Reading the No Asshole Rule So You Don’t Have To: Suppressing the Inner Asshole
If you are an academic or a high-level hamster, you’re probably smart and talented. Yet the smart and talented can also be infected with the asshole virus. The rule of thumb is that talent is not an excuse for assholery. Receiving a bunch of awards doesn’t mean you don’t have to act like a normal human being. Alas, Bob Sutton warns, ” Beware that giving people–even seemingly nice and sensitive people–even a little power can turn them into big jerks.” Yes, you could be an asshole, but it doesn’t have to be that way if you know how to conduct yourself.
Don’t get personal. Ever. Focus on arguing about ideas. Work is about completing a task in a successful fashion, not about winning or losing. If you screw up or drop the ball because you want to show up someone else or make a point, chances are good you’ll both lose your jobs or your funding. Was winning an argument or proving a point worth it?
Watch how you treat those with less power than you. Sutton says that a person’s true colors shine when they interact with those who are lower on the totem pole: “… the difference between how a person treats the powerless versus the powerful is as good a measure of human character as I know.” It might seem easy to yell at an intern or a grad student because you think you are teaching them a lesson, but what you’re really teaching them is that you’re an asshole.
More after the jump! Screengrab from the movie “Viva Zapata!” Image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.
Create a workplace that doesn’t showcase a power differential. A workplace wouldn’t function if some people didn’t have more power than others, but, in a good workplace, those with power don’t show it off. Sutton writes, “Accept that your organization does have and should have a pecking order, but do everything you can to downplay and reduce unnecessary status differences among members.” You can tell a person what to do, but you don’t have to scream at them, call them stupid or humiliate them publicly.
Admit that you’ll be an asshole every now and then. No one’s perfect, and if you have ideas worth defending, you might accidentally hurt someone’s feelings. You don’t have to admit you were wrong or say something you don’t believe, but you can apologize for being rude.