Recommended Reading - The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t

By David Witmer posted 07-09-2017 09:50



I originally wrote this post in 2010, but was concerned the title might offend some so it was never posted. In my last blog posting, I discussed the dangers of confusing confidence with competence. As I observe many current “leaders” in various industries and in our various elected government officials I have been thinking more about the lessons from Robert Sutton’s 2007 book. In defining the term, Sutton has a “Dirty Dozen - twelve everyday actions that Assholes use.” These are:

  1. Personal insults
  2. Invading one’s “personal territory”
  3. Uninvited physical contact
  4. Threats and intimidation, both verbal and nonverbal
  5. “sarcastic jokes” and “teasing” used as insult delivery systems
  6. Withering email flames
  7. Status slaps intended to intimidate their victims
  8. Public shaming or “status degradation” rituals
  9. Rude interruptions
  10. Two-faced attacks
  11. Dirty looks
  12. Treating people as if they are invisible

Much of his book really focuses on bullying and intimidation. He lays out the tremendous personal damage inflicted by “assholes”, the negative impacts of failing to confront such behaviors, and provides examples of how organizations have benefitted from weeding out such destructive personalities. We would do well to consider the wisdom of his simple rule and make more of an effort to identify real leaders and weed out bullies. The book is still available on Amazon today and is worth adding to your reading list. While the thrust of this piece was to originally to reflect on the then new ASHP policy on abusive and disruptive behaviors in the workplace, it may be even more timely today. I am sharing the post below as it was originally drafted in 2010, but encourage you to think more broadly about whether we are choosing leaders wisely and whether Sutton’s Rule is worthy of broader implementation.

Original Post Follows:

OK, I know what you’re all thinking. Witmer has lost it! You can’t say that on the ASHP web site! Relax, I’m not one of those bloggers whose purpose in life is to call everyone else an _____; well, you fill in the blank. In reality, I am currently reading an interesting book that my neighbor gave to me entitled, you guessed it, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t. It’s not a new book, but is an interesting and at times entertaining look at the subject. And it’s not a joke. The book is a New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Business Week bestseller and won a Quill Award for the top business book of 2007. The book is based on an essay of the same name originally published in the Harvard Business Review. So, while I would not normally use profanity in our professional communications, I figured if all of these renowned publications have used the title in print, then it should be OK here at ASHP. We’ll soon see….

And it did get your attention, didn’t it? I think that is exactly what the author intended; to reinforce that we recognize inappropriate behavior in others but fail to address it. The author is Robert Sutton, a Ph.D. who is a professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University. Given the recent attention to the problem of abusive and disruptive behaviors in the workplace and ASHP’s adoption last year of new policy on this issue (POLICY 0919 - INTIMIDATING OR DISRUPTIVE BEHAVIORS ) I thought it would be worth sharing this resource.

This book is not a policy primer on how to implement and enforce disruptive behavior polices in the workplace, but it does provide insights into the nature of bullying, its impact on the workplace, and strategies on how to implement the rule starting with how to avoid hiring “A-Holes.” There is an entertaining “self-test” for those who are interested (or perhaps worried). It also includes a section of surviving “nasty people and workplaces.”

This book also caused me to reflect on the fact that frequently pharmacists are described as “too nice.” I often hear pharmacists described by others (both pharmacists and non-pharmacists) as having a tendency to avoid confrontation. One interesting section of the book that seems applicable is “teaching people how to fight,” which describes how Intel educates its employees to develop a skill set focusing on conflict of ideas and avoiding conflicts that are emotional, relationship-based, or interpersonal.

So you’re probably asking what was the lesson for me? My take away was that eliminating disruptive behavior in the workplace requires honest commitment to practice a philosophy that weeds out unacceptable behavior. Simply developing an institutional policy and occasionally taking personnel action on the most flagrant abusers won’t really change the workplace. And as pharmacists we must learn to confront unacceptable and unprofessional behavior, both within and outside our profession.

I wonder if others have any interesting resources to share or have interesting stories of how your institution is managing this issue. Let us know!


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