, as opposed to the weekly meetings he wanted. So anything you can do to sort of slow the rhythm helps. Find a safety zone, sometimes you can hide from them. I saw this, the reason we have this picture, when I was in graduate school, we did an ethnography, my friend Dan Dennis and I did an ethnography of a hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan. And literally, we’re standing there talking to a nurse and she’s telling us about a doctor that they call, Doctor Gooser, and he was somebody who was famous for sexual harassment, as we’re having the conversation, literally the doctor runs by, grabbing the buns of a nurse, while she was screaming, and they would go into the nurses’ lounge to hide from him, as an example. Another thing you can do, find a boss who will protect you, all sorts of evidence that this is the hallmark of what a great boss is, a great boss is someone who protects you from idiocy from on high, abusive customers, so that’s another thing you can do. Here’s somebody who talk about, my job is to hold the umbrella so the shit above doesn’t hit you. That’s the kind of boss you want. Finally, and this is something that there’s both evidence and stories about, is a lot of times when co-workers have a nasty boss or client, they kind of collude together to monitor that person, so this comes, this is actually fictional, this comes up from a movie called The Proposal, and they had, there was a woman who was a nasty, starred as the nasty boss and, she literally, she was moving from one office to another, she was a publisher, and in the movie her assistant says, “Beware, the witch is on her broom!” So it’s sort of like a warning, that it’s going to happen. So that’s another thing you can do to have avoidance. Okay, the third one, the third sort of methods that are effective comes from cognitive behavioral therapy, kind of, have you all heard of cognitive behavioral therapy the leading evidence based, kind of talk therapy, in the world, and essentially what these are, are methods that where you work on changing the definition of the situation, so it doesn’t upset you quite so much, even though you don’t change the situation itself. So let me give you an example, from one of my heroes, this is Becky Margiotta. I’m gonna take a sip here. So Becky, who went on to have an amazing career, one of the things Becky did, was she led something called the 100,000 Homes Campaign, that found homes for 100,000 homeless Americans, but when she was 18 she went to West Point. And if you know what it’s like being a cadet, at a first year cadet, at any of the major military academies, you get hazed everyday. And so at first, Becky was getting upset about the fact that, a couple times a day, some upper class cadet would scream at her for example, because she could not perfectly memorize and regurgitate every headline in the New York Times that day, that’s the typical, sort of offense, you would do. But what she started doing was starting to view her tormentors as witty and funny, as comedians, and she would focus on admiring their skills as opposed to feeling personally attacked. Sort of this distancing, depersonalization strategy so that’s one of the sort of methods, that kind of comes out of cognitive behavioral therapy. Another thing you can do, another sort of approach, is when someone is treating you like dirt, get some empathy for them, even if they don’t deserve it, start feeling sorry for them, sympathy for the devil. Somebody at Google, this is years ago, describing how when somebody is nasty I think of them as a guy with a bad user interface and a good operating system, so sort of Googleish stuff. And if you look at research on forgiveness, what you’re doing in that situation is, even if the asshole doesn’t deserve it, by forgiving them, what happen is, there’s a lot of evidence that when you forgive people, you ruminate less about it, it bothers you less. So even if it’s not helping them, it’s helping you. Rise above it, this is the Michelle Obama. When they go low, we go high. So if we go back to revisit Philz Coffee, this was, about a year and a half ago, I had some conversations with Jacob Jaber, he’s the CEO of Philz Coffee, his father was Phil, himself, and so I said to Jacob, what do you do with asshole customers? And he said, our philosophy, and we’ll see if this gets past the censors, our philosophy is be nice to them, fuck ’em, but be nice to them, and then, this is what he said, and then we did some subsequent interviews with some of the folks at Philz Coffee and what they had, this whole philosophy, which was, when they’re nasty, you kill them with kindness, and the reason you do it is, first of all, they pride themselves in giving good service, but it’s also this feeling of superiority, that you won’t stoop to their level, so that’s another method you can use. Then, this is one that’s especially evidence based, there’s very good evidence, especially a series of six or seven lab studies from U.C. Berkeley, about a year ago, that when people have something upsetting, they break up with their partner, they fail an exam, and when they respond to it by saying, Gee, a year from now when I look back at this, a month from now, a week, rather than focusing on how upset they are now, that they’ll have less anxiety, less depression and less sadness. So if you could look back from the future rather than now, that helps and to go back to military academies, one of the more interesting emails I got, was from a guy who wrote me, he was describing how he got through the Air Force Academy. So he said, again, I’m a first year cadet, and they’d be screaming at me, and he said he’d do two things, the first thing’s really interesting, ’cause it’s really subtle, he said I would look at the person’s eyebrow rather than their face because then I just sort of focused on the eyebrow, then I would look at the whole thing, the performance. And the other thing I would do, is imagine it was three years later, I was in my plane and I was flying. And really this wasn’t much to get through, and to me this is a really good example of temporal distancing, cause he was imagining being in the future looking back to what he was experiencing now. Finally, this one is really interesting because an unnamed Stanford administrator told me about this, in general, a lot of these strategies I’m talking about are what psychologists call emotional detachment, ways when you’ve got somebody who is being nasty attacking you, upsetting, to sort of seem like you’re watching a movie unfold in front of you rather than being part of the scene. So to emotionally detach. This is one of my favorite ones, and this is an administrator I know well, and he describes how he deals with the assholes at a certain university we’re all sitting in right now. And he’s somebody I know who’s especially skilled at it, and here’s what he does, and it’s kind of amazing that I don’t use this strategy and I’m not capable of using it, so maybe it’ll work for you, it doesn’t seem to work for me. He imagines that he’s a doctor who studies assholeism, and what he does when he has someone who’s acting like a jerk in front of him, is he tells himself how lucky he is to have such an amazing specimen of this behavior and to have it happening close-up. And it’s like adding to your stamp or your bug collection, sort of, and it works, and this person, whom some of us in the room know well, he’s very good with assholes, so all of these methods that I’m talking about so far are means for reducing the impact of somebody who you believe is treating you like dirt, but you notice, none of them really have any affect on changing the person, so now let’s change to fighting back and other methods for actually, somehow or another, changing the person or fighting back against the person who treats you like dirt. And one thing I really like to encourage is, it’s sort of like quitting, yeah it’s great to fight back, but once again, especially the harder and longer you’re gonna fight, the more you should be strategic about it and do it in such a way, it doesn’t hurt you, so doing some analysis like, well, how much power do you really have in the situation. So what I’m, another amazing exchange I had was with a woman who became head of HR, new head of HR of a Fortune 50 company and she wrote me how proud she was that they had installed a no jerk company rule in the company and she was going to get rid of three senior executives who were jerks, and I just wrote back, I said, well, so you’re new, how much power have you got? She said, no, no, no, I have the CEO on my side we’re going to get rid of these guys, three weeks later she got fired, they pushed her out, it didn’t work. So you’ve got be careful about being overconfident about your power. How much stock imitation can you get? Some of you may, if you’ve got great documentation, you can take somebody down who’s a jerk, especially, and we should go into this just slightly, I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve read some of this and lawyers might correct me some, but my understanding is, it’s not against the law to be an equal opportunity asshole, in most states, if you treat everybody like dirt, it’s just when you’re selective against women, minorities, and other groups and so on. So, you may recall what happened with Roger Ailes, when he was brought down by Stanford graduate, Gretchen Carlson, what she did was, she brought her phone into a bunch of meetings with him where he would essentially say, I want sexual favors then your career would be advanced, and so she had really iron-clad evidence, that’s one of the reasons he got fired so quickly and they settled so quickly, because she had such good evidence. Just as a word of warning, this was in New York, it would be against the law to record somebody in the state of California, especially where there’s reasonable expectation of privacy without their permission, so you should consult your lawyer before you do that. And then the other question is what your options are? The better options you have, the more you can fight back. And in particular, what the evidence, and there’s a number of sort of small studies on bullying that imply that essentially if you’re going to fight back against a bully, you need two things, you need documentation and you need a posse. Because the more people who are joining you in the fight, the less like, well the more power you have, and the less likely they can just say it’s your problem, you’re crazy. So this is an example of a woman who wrote me about the asshole journal she kept against her hostile, racist co-worker, and she recruited her other colleagues to keep the evidence and what they did was they presented these asshole journals to their supervisor and then she disappeared, the asshole disappeared a few days later. So that’s sort of a good way to fight back. A few comments, there’s sometimes, when you’re dealing with somebody who’s a jerk where it’s really useful to have a backstage conversation with them, and here I’m gonna talk about a distinction I think is really important and this gets back to the self awareness stuff that I’ve already talked about. One way I would roughly classify as assholes, is there are some who are strategic assholes, they believe that the reason they’re treating you like dirt is it helps them get ahead. Having a backstage conversation with somebody who is doing it on purpose to make you feel bad probably isn’t going to work. But there are many people who treat others like dirt, or at least leave them feeling badly who don’t realize it, and those cases it can be useful. So this was an example, we have these executive ed programs at Stanford and I had a woman come up to me after we did this sort of group dynamics exercise where we looked into interruptions and she said, so we had a really interesting situation with our CEO. He kept interrupting the two of us, there were two women who were executive vice presidents, but not the four guys, by the way, just as a time out, there’s new evidence, two weeks old, just came out, they did an analysis of the U.S. Supreme Court, the female justices get interrupted three times more often than the male justices. This is not a new pattern, it still continues. So anyhow, what they did with their well-meaning but sexist CEO was they did a count of how much he interrupted, they pulled him aside after an especially interruption intensive meeting, showed him the data and he felt bad, he said please call me on it again in the future, he was a clueless asshole that it actually helped. But if you’re dealing with one of these strategic machiavellian assholes, it’s not gonna work and in that case some direct confrontation is probably not the best thing to do, especially, research on people who are machiavellian, these people who when you cooperate or sort of back off or look hurt when they push you around, they take that as a sign of weakness and they’ll throw even more at you, so this is a story from a woman who wrote me about the major asshole she worked with who took her kindness for weakness, he was stealing resources, he was taunting her in public, and finally she snapped back at him and yelled at him and told him in a meeting and said that such behavior was unacceptable and she wasn’t gonna take it, then he turned nice. Wrap the message in humor. So the Becky Margiotta story is a case where the humor was a coping mechanism, it’s also for certain people, a delivery system and in fact the person who told me this story, we can’t name him, but Tom and I were at a baseball game together when I first heard this story from the unnamed CEO who Tom especially knows well, I better stop there. So, I’m talking, this is a Giants game literally, we’re sitting in the seats and I’m talking and I’m telling him about myself and assholes and he tells us this story when he was CEO and his company was making this run up to IPO, he had a pension for vegetable insults, so he would say things to members of his top management team like, the average zucchini could figure that out, you’re dumber than a head of lettuce, and he was doing this a lot and so one day he walks into the board room, and you sent me the picture, did I send you the picture Tom, I can’t remember, anyway, and instead of seeing his top team, there’s a bunch of lettuce heads with glasses and sunglasses and stuff and hats that are essentially his team. They made up t-shirts and essentially, the way he put it is, I didn’t exactly become a doormat after that, but I’d stop for a second before I’d start insulting people. One more, kind of more positive method there’s also some evidence that with certain types of assholes, ones who especially aren’t nasty to everyone but are especially nasty to you, you might want to turn your hater into a friend and the social psychology here is really interesting, and so here’s the basic summary of a lot of studies on cognitive dissonance or cognitive consistency, remember the more harm you cause, the more hate you feel, the more kindness you express, the more you come to love those who help. So the implication of this and this is something that Benjamin Franklin used to turn haters into friends, so that’s where this comes from, is that if someone is treating you like dirt, try getting them to do you some favors, because when they start doing you favors, they have a cognitive inconsistency problem, which kind of goes back to this, which is I’m doing this person favors, they must be okay. Alright, now let’s talk about power. So, I haven’t talked about this a lot, but some of you in the room are or will be in positions of power where you have people beneath you in the hierarchy or some sort of power structure who are acting like jerks, and it’s good to be king in that situation, the person who’s most clear about this, this is Paul Purcell, I got him to blurb the book, as we look at the book, it’s on the back of the book, and he’s CEO of a company called Baird, they’re a financial services company, he’s actually chairman, he just stepped up, or whatever, from CEO to chairman, he was CEO for about 12 years, and they have a no asshole rule. So the great thing about Baird is, actually the person who’s head of communications and I like, we worked together on the no asshole message, together and so I’ve talked to Paul a lot and so they’re doing very well financially, they’re up to number four on the best place to work list, which they’ve bene on for 14 years. So a few years ago I’m interviewing Paul and I said, give me an example of what it means to implement the no asshole rule, and this is what he said. “During the interview I tell them that if I discover “that they are an asshole, I am going to fire them.” and he described how he fires people and how it scares them away. So that’s it, it’s good to be king. And one from our very own Stanford, is Perry Klebahn here? Okay, I’m having dinner with him so I thought he would at least show up, but anyways, so it was my friend Perry Klebahn, he’s from the Stanford D school, he’s head of the executive education operation, and Perry, and some people in the room know Perry, Perry, he kind of looks and acts like the Clint Eastwood of design world, he’s tall and thin, he doesn’t say very much. Former executive, CEO of a company, and founder of Atlas Snowshoes, senior executive of Patagonia, he knows how to deal with difficult people, and has many of you know we have big groups of executives who come down to the D school, who we put through, sort of intense, hand on sort of experiences, 40 to 60 executives. And one of the things that Perry’s noticed is that every year or so, he’ll have a problem with what he calls, alpha types, over-bearing jerks who are in three or four or five different teams and what he does, is he takes all of the bad apples, all of the jerks, and removes them from the team and creates basically, a team of bad apples, or I would say, a team of assholes. And this has two effects, they’re pretty interesting, one is, of course, you’re literally removing the jerks from the situation or having the trouble, and the other thing, let’s go back to similarity and attraction, they actually often like each other and do great work. (audience laughing) So, that a case where it’s good to be king. There’s the survival methods, we’re gonna be at the questions in about five minutes, let me make some parting thoughts, especially I want to to the notion that in situations where you feel like you’re besieged by one or more jerks, or perhaps you are the jerk, it’s kinda on you, in my opinion, to be part of the solution, not the problem. And let’s go back to this notion, that if you’re a jerk, the odds you’re gonna admit it to yourself and others are not high, and there’s some good national survey data, it’s not great, but it’s pretty good, by the Workplace Bullying Institute, they do something with Zogby about every year or so. And if you look at surveys over the last 10 years, the general pattern is about one half of 1% of Americans, so that’s one out of 200 Americans, will admit to being sort of a consistent, ongoing bully. About 50% of Americans say they either experienced it, are experiencing it, or witnessed it firsthand. Those numbers don’t add up and there’s a whole bunch of other research on self-awareness that suggests the worst person to ask, if you wanna figure out if somebody’s an asshole, is the asshole him or her self and that includes you. So, looking in the mirror really doesn’t work that well. What the evidence suggests, is the best thing to do, and research on self-awareness says this pretty consistently, is having people in your life who can tell you when you’ve been a jerk, a temporary one or a certified one, that’s the best path to awareness and one example of this, so, it’s June, 1940, Winston Churchill is in pretty bad situation, you think about it, they’re losing the war, they’re being bombed like crazy, the U.S. isn’t in the war yet, Dunkirk has happened, or is just about to happen, it’s kind of a mess in the U.K. and he’s getting grouchy, so his wife Clementine writes him a letter. “One of the men in your entourage, a devoted friend, “has been to me and told me that there is danger “of your being generally disliked by your colleagues, “and subordinates, because of your rough, “sarcastic and overbearing manor.” And then she goes sort of wifely, “But my darling Winston, “I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration “in your manor and you’re not as kind as you used to be.” I think that’s kind of interesting in light of current events and I would also add, there’s two or three sentences at the end, where she sort of lays out a mini-theory that treating the people who work for him badly, is not just sort of bad because it makes them feel bad, it’s bad because it stifles descent, and drives out the best people. So it’s sort of interesting in light of some current events. Alright, another thing that’s really interesting that has come out of some of the communications I’ve had, is this notion that in really functional organizations, and in really functional groups, people find ways to protect weaker others, and not to continue the sins of prior generations, and the most interesting, and this is sort of like a seven email exchange, I had like five emails, with a guy who is now a senior surgeon at a famous hospital, and he described to me when he was in medical, not medical school, when he was a surgical resident he and the other young residents would meet every Friday afternoon, they’d drink beer and they’d tell the stories about their attendings, so an attending is sort of the senior surgeon on site, in a hospital, and they’d tell a story, and what they would do, is they would nominate the asshole of the week, or they would pick the asshole of the week, and once they decided who that was, they’d write it in this little book, that they then would bring to every meeting and pass form generation to generation. And he wrote me and he said, yeah some of this was sort of like moaning and bitching, but in addition to that, one of the things that we did was we vowed to one another was that when we got into positions of power we would not be that abusive, and he said, we’re not perfect, but I believe that because of that experience, all of us who are now department chairs and senior surgeons, that we’re better as a result. So I sort of like that ’cause it’s taking responsibility for sort stopping an ongoing flow of abuse. Finally, one other way in which you can be part of the problem and not the solution, but not be an asshole is something that, and also its a great job for people in Silicon Valley, some of you may have this, some of you may have had it, this is essentially people who are toxic enablers. And to go back, when I wrote the no asshole rule, I had a chapter on if you want to be a successful asshole there are certain things you should do, one is don’t be all asshole, all the time, for example, smart assholes know when to sort of kick people and then to pour on the charm. But the other thing you need is essentially, somebody to clean up your mess. So, these are people who after you have screamed at or otherwise abused, other people in the organization, they go from office to office, and they say he or she, ’cause it can be both, really wasn’t that mad, really it’s not that bad, just calm down, and then when they talk to, in this case, sort of the asshole boss, the boss says, was I bad? They say, no, no, you weren’t really that bad, they’re just thinned skinned. So there are like these people who are toxic enablers, and there are a number of people, who I was thinking of too, with Tom sitting there, remember Tom had a speaker here once who I won’t name and he’s a famous toxic enabler for a famous toxic person, who isn’t, wasn’t Steve Jobs, but somebody else you would recognize, and I described this concept to him and he said that after 10 years he decided to quit of doing this everyday. So, on the other hand this guy became, I think, nearly a billionaire as a result of this, so some of you may find employment doing this. Okay, so, my final point, so we can talk about whether or not it’s better to be, whether or not assholes are sometimes winners Tom actually even set me up on that, the way the book starts out is I start with a real story, I did this conversation, it’s a classic thing, we did a research interview on scaling with a CEO of a startup, and after I turned off the recording and put away my iPhone, the guy looks at me and this is 2011 and he says, “So, I’m really worried that “I’m not gonna be a great CEO because I’m not nasty enough, “I’m not enough like Steve Jobs.” And he said, “What do you think?” And I assured him that there were many people in Silicon Valley who were successful without being nasty and also in the book, some of you may, some years ago, we had Ed Catmull come here and speak, so I’ve gotten to know Ed Catmull fairly well. Ed is the president of Pixar and the president of Disney animation studios, so he spent a lot of time with Steve Jobs in his life and his argument, and he fact checked this, we went back and forth, his argument about Steve is that, the Steve Jobs who became, who built Apple, Pixar, who became the great Steve Jobs, was maybe not like the nicest person in the world, but was a much less jerkier person than he was when he was younger. So even he learned to sort of calm down before he could be successful. So I think that’s the argument, so my argument is still, if you’re an asshole and a winner you’re still a loser as a human being, because if you look at he evidence, even it if its helping you win because you’re in a I win, you lose, zero sum game, you’re inflicting physical, deteriorating physical and mental health on others and as I said kind of at the beginning of the talk, you are literally undermining the productivity, driving away the people who you need to be successful in your role as a leader. Okay, so that’s the end of my prepared remarks, I think we’re ready for questions, alright? I’m not gonna talk anymore. (clapping)
Thank you! Alright, so, if you must leave, now is a good time. So questions, how do we do questions? – [Tom] You pick. – So raise your hand and I’ll repeat them. Yes sir, right in the front row here. – [Student] Is there health benefits as an asshole? – Does it help the asshole? – [Student] No, is there health benefits? – To be an asshole? So the evidence is, there’s actually, – [Tom] What is the question, repeat it. – So the question is, based on, is being an asshole good for your health, is that the question? – [Student] That’s right. – So there’s actually studies coming out that show the exact opposite. That if you’re angry, if you treat people with disrespect, it’s not good for your health, and the reason, I would speculate, so there’s starting to be longitudinal studies on this, and they’ll even do stuff in the lab where they’ll provoke people to be nasty, and their blood pressure will go up and a whole bunch of some of the other physiological indicators that they’re under stress. But the other thing that happens when you’re an asshole, remember, is doesn’t just go out there, people throw it back at you, so that’s the problem is that you create a vicious circle. So at least the evidence we have is that it probably isn’t good for your health. Other questions, I like that one, I’ve never had that one before. let’s see, I’ll try to pick somebody in the right wing here, yeah. – [Student] So in the situation where someone is trying to slow the rhythm to avoid dealing with an asshole, and waiting for a few emails before responding back, can’t that just be framed as you being bad at your job, your bad at responding to emails, and you’re bad and then then assholes more angry at you ’cause you’re bad at your job and its a vicious cycle. – So every tactic and every situation has risks, yes, that can get you in trouble, but I still think that if someone sends you a nasty email at two o’clock in the morning, that at least waiting to answer it ’til the morning might be a reasonable sort of thing, but yeah, I think that is one of the risks. And I don’t think, the particular person that we’re talking about, who I know very well, I don’t think her dissertation advisor had much good to say about her, but she recovered and is doing great. But yeah, certainly that’s a risk. Yes, yes. – [Student] I have one comment and one question, my comment is about fighting back, when I went this weekend, I bought 10 of the books. – 10? – [Student] Yes. – Thank you. – [Student] I gave eight to friends who are dealing with assholes, and I gave two to assholes. (laughing) And as a medical person, I just have to say I really do appreciate my asshole, so I tend to insult people by calling them hemorrhoids. – [Man] Would you repeat that, please? – [Student] I’ve said, as a medical person, I really appreciate my asshole, so when I insult people I call them hemorrhoids. – Oh.
(laughing) – [Student] So anyway, my question is this, having moved from Cleveland, I noticed maybe from being the outside observer that there’s a lot of excuses. I mean, maybe in the Midwest we’re not sophisticated so we just say, wow, that person is rude, or we call them on it. And here it’s like, oh, they have Asperger’s. They are borderline autistic. Or they’re blah blah blah blah. And I mean it’s like, you can still learn manners. There’s a lot of enabling, so how do you deal with that? – So I have an adult son who has Asperger’s syndrome so he does have some of these issues. And so, the question is, that this woman has noticed that compared to Cleveland that in the West Coast where we are now, there’s a lot more excuse for people who are nasty. That they have Asperger’s, I know they’re in a hurry, they’re really important, I’ve heard them all. And then the Midwest, this doesn’t happen quite so much. By the way, I agree with that assessment of our area. So all you can do, and this is where it’s on us, to the extent that you can, call them out on it quietly. And if you have power, and even if they’re high performance, please don’t reward them. And this is where especially the professional services firms including the medical establishment, I won’t say our medical school, that’s all the same. A really good diagnostic for an organization is that when somebody is a jerk, you’re not supposed to reward them. My understanding, I don’t know if you’re from the Cleveland Clinic, but my understanding about the Cleveland Clinic is that is a place that does not reward superstar surgeons who are jerks. – [Student] Right. – So I heard that from Toby Cosgrove and from Marc Gillinov who did heart surgery on me. Marc Gillinov told me, “He might be a great surgeon, “but if he was a jerk, he would be fired by Toby Cosgrove.” Yes. – [Student] So if you’re in a situation where you have to make a clean getaway. You’re just cornered and there’s nothing you can do about it, do you have, like, recommend in future job interviews if they ask you why did you leave, let’s say, if everything else is perfect and alive, but you just are cornered and have to leave for your mental and physical sanity. – Well, so to me you got to be really careful about badmouthing anybody. But this is where gossip’s really useful. I hate to say it, there’s HR and there’s the way the rest of the world works. And so you might not tell your future employer that I’m your leaving asshole, but everybody you know who ever interviews for them, maybe you could make the world a better place by chasing people away. So to me, it’s the difference between what we have to do to satisfy the human resources department and not stain our record. I do not have a high opinion of the human resource department. In general, if you have an asshole problem, be very careful about going to HR. They are not your friend. (laughing) – [Student] We had in my case, my boss and HR were best friends who were together doing things. – So that’s the best thing if you’re an asshole to do is to befriend people at HR. Okay. Yes, sir? – [Student] So we know that assholes have small ears but oftentimes also small hands. (laughing) – No comment, yes, assholes have small ears and small hands, yes. – [Student] So on a society level, is it a good time for assholes these days? – So my argument, so the question is, on a society level, is it a good time for assholes? My argument about this is we’re at peak asshole. At least I’m hoping we are. So there’s a whole bunch of forces that are creating nasty behaviors. So let’s just say leaders in senior positions both in corporations and politics are modeling bad behavior. We’re spending time online, there’s a lot of evidence we don’t have eye contact with people you’re nasty to. The more rushed and sleep deprived we are, the nastier we are. There’s a whole bunch of forces that are making people nasty. But on the other hand, there are also countervailing forces. So I go back to my 200,000 peer reviewed studies. Journalists seem to make a sport out of, as soon as one of these studies come out, I hear it from them rather than from doing searches. Immediately, they’re just on it constantly. There are a bunch of lessons, let’s just say, what’s happened at Uber. And some of the experiences United Airlines have had have made them more cautious about treating people like dirt. So my perspective is I don’t know where it’s gonna land. But there are countervailing forces. And we were talking about the medical thing. There’s something called the Joint Commission which accredits US hospitals. And at least, if you believe there are new guidelines, I think 2008 on, if you have a hospital, is a hospital work environment, you can lose your accreditation. So there are some countervailing forces. And I don’t know who’s gonna win, but the worst thing’s the web, by the way. For creating bad behavior, I would not make the web. We are less nice human beings on average on the web than we are in person. – One more.
– One more. Final question. All the way in the back, yes sir. – [Student] So the criteria you use to determine whether or not someone is an asshole is largely based on your background. So how do you balance differences with all of this? – So the question is the criteria that I use is largely based on their background. So the way that I defined an asshole, I do this on purpose, and I read a lot of peer-reviewed studies, is somebody who leaves you feeling demeaned, deenergized, and disrespected. And it could be because they’re treating you like dirt, they’re insulting you, they’re treating you like you’re invisible, they’re doing clinical backstabbing. But it also might be, and this is why I say you’ve gotta take responsibility for yourself, it also might be you have really really thin skin. And it also might be, and a good diagnostic in addition to people who tell you you’re an asshole, if everywhere you go, people treat you like dirt, there’s a pretty good chance you’re throwing it at them and they’re just throwing it back at you. So that’s actually good question to end on because you forced me to be more rigorous about my definition than I was to start. And with that, Tom Byers is going to tell me I am done. Thank you very much.