Stanford Webinar- How to Survive Workplace Jerks

Now I’d like to introduce today’s feature
presenter, Professor Robert Sutton. Bob Sutton is the Professor
of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford University. He co-founded the Stanford
Technology Ventures Program and the Hasso Plattner Institute of
Designs also known as the He’s a fellow at IDEO,
Senior Scientist at Gallup and an advisor to McKinsey & Company. Bob studies organizational change,
leadership innovation, and workplace dynamics. He’s published over 150 articles and
chapters and written seven books. Bob’s latest book is The **** Survival Guide: How To Deal With
People Who Treat You Like Dirt. His website is and
his Twitter handle is @work_matters. Now I’m going to turn it over to Bob.>>All right, thanks, Sherry. Great to be here, and I would like to
welcome everybody who’s joining us. This is going to be kind of my first
major presentation of ideas in my book, so I’m really excited about this. And so let’s jump into it. And what I’m going to do is I’ll talk for
25, 30 minutes or so. And then we’ll open it up for
your questions and so just keep those questions coming and
we’ll answer as many as we possibly can. I love questions,
especially difficult ones. So ask me the hard ones, all right? So let me give you a little
context about both the story I’m going to be telling today,
and the book that I’m going to
be talking about. So about ten years ago, I accidentally got involved in
writing a book about workplace dirt. It’s a book called the No **** Rule. And there are a couple of
strange things about that. One, I never really considered
myself an expert on workplace jerks, but one thing led to another. And things kind of reached the point where
I would go to professional events to talk about leadership, or
innovation, or something. And people for example,
McKinsey Consulting, they would introduce me
as this is Bob Sutton. He’s done all this stuff, but really,
he’ll always be the **** guy. So I got this kind of weird situation, and I kind of resisted writing
kind of a sequel to the book. The reason that there was pressure for
a sequel, besides the fact that the first book sold
well, so they always wanted a sequel, is that the first book really
focused on organizational cultures, how to build an organizational culture
that was a relatively civilized workplace. But the response to it was just
about everybody I ever met at a cocktail party, my barber,
professional events, journalists, because I talk
to a lot of journalists. And I got 8,000 emails that all
essentially asked the same question, which was help, I’m dealing with
an **** or a bunch of them. What do I do? And the range of these
things was unbelievable. For example, a Costco worker
who had a boss who was a jerk. Another example of somebody who was
a jerk was a local CEO who described board-holes and
douche-boards who were driving him crazy. I had a Baptist minister write me about
mean parishioners and what to do about it. And then a lot of questions about clients. And they kind of went over and over again. And so what I do while I worked on other
stuff such as leadership and scaling and innovation, stuff like that. I kind of keep a running folder of
all these different emails, and I said well,
maybe I’ll get to them some day. And just to give you one more sort
of example, so here’s a cartoon. So one of the fun things we did for
this book is we had this cartoonist, David Willson, who’s actually a political
cartoonist for a newspaper in Florida. And so he drew some cartoons based on
the new book, The **** Survival Guide. And I had this guy write me an email,
a really long email about how he spent seven years working for
what he called an $80 whole factoring **** factory where there was
just meanness everywhere. There was a mean owner. He described, he turned mean and
he had trouble sleeping. He had physical health problems. He had trouble with his relationship
with the significant people in his life. And one of the favorite scenes, and
this is one of those weird things that jerky people do is
they’re weird about food. So the picture there is what would happen
is that the owner would walk up to him and stick his hand into his
bags of potato chips and just eat them without permission. So these sort of questions and stories that I would hear were
kind of the focus of the book and what we’re going to talk about in
the following 20 minutes or so, are some of the lessons that I’ve learned
in this adventure over the last decade. To try to understand how to address really
this one question because this book just addresses one question in a lot of ways. I’m dealing with a jerk, or a bunch
of them, especially in the workplace. What do I do about them? All right, so let me start out and talk a little bit in
addition to this big pile of e-mails that I was
getting over the years, the academic literature on all things **** absolutely exploded over the years. So and if you do a search of search
engines that are especially for scholarly research,
things like abusive supervision, abusive customers, bullying,
workplace victimization. You can see the list there. It’s just astounding how
much research there is, that academics have
compiled over the years. And although we might want to
talk about this in the Q&A, there actually might be situations
where you individually might be able to get ahead at least for a little while
by treating other people like dirt. There’s some controversy there about
what are the conditions under which, if you will, **** finish first. So there’s not a lot. But the thing that comes through these
literally thousands of studies is that, if you are, if you will, in firing range. If you’re around people who
treat others with disrespect, in a demeaning fashion,
who are rude, who do backstabbing, we can talk about some of the main, if you
will, kinds of dirty work that jerks do. It’s all bad news,
thousands of studies show. So if you look on the left-hand side of
the slide, the evidence for well-being that if you are confronting, especially
over a long period of time, but even short little snippets, someone who leaves you
feeling bad about yourself, like dirt, anxiety, depression, poor relationships
with other people in your family. There’s great longitudinal studies even
done in the UK that show that people who have nasty bosses have heart
problems and higher mortality rates. So that’s the one side that for
you it’s bad, and then in terms of stuff that will likely
be bad for your career and bad for your employer, less productivity,
more errors, poor customer service. So what ends up happening is if your boss
and coworkers treat you like dirt You, in turn, it’s say, well **** rolls
downhill, we’ll treat clients bad as well. There’s some great research in large
chains of fast food restaurants, that when the manager who runs
the restaurant treats the employees badly, they waste and steal more food,
and turnover, absenteeism. So regardless of maybe these conditions, which we could talk about when maybe
being a jerk helps you get ahead. It’s a pretty rare set of situations,
and probably overestimated. It’s bad for your organization and bad for
your health to be around people like this. So that’s a very clear message
from the academic research. One other thing, and here’s another one of these Dave Willson
cartoons that’s also important. Another way in which it’s bad for you is
that if you are around people who treat you with disrespect and jerks,
it’s a contagious disease. It’s a contagious disease in two ways
that come out of academic literature. One is, if you are around nasty people,
you are likely to catch it, just like a common cold. They can produce this in a laboratory. They bring in a subject, they treat him or
her like dirt, and they bring in another subject, and that person turns
into a dirt, turns into a nasty person. And there’s also evidence the breed like
rabbits quotes, that there’s this thing that a Harvard professor, a famous
Harvard professor named Rosabeth Kanter. She described it as
homosocial reproduction, that organizations tend to pick people
who are just like them, so literally, jerks are more likely to hire jerks. So if you hire one or two,
be careful they will breed like rabbits. All right, so what we’re going to do
is we’re going to start moving to the survival part of the show if you will,
but before I do, let me give you
a little mental provisioning. And something that really I’ve learned,
especially over the last decade, both from the academic research,
from talking to people who are jerks, and honestly, when I’ve been a jerk myself,
too, we human beings have so many self-serving biases. We’re so bad at seeing our weaknesses,
that including for things like disrespect or ****,
that we’re not very good at recognizing when we’ve treated
others with disrespect, or are consistently disrespectful,
or nasty, but on top of that, we’re pretty quick to blame other
forces outside of ourselves. So if you want to kind of, if you will,
mental provisioning a mantra as you’re dealing with managing situations where
you feel as if you’re being demeaned, de-energized, oppressed, whatever. I would sort of suggest be slow
to label others as ****, but be quick to label yourself as one,
because you’re, by doing so, you’re counter veiling a whole bunch
of other psychological forces, well documented psychological forces,
that push you the other direction. Okay, so here’s my four main
steps of survival methods. These are chapters in
the **** survival guide. So let’s sort of jump in and
start talking about them. The first one, the best thing you
can do is make a clean getaway. If you are in a situation,
it could be a customer, we’ll talk about customers
in a little bit. It could be a co-worker. It could be a boss. It could be a Lord of the Flies situation
where everybody treats everybody else like dirt. Doing the best you can to get out as
quickly as you can is really smart, and I’ve got Johnny Paycheck. You may have heard the famous
Johnny Paycheck song, Take This Job and Shove It, but
my reaction is, yes do this, but don’t be stupid about it in such a way
that it particularly ruins your career. And your reputation, and
just one little example, I suspect many of you have heard of,
is back in 2010 there was a guy named Steven Slater who was briefly
an American folk hero. So what happened was, he’s a flight
attendant on JetBlue Airlines, and he has two legs with a couple of really, really obnoxious female passengers
who are just berating him. So he lands the second time,
I believe it was in Pittsburg, and one of the folks who’d been berating him,
one of the customers, she stands up early, while the plane’s still taxiing,
opens the overhead luggage, and he runs up to stop her, and
he gets hit on the head really hard. So he’s pissed, and he’s been abused
by these people for a few hours. So what he does is, famously,
he gets on the microphone, cusses them all out,
tells them they’re all jerks, says he quits, and that’s where you
see the slide, grabs two beers. And activates the slide, and
runs away from the airplane, and so, if you want a made for media,
take this job and shove it story, this is perfect, but let’s go back
to the don’t be stupid about it. He expressed regret later. He got fired. He got fined. He was on probation for a year. So it’s one of those things that
might feel good in the moment, and as somebody who has sometimes has
limited emotional self control, I know it’s often good to have a plan, and that’s one of my general models and
mantras in the book to. Back to, it’s good to have a plan,
is that, I wish I could just give you a formula or a decision tree that if you
have a jerk, if you do these three things, everything’s going to be great, but
unfortunately we all are in such different situations, that I can’t give you
a one size fits all solution. So each one of us, if you will,
has to craft our own **** survival plan based on what we know, and in consultation
with people who we know and trust. All right, so one other thing, so
I’m talking about making a clean getaway. Even better than that is, when you’re
going through the interview process, the job search process, any sorts of
information you can get that you are about to get involved with somebody who
is going to treat you like dirt and be disrespectful,
it’s really important to look for. Of course, you can do things
like read Glass Door online, which isn’t that reliable, because you don’t know what part of the
organization you’re going to end up in. Socially positive gossip’s
really important. If you have friends, or people you can get
to, friends of friends of friends, who work in the work group you’re going to go
to, that’s probably the best information, and if you can have some early meetings,
you might look for red flags. And just the example I’m going to talk
about, so the reason I’ve got a hippo there is if you think about hippos, hippos
have a big mouth and they have little ears, so that’s one way in which
hippos are difficult to work with. Also, there’s another meaning of hippos,
some of you probably heard of, which is the highest paid person in the room, and
those two things usually go together. So anyhow, this it eight or
ten years ago, with one of my co-authors, who’ve I’ve actually done a lot with
at Stanford, at the Stanford Center for Professional Development, and
we’ve written books together and stuff, Huggy Rao. So, Huggy and I had this
potential consulting client, and we flew to Boston for
an all-day meeting, and we’re trying to figure out how much
to work with this guy and his team. So we’re in this conference room for
ten hours, nine hours, one of those horrible all day meetings,
and the guy who is head of the group, he talked, and he talked, and he talked,
and he talked, and he talked, and he only made statements,
he never asked us any questions. He talked, and he talked, and it’s about 2
o’clock, and so finally he sits down next to me, and he was actually silent, and
somebody else talked And he leans over and he looks at me, and he says, and this is
the quote, it looks like I’m listening, but I’m really just reloading, trying to
figure out what I’m going to do next. So after that meeting, Heidi and I very quickly announced to our client
that we were too busy to work with him. And I think that saved us a lot
of aggravation, all right. The next set of approaches, so
if you’re in a situation where you actually can’t avoid,
if you will, working with for a short or a long period of
time with people who are jerks, the way that I think about it is that
assholeness is sort of like kryptonite. All sorts of evidence that the closer you
are to this nasty stuff, the more frequent your exposure, the more intense exposure,
the worse your physical and mental health will be, and also the more
likely you are turn into a jerk. So this is my colleague Katy DeCelles,
that’s actually her picture on CNN. And she visited Stanford a couple years
ago, and she studies all things ****. She studies air rage. She studies the relationship between
prison guards and prisoners. She studies temper tantrums by basketball
coaches to see the effects of it. So it was really great
having her next door to me. And I said to Katy at some point
working on the book, so Katie, what’s the most important
single bit of advice you have? And I kind of like her,
don’t engage with crazy. And she means, create as much distance
from crazy as you possibly can, given the reality of your life. Okay, so let me give you an example
of something that I learned from a former doctoral student I know
about how to limit the exposure. And to me this is a really important
powerful method when you can’t make a full escape. This idea of sort of slowing the rhythm to
reduce the contact, and in this instant world we’re in, we get emails and
texts and stuff all hours of the night. People can send them repeatedly. Phone calls, meetings and so on. And what this doctoral student
did was she figured out, as said,
that she had a batshit crazy advisor. He would do things like call her at
3 in the morning and yell at her and rant at her. Write her repeated one email
after another, after another, often very critical and
often very hostile. And she’s kind of stuck with
this dissertation advisor and is trying to figure out what to do. And she starts realizing that for him,
and there are certain sorts of ****, especially Machiavellian ****,
if you will, your pain is their pleasure. When they see you,
that really long explanatory email, they see you suffering,
they see you crying, and they see you squirming, the pleasure
centers in their brain light up. And this is the kind of
**** she was dealing with. So what she learned to do
was to slow the rhythm. So if he called, she wouldn’t answer it,
or she would answer every fifth or sixth call. If he sent a nasty email,
she’d wait for the next nasty email, the next nasty email. And the first year or so
she’d wait a couple days. And by the time she finished her PhD,
she’d wait two or three weeks and just send one sort of neutral email
response and wait another few weeks. Same thing with meetings. She had the meeting stretched first
weekly, bi-weekly, then monthly. And this idea of slowing the rhythm
is one of the things that you might be able to do within
the constraints of a real job. Another thing, and I didn’t put in
this step, but it’s really important. There’s really great research,
especially for those of you who work in
an open office environment. If you can get a little bit away, physically far away from the jerks in your
office, it has a huge positive effect. In fact, there’s a great long-term
study that was just published, it was described in
the Harvard Business Review and places, that shows that when people sit
within 25 feet of a toxic coworker, the odds that they’re going to
turn into a jerk go way up. And so
are the odds they’re going to be fired. So trying to get that extra 10 or
15 feet will have a big effect. Another thing that you can do to reduce
the exposure is to find a safety zone, a place you can hide where the ****
can’t get you, at least for a while. And the reason I have this crazy Old David
Willson cartoon is this goes back to, it was so
long ago I had a full head of hair. This was like in the 1980s. This was a really long time ago. And my colleague,
Dan Denison and I in Michigan, we were studying a group
of surgical nurses, and we’re standing there in the operating
room, operating theater, whatever. And we’re talking to the head nurse. And she describes this doctor who
had a history of sexual harassment. It was a serious problem. As she describes it,
this female nurse runs down the hall with this aforementioned doctor
grabbing her behind. So she looks it up and goes, see? Well, a few minutes later, her and
a number of the other female nurses went into the nurses’ lounge, and
we tried to follow them in. She put up her hand. You can’t go near us in a nursing
room in the nurses’ lounge. This is our territory for safety. So finding a place to hide can be useful. Use a human shield. This is what a boss is for. If you get a great boss, what a great
boss does, and there’s research on one of the functions of management is to buffer
employees from disturbance and annoyance. If you can find a boss who serves as
a human shield, that’s another way to deal with the ****, so that’s picking
your boss is really important. So this, I love this quote from a sports
director who wrote me some years ago, university sports director. I always tell the people who work for
me the same thing. My job is to hold the umbrella, so
the **** from above doesn’t hit you. Your job is to keep me
from having to use it. So that’s such a symbiotic relationship. All right, one other thing that I kind of
got obsessed with is this notion that when there’s work groups, especially
when there’s sort of a jerky boss, that sometimes there’s sort of early
warning systems where people formally and informally create social connections
to warn that the nasty boss is coming. Or that the boss is in
a particularly bad mood. I’ve actually got a lot of emails about
this, and there’s stories in the press. But a great example of this is an old, not
that old, Sandra Bullock movie where she plays a really nasty **** publisher who
is despised by all of her coworkers. She runs around and yells at people,
and belittles people. And so they had an early warning system,
so the movie is called The Proposal. So what happened was that her
assistant figured out that she was going to be coming and
visiting another building, another room. So that’s what the email that was sent,
the witch is on her broom. This sort of warning that,
if you will, there’s an incoming ****. So sometimes those things can help. All right, I think that’s
enough avoidance techniques. Now let me talk about ones
that are really powerful for reducing the negative effect of somebody
who treats you like dirt on yourself without really changing the asshole’s
behavior or your situation at all. So this is Dr. Aaron Beck. He’s the modern founder of something
called cognitive behavioral therapy, which is the most widely used evidence
based therapy actually in the world. And a lot of what happens in cognitive
behavioral therapy is, rather than just changing your situation, you reframe
and essentially change your perception. So that things that are driving
you crazy and making you sick and making you anxious, you reframe them so
they’re less upsetting, even good things. So, let me give you a few
examples that are kind of loosely drawn from cognitive
behavioral therapy. So one thing that happens in cognitive
behavioral therapy, you’ll recode the threat as less nasty, threatening,
upsetting than you did before. So let me give you a couple of examples
of where I’ve seen this is my work and my research. So, one of the heroes of my book,
her name is Becky Margiotta. Becky’s just a magnificent human being, one of the most accomplished social
activists I’ve ever met in my life. Becky actually led a campaign called The
100,000 Homes Campaign that found homes for more than 100,000 homeless Americans. She’s a woman who can get stuff done. So Becky in the 1980s went to West Point,
the US Military Academy. She was one of the get women in
the early days at West Point. And if you know anything about West Point
or in fact any military academy, there’s a lot of hazing the first year. So Becky, she’s a first year plebe, and
the typical thing that would happen, I love the way she describes it, is that
so it’s 9 o’clock in the morning and an upper class cadet walks up to her and
gets in front of her nose and says, repeat the major headlines
of the New York Times today. This morning. This is a standard hazing. So she said you go and you try and repeat
it and of course you got it wrong and they’d scream at you and tell you what
an idiot you were one inch from your nose. So she said the first couple
of weeks she’d get all upset. But then she came out with the strategy of
just seeing them as this sort of brilliant people who were really really funny. Who really weren’t hurting her, they were sort of a performance
she was watching in the theater. And you can see, this idea sort
of not having it be that bad. And that’s one of the things
that helped her get through and she became very successful. She was involved in special operations. Had a very successful military career. Bill collectors, years ago in the 90s, I did some anthropological research
on telephone bill collectors. The people who call us when you’re
late on your Visa and MasterCard. And one thing that we were taught, when we
get a screamer, somebody would threaten us, they would yell at us, a lot of
the whole culture was, afterwards, you debrief with your fellow collectors. And they would all say the same thing,
that’s nothing, you should have seen what happened to me. Standard sort of solution. Okay, that’s one. Another one, one I kind of like,
is when somebody is nasty and abusive and all this sort of stuff, rather than to sort of lessen
the degree to which it hurts you, is rather than getting angry with them,
then feel sorry for them and forgive them. So, some of the expressions here as
you say to yourself if you’ve got a jerky boss. She’s like a porcupine
with a heart of gold. Maybe there’s some good in there. I heard this on Google years ago, he’s
like the guy with a bad user interface but a good operating system. And the key thing here about having
sympathy, having forgiveness for somebody who treats you badly is even
if you don’t change your behavior, there’s all sorts of evidence that
when you can forgive people and have some distance, it does less harm
to you because you don’t ruminate it. You’re not obsessed with it. So in some ways, one way to blunt
the effect of an **** who even wants to hurt you is to
forgive that person anyway. Another one which is kind of related,
this is the Michelle Obama, when they go low we go high, philosophy. Is this notion that,
when people treat you like dirt. That you rise above it and say you’re
not going to stoop to that level. And when we’re in the course of
doing the research for the book, I ran into a guy named Jacob Jabber. Jacob Jabber is a CEO of a coffee chain
that’s mostly out here on the West Coast called Phil’s Coffee. They’re infiltrating other places
like Washington, DC and the like. And they’re really into this notion that
they make you this custom cup of coffee. And you have this relationship
with your barista. Jacob calls it cups of love. And he said his perspective was, our view
is that if a customer is nasty to you, you throw the kindness back to them. You kill them with kindness. So one of my students,
I hired her and she went out and did a bunch of interviews with Phil’s
coffee folks, and sure enough, you can see the quotes here,
their whole culture was, essentially, to not to stoop to the level of customers
and to kill them with kindness. Because acting like that is beneath them. So that’s another kind
of interesting strategy. Then two more, two of my favorite ones. This one probably is one of the strongest
evidenced based approaches if you’re dealing with somebody who’s a jerk,
to create some distance between you and them to a little imaginary time travel,
they call this temporal distancing. There’s three laboratory based studies
that show whether it’s something like breaking up from a long term relationship,
having trouble with the tests, that people who think about it in terms of
how they’re going to feel about it a week from now, a month from now,
or a year from now. Rather than focusing
on how upset they are, they tend to suffer much less upset
anxiety, depression and so on. And when it comes to **** this is one
of the things I would see over and over again as a coping strategy and
one of my favorite ones, I guess I’m doing a lot
of military academy ones. Is the guy wrote me when he attended the
air force academy and he was being hazed, because we know this is part of the thing,
you’re being hazed. He said he would look past them, and he’s
imagined it was three years from then and he was in his plane flying. And this was nothing to get through to
be able to have the privilege of flying the plane, and it worked for him. So a little imaginary time
travel can be very powerful. Finally, in a lot of what I’m talking
about, there’s ways to become more emotionally detached and distant from
the person who’s treating you like dirt, and they call these reframing sometimes,
emotional detachment strategies. They’re called all sorts of ways and you
can sort of see it in that air force plea trainee that I was just talking about. He would find a way to do
emotional distance, but one of my favorite ones comes actually
from a Stanford administrator I know who is one of the most serene people
at dealing with well, I hate to admit it, we’re sitting here at Stanford around
the table with multiple people, but we do have a few ****. Maybe fewer than other organizations but
we got them. So anyhow, so what this guy does, I almost
used his name, that would be terrible. And I study these people he doesn’t. As he says he imagines when he goes
into one of these meetings that he’s a doctor who specializes in studying
different breeds of assholism. Of observing their behavior,
of categorizing them and what he does is, when somebody is nasty, instead of
getting upset, he says to himself, I’m so lucky to see such a fascinating
specimen of this rare behavior close up. And it actually worked. So this idea of finding some ways
to distance, and this person, it’s amazing how skilled he is at this. So that’s one you might use, that I should
use, but I don’t because I study ****. Okay, so what we’re going to do,
so get your questions in, we’re going to talk for
about five minutes about fighting back. Five or six minutes, then I’ll wrap up, and then I’m
just dying to hear your questions. So if you were in this situation where
there are people who are treating you like dirt, making the decision about whether or
not to fight back or somehow or another change the behavior is
something I encourage people to do but with proper precautions. And some of the things you
might want to think about. How much power do you have relative
to the person who you’re at war with. If you’re the boss and
have the power to fire the **** hole. It’s your company you have all the assets,
you can probably fire them. If it’s a situation where
Here the boss is after you, there’s senior, powerful people after you,
there’s a powerful coalition. In that case, you gotta watch it, and maybe you might get more power by causing,
or by forming a posse of people. But you really gotta be careful. Documentation? All sorts of evidence, both for
legal reasons and just for making the case that the better
documentation you have, the better able you are to
fight back against that jerk. And just to give you
an example of a recent case, a former Stanford undergrad
I actually met years ago. A woman named Gretchen Carlson. Some of you,
many of you probably know this story. She worked for Fox News. She also, the reason I knew her,
she was an undergraduate, is one of my students was dating her. And she became Miss America. So he did very well in
the Stanford dating pool. So anyway. So Gretchen, years later, so
she’s working at Fox News and Roger Ailes, then the president of Fox News,
was constantly propositioning her and sexually harassing her. What she did was she
got her iPhone out and she recorded him hitting on her and
making threats and so on. So she had very good documentation. One thing I should warn you, if you are in
the state of State of California it is unlawful to record people
without their permission. But if you’re in New York it’s legal. And there’s also options, the harder
you fight back, my advice is the more, the better if you can
afford to not have the job. If you got other jobs lined up,
that’s great. But if it’s going to cost
you feeding your family or paying your mortgage be a little careful. So those are some warnings. Let’s talk a little bit about
different ways to fight back. One is, and this is especially if
you’re dealing with somebody who is an unintentional kind of ****. I call it clueless rather
than strategic ****, who wants to be good but
isn’t quite getting it. Pulling that person aside and saying,
you’re hurting my feelings, or you’re being obnoxious, please stop. So one of my favorite examples,
this was actually at one of our SCPD, Stanford Executive Programs,
I was talking some about jerks, and this woman comes up to me, she was an
executive vice president and she says to me, so I had this great incident with
my CEO last week where we had meetings. There’d be two of us. There’s two women, four men,
all executive vice presidents. And what would happen was, and
there’s lots of research on gender and interruptions, the male CEO was
constantly interrupting the two women, never interrupting the other four men. So they carefully, they did a count,
they brought the male CEO the evidence and said, look what you’re doing. You’re being sexist. He was horrified. He felt terrible about himself and
he changed his behavior. In fact, he would ask them to count and
keep doing it. Now, this is sort of the best possible
situation because this is, if you will, a clueless, rather than a strategic ****. But a lot of times it’s good
to assume good intentions. There are other types of jerks,
other types of **** who, well they’re doing it on purpose and
they want you to suffer. I mentioned the Machiavellian ****. Those kind of people are, in particular,
research on Machiavellian is that if you’re nice to some
of these Machiavellian, they take it as a sign that you’re
a doormat and they can keep pushing. And if you’ve got somebody
like that it maybe biting back aggressively might be worthwhile. And so one of my famous stories,
another email I got, is this woman wrote me about
this major **** she worked with. He was a retired US Army Major who was
constantly berating her and getting nastier and nastier and nastier until as
it says, she gave him a hard stare very loudly and told him that such behavior was
absolutely unacceptable and he backed off. But a lot of it depends is, one of my
mottos, I guess, is know your ****. Different **** require
different sorts of approaches. Here’s another one, speaking of knowing
your ****, so this is a CEO I met, I can’t name the company. But he’s actually very proud of this
incident and very successful CEO. In the 1980’s he built, he was CEO
of a company that had a great IPO, very successful,
all of you would have heard of it, but he was really kind of a rough guy who was
really tough on his top management team. And he had, and
he told me this whole story. He approved it. We’ve talked to other members of his team. This is fact check. And what happened was he had
a penchant for vegetable insults. So here’s two of his favorite insults,
you are dumber than a head of lettuce and the average zucchini
could figure that out. So this guy, I won’t use his name,
keeps insulting his team. So what they do to get back at him and
send a message, can you be a little more civilized? So that’s the boardroom of
the aforementioned company in the 80s, he showed up and in everybody’s place
was a lettuce head with hats and sunglasses- that’s his lettuce
head at the front of the table. They made them t-shirts,
they all laughed about it, but it delivered the message to this obnoxious
CEO, can you turn it down a little bit? And he said to me, before I would start
doing another vegetable insult I would laugh and think about the t-shirt I was
wearing or what happened that day and it got me to calm down. So I like that story. All right. So, one thing also,
in many of the organizations you’re in, you can use the system to defeat jerks. The example here, because I always like to make sure that
I’m equal opportunity of both female and male ****, is there’s this guy, or
this woman, sorry, Captain Holly Graf. She was given command of
a very large navy cruiser and was one of the fastest rising
young officers in the U.S. Navy. But word kept coming out that she was
extremely abusing, yelling at, belittling, hollering, and swearing at,
and also exploiting, I think that she had some of the officers
mowing her lawn and doing stuff like that, and cleaning your house too,
some stuff like that. Anyhow, so what happened was that it was
reported, there was an investigation and she wasn’t fired, but
she was removed from her command and given less responsibility, so
that’s a case where it actually works. I also do tend, before we move to wrap up,
is I wish I could tell you that HR or even the law was your friend, but
you’ve got to be very careful, because in many organizations,
HR is not your friend. And if you go to the system, they’re going to protect the more
powerful person rather than you. So, if you will,
knowing the system you’re in and how much power the person
has is really important. And, in particular,
this is something also I should emphasize, this guy named Gary Namie who runs
the Workplace Bullying Institute and he points out that it’s legal in all 50 US
states to be an equal opportunity ****. So if you’re being discriminated against
or abused because you’re a woman, you’re a minority, you’re some
other protected class, or disabled, you’ve got a better case. But even then,
if you go through a legal process, it’s always important to remember if you
start getting deposed and everything, very often they will drag
your name through the mud. And even if you win, in the process,
you may suffer quite a bit. So I’m a big believer in yeah,
sometimes you can use the system, but don’t trust it completely because it
can turn pretty ugly and turn on you. Okay, let’s move to wrap ups. My general view of wrap up is that if
you are dealing with workplace jerks, your job is to be part of the solution,
not part of the problem. And that’s something we’ve all
gotta take responsibility for. And this chart might be
a little hard to read. It was just in a Wall Street Journal
article that I wrote, but the key thing that comes out of this,
let me give you the headline. When you look at national
surveys of bullying, there’s numbers that don’t add up. About 50% of Americans report
that they have been victimized or observed Repeated bullying over time. Less than 1%, about one half of 1% are willing to
admit that they have been the bully. So, and this is back to this notion
that we have very bad self awareness and us human beings are very bad at
admitting we do things wrong, and there’s great evidence. Because of our lack of self awareness,
the worst way to figure out if somebody is a bully or an **** is to ask them, because
we all have such bad self awareness. The best way, if you are one, or if you want to find out if somebody else
is one is to ask the people around them. And in particular,
if you want to contain your inner jerk, one of the best things you can do
is to have close relationships. Family members, mentors, coworkers who’ve
known you forever, the people who will pull you aside and tell you, you
are blowing it, you are not being so nice. And one of my favorite examples,
a great historical couple, Clementine and Winston Churchill. They were married for years, and what part
of Clementine’s job was to tell Winston the truth and keep him under control. And there’s this great letter
that one of my doctoral students, Joachim Lyon, sent me. So it’s 1940, it’s the darkest hours of
World War II, England’s being bombed, this was around the period of Dunkirk,
if you saw that film. And so Clementine writes this letter to
Winston Churchill which basically says, you’re acting like a jerk, Winston. So I love this. One of the men in your entourage,
a devoted friend, has been to me. And told me that there is a danger
of your being generally disliked by your colleagues and subordinates
because of your rough, sarcastic, and overbearing manner. My Darling Winston, I love the darling,
I must confess that I have noticed a deterioration in your manner, and
you are not so kind as you used to be. And then, by the way, she went on
with this whole mini-theory later on. That if you do this, people will be
afraid to challenge you with the truth. So I love that letter. Okay, one more quick thing and
we’re there. So if I would have sort of a mantra,
it’s this notion that it’s on you when it comes to dealing with ****
problems, and you’re not alone. So what you’re doing is you’re
kind of in a world where you have to work with others to solve your problems
and to avoid imposing it on them. And so the reason I have
the picture of the two porcupines, there’s a little story that ends
the book that E.O. Wilson wrote about. It came to him from a friend of his. And what it described was
there was a cold night, and there was a bunch of porcupines. And they were all cold, and when they
all sort of slid close together and got too close,
they’d poke each other and it hurt. That didn’t work, so then they slid so
far apart that they were cold. And what they did was they spent the night
getting just exactly the right distance where they could have warmth
without hurting each other. And what they, from then on, called that
behavior was civility and good manners. And I kind of like that because we
go back to the **** survival stuff, my perspective is that we
all needed each other. We need to take responsibility,
and we’re not alone. And we’re sort of like those porcupines,
we’re kind of shoveling back and forth. And every now and then we have to
understand we poke each other. And every now and then we gotta understand
we gotta get a little closer to each other to help one another. Okay, so
that’s the end of my prepared remarks. I’m looking forward to your comments and
questions, and I’m excited to hear them.>>And now let’s get to the questions.>>[CROSSTALK] Okay, let’s start out. We got some really good ones coming in. Okay, first one,
what happens when the **** is your boss?>>Okay, well, so that’s a hard question. But if you look at research
on **** who drive us crazy, there’s an enormous amount of evidence
that bosses are the most troublesome ****. In fact,
the next person up the hierarchy for all of us is the person who makes our
lives wonderful or terrible or both. So a lot of **** bosses out there. And 80%, 75% of people identified
as **** in workplace studies are abusive supervisors,
really high number. So there’s lots of different
strategies that I’ve talked about in terms of how much power you have, do you have a posse, do you document,
do you just need to take it? So this is why you’ve gotta
formulate your own plan. But let me just tell you about
the evidence about the best way to fight an **** boss,
documentation and form a posse. All sorts of evidence, good anti-bullying
studies is the more people on your side and the more documentation
you have, that we get social support. And if you just go and complain
about your boss, well, I don’t know. If you’re Gretchen Carlson,
you got the recording, that might be enough in
the big-time lawyer. But for most of us,
that’s not going to work. And one of my favorite examples of this
was an email somebody wrote me years ago. It was an animal control officer and
they had a member, a fellow animal control officer constantly abusing them,
swearing at them, making racist comments. They go to the boss, they complain,
nothing would happen. So what they did was they formed, they put together what they
called the **** diaries. Each one of them for a two-week
period just recorded, with dates, all the different incidents and
all the horrible things this person did. As a group, the five or
six of them went to the boss. And then that person
was gone within a week. And that doesn’t usually happen, but there
you’ve got this idea of documentation and a posse. And a lot of it does depend
on the organization. There are some organization where
you can go to your boss’s boss, but you damn well better know
the political environment. That’s a dangerous thing to
do in some organizations.>>Advice, Bob, Here’s a good question. Many of our participants work
in distributed global teams. Can you give suggestions for managing
jerks when you’re not face to face?>>Yes, and in fact Pam Hinds,
who is one of our fellow faculty members. She’s got an I&E, one or
our new executive programs, she’s one of the world’s expert on this. So everything I know about this
I’ve learned from Pam Hinds, so look at Pam Hinds’s stuff. So here is what the research
on distributed team. And in fact,
even if you’re in the same big room and you’re working on slack all day and
you’re not talking to people, it’s just as bad as if people
are in other countries, by the way. So to the extent that you don’t
have eye contact with people and you don’t understand the context therein,
you are more likely to have problems. So the best thing you can do, and
Pam Hinds has all sorts of evidence. If you’re in a distributed team, especially at the beginning of the
project, if you can meet them even once, face to face, before the project begins,
that really helps. And the other kind of stuff that Pam talks
about when you do stuff that’s distributed is it seems like it’s wasting time,
but it’s not. So I don’t know, if you’re in Germany,
you’re on a phone call with somebody from India, and
then maybe there’s somebody in Chicago or something like that,
take two or three minutes. So there’s evidence to support this. Ask them where they’re sitting,
ask them what the weather is like, ask them what their commute was like. Take a few minutes so to humanize and
to be able to get some empathy for them. But working in distributed
teams is really, really tough, but it’s something that we all need to do. And to go back to the slack example where
so many of us who work at home now. That almost all of us, even when we,
in theory, all work in the same office, we’re often essentially
working on distributed teams. And the big warning from the research is
whenever you don’t have eye contact, and this includes the telephone, so
what I’m doing to you right now. Whenever you don’t have eye contact
with the people you’re working with, that’s when people start getting nastier
and start having empathy problems.>>That’s great. So here’s a good question that
actually I’m curious about as well. From reading your book, why are you so
obsessed with toxic enablers.>>[LAUGH] Toxic enablers, thank you.>>Toxic enablers, tell us about that.>>Thank you, thank you, sure. So toxic enablers, so
I’ve got this whole thing about, I don’t want you to be part of
the solution, I mean part of the problem, I want you to be part of the solution. And for all of this, this notion that’s
on you and you’re not alone, it’s on us, you’re not alone. But what happens in
organizational settings? And so a lot of people who are out there
in companies, and the private sector, politics and so on who aren’t ****,
but they clear the way for them. And they make it possible. And so my last book, The No **** Rule,
where I actually have a chapter, the virtues of ****. And I have a set of guidelines. If you want to be an effective ****. Make sure you’ve got somebody
to clean up after you, sort of like after
the parade comes to town, the people who sort of like clean up
the poop and the paper and everything. And old research by Peter Frost,
University of British Columbia. He identified these people,
toxic enablers, toxic handlers, who after the boss would scream at people,
after the boss would be abusive. What the toxic handler would do,
would go from office to office and tell the people who in this case he
abused, really he’s not that bad a guy, he’s not that mad, he’ll cool down later. And then,
the other part of the toxic enabler, that they do is when the **** says,
was I that bad? The toxic enabler, since there’s a lot
of **** kissing involved in this, says, no no, you weren’t really that bad,
and I talked to them, they’re not really that upset. So, what you’re doing is,
you may not be a jerk yourself, but you may be enabling somebody who
is doing all sorts of distraction. And it’s an interesting,
sort of weird role. And as I said, unfortunately,
the other side [LAUGH] if you want to be a successful jerk, hire yourself
a confident top high-strict enabler. So I hate to bring that up, but it’s true.>>[LAUGH] So how do you, very quickly how
do you determine if you’re dealing with a natural ****, or one who’s just been
created by negative workplace dynamics.>>This question is sort of
>>Are **** sort of made or born?>>They do.>>So there is some evidence that people
who were bullies in high school go on to become bullies in the workplace and
they spend more time in prisons and all sorts of stuff. But I’m actually glad
you asked that question, because one thing I don’t think I’ve
emphasized enough in this talk is that there’s all sorts of situations that turn
almost all of us into temporary ****. And if you look at modern life, if
you’re in a situation where your rushed, if it’s crowded or if it’s hot, if you are around other people who
are jerky, and income disparities. So we’re in this income and status
disparity And to me the perfect analogy is getting on a modern airplane with first
class and all of the different statuses. United Airlines which
unfortunately I have to fly a lot. They have everything from business class,
first class to the obsolete I think you can’t even put luggage in the overhead
compartment for the cheapest seats. And so what they do is they create
these status dynamics that sort of a microcosm of modern life. So, to me there’s two parts. One is you may have some deep-seeded
personality characteristics like narcissism. That make you very thin skinned and
very nasty but you just might be in situations where
there is just, anybody would be a jerk. And there is some great experiments
done with seminary students. So this is like, the people
are training to be in the clergy. And they put them in situations
where they’re in a rush and there’s somebody lying on
the street who seems to be dying. When in a rush, they don’t stop and
help them because they’re in a rush. So, being in a hurry was one of the most
reliable way to turn into a jerk. But, yeah,
you might have personality problems. But beware of situations that can
turn almost anybody into a jerk.>>All right, thank you so much, Bob. I have to say we have a lot of
questions we weren’t able to get to. You can absolutely see the value
of getting time with for experts like Bob here, and we just want to
thank you so much for joining us today. We hope you enjoyed the hour, and that you’re better equipped now to
handle any jerks in your workplace. And we encourage you again, to check out
all of our offerings at And again, you’ll receive a recording of this webinar
to share with your friends and colleagues. We wish you a great rest of the day.