Bob Sutton (@work_matters) is a Stanford Business School professor and author of New York Times bestseller The No Asshole Rule and, most recently, The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt.
What We Discuss with Bob Sutton:
- What is an a-hole, and why do they seem to be everywhere?
- Why a-holes do not finish first.
- What to do if you’re forced to work with an a-hole.
- How to spot the red flags that help you avoid dealing with a-holes in the first place — or know when it’s time to quit the a-holes who are already in your life.
- How to tell if maybe you’re the a-hole.
- And much more…
Like this show? Please leave us a review here — even one sentence helps! Consider including your Twitter handle so we can thank you personally!
Disrespectful and demeaning people do so much damage to others’ mental and physical health and to the productivity and creativity of others. Tens of thousands of studies show such effects, and yet many in our culture still believe that these people — let’s call them assholes — finish first.
Today’s guest is Bob Sutton — author of New York Times bestseller The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t and, most recently, The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt; he joins the show to help us navigate our way around the assholes in our lives and, perhaps most important, avoid being the assholes others dread.
Listen to this episode of The Jordan Harbinger Show in its entirety to learn more about how many peer-reviewed academic articles about assholes have been published in the last decade, the different types of assholes, mind tricks that Bob says will “protect your soul,” how using humor and emotional detachment can help you withstand the biggest examples of assholeism that walk the earth, when it’s time to have a conversation with an asshole and when (and how) to fight back, how to use temporal distancing to get through unavoidable encounters with assholes, figuring out what triggers our own assholery, how to avoid being a toxic enabler who empowers assholes, and lots more. Listen, learn, and enjoy!
Please Scroll Down for Featured Resources and Transcript!
Sign up for Six-Minute Networking — our free networking and relationship development mini course — at jordanharbinger.com/course!
Need custom graphics, logos, or Web design? Access a community of 600,000+ designers by registering at designcrowd.com/jordan and enjoy up to $150 off with The Jordan Harbinger Show bonus offer!
Better Help offers affordable, online counseling at your convenience. If you’re coping with depression, stress, anxiety, addiction, or any number of issues, you’re not alone. Talk with a licensed professional therapist for 10 percent off your first month at betterhelp.com/jordan!
Feetures are engineered with targeted compression and anatomical design to create a custom-like fit and prevent the issues people have with conventional socks. Go to feetures.com and enter promo code JORDAN at checkout to get $10 off your first pair of Feetures!
Fiverr has a mission to change how the world works together by connecting businesses with freelancers offering digital services in 250+ categories. Whether you’re looking for new copy and a design for your website or a voicemail message in an exotic accent from a faraway land, Fiverr can deliver at a price you can afford. Go to Fiverr.com and use code JORDAN at checkout to get 10% off!
Miss the show we did with James Fallon — the psychiatry professor who can teach you how to spot a psychopath because he is a psychopath? Catch up here with episode 28: James Fallon | How to Spot a Psychopath!
THANKS, BOB SUTTON!
If you enjoyed this session with Bob Sutton, let him know by clicking on the link below and sending him a quick shout out at Twitter:
And if you want us to answer your questions on one of our upcoming weekly Feedback Friday episodes, drop us a line at email@example.com.
Resources from This Episode:
- The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt by Robert I. Sutton
- The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t by Robert I. Sutton
- Other Books by Bob Sutton
- Friction Podcast
- Bob Sutton | Website
- Bob Sutton | Twitter
- Cloudflare CEO on Terminating Service to Neo-Nazi Site: ‘The Daily Stormer Are Assholes’ | Gizmodo
- Does Social Exclusion Motivate Interpersonal Reconnection? Resolving the “Porcupine Problem” | Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
- Harvey Weinstein is an Asshole | Bantercast Episode 15
- Wow. The Defense of That Sexist Stanford GSB Video May Be Even More Sexist Than the Video | Pando
- Philz Coffee
Transcript for Bob Sutton | The A-hole Survival Guide (Episode 375)
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:00] Next up on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
Bob Sutton: [00:00:02] When people treat others like dirt, they're less productive. They make more errors, they're less creative. They tend to quit. They're less willing to go the extra mile. Sometimes, it might help the jerk to get ahead, on the whole, they're doing all sorts of damage.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:00:19] Welcome to the show. I'm Jordan Harbinger. On The Jordan Harbinger Show, we decode the stories, secrets, and skills of the world's sharpest minds and most fascinating people and turn their wisdom into practical advice that you can use to impact your own life and those around you. Our mission is to help you become a better informed, more critical thinker. So you can get a deeper understanding of how the world works and make sense of what's really happening even inside your own brain. If you're new to the show, we've got episodes with spies and CEOs, athletes and authors, thinkers and performers, as well as toolboxes for skills like negotiation, body language, persuasion, and more.
[00:00:53] So if you're smart and you like to learn and improve, you're going to be right at home here with us. For a selection of featured episodes to get you started with some of our favorite guests and popular topics, go to jordanharbinger.com and we'll hook you up. If you want to know how I managed to book all these great people, it's because I've got a crazy network and I'm teaching you how to do the same. Check out our Six-Minute Networking course, which is free. That's the plan it's going to be free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. By the way, most of the guests on the show, they subscribe to the course in the newsletter. Come join us, you'll be in smart company where you belong.
[00:01:25] On this episode — it's one from the vault — we're talking with my friend, Bob Sutton, author of The No Asshole Rule. He's got another book, The Asshole Survival Guide — if you're not sensing a theme here — How to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt. This guy was so nice. So obviously he's taking his own advice. That's all I got to say on that. You know you'd think that being around all this a-hole of reef would be a little painful. He's also a professor of management, science, and engineering, and a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford. So he's not just a nice guy. He's a smart, nice guy. And today we'll discover why a-holes actually do not finish first. We'll explore what to do. If you're forced to work with somebody who treats you poorly. And we'll uncover how to tell if maybe the a-hole in the office is actually you. There's a lot of practical strategies here on dealing with difficult people and there's even more in the worksheet for this episode. The worksheets can always be found at jordanharbinger.com/worksheets. They're right there on the website. For now, enjoy this episode with Bob Sutton.
[00:02:24] Robert, thank you for coming on the show. I know that you deal with a lot of a-holes, hence the title of your book. So I appreciate you putting up with two more. Jason came across your work because — actually Jason, how did you come across his work?
Jason DeFillippo: [00:02:38] I read the first book a long time ago and then, you know, I have basically a Google alert for a-holes. And it came across that the new book was coming out. So I said, "Hey, let's get him on the show because I loved the first book."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:02:51] If you have a Google alert for the word a-hole, you must have really interesting stuff in your inbox every morning.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:02:57] I'm just keeping an eye out for you, man. I got your back, man.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:03:01] All right. I appreciate it. So, of course, the new book, The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt, your other book, The No Asshole Rule took the world by storm. I say that slightly tongue-in-cheek. Everybody heard about that book probably because of the provocative title, but also the fact that everybody works with an a-hole here or there and often we have no way around it. It's common now to say things like, "Well, you know, if you work with people, you don't like to just switch jobs." Not exactly an ideal scenario because you could be in the C-Suite at Apple, are you going to quit because you don't like your boss' attitude? I mean, I'm sure it happened, but also people were stuck working with Steve Jobs and there are books written about this, right? So how did you begin to learn to navigate the minefield of working with people who treat you poorly?
Bob Sutton: [00:03:50] Well, I actually did not mean to get involved in this at all, since I mostly do stuff on leadership and innovation stuff, but after I wrote the first book — which was also sort of an accident — I thought the first book was about how to build a relatively a-hole-free work culture, so I talked about things like how to select employees, how to socialize them, how to give them feedback, who to fire, things like that. But the response to the book was that everywhere I went, both in person and especially over email, people would tell me their stories about the a-holes that they dealt with from a CEO of a local tech company here in Silicon Valley writing me and saying me, "What do I do about board holes or douche boards, nasty members of the board of directors to lawyers to people who work at Costco?" And they all asked the same question which is, "I'm dealing with an a-hole or a bunch of them; what do I do?" So I did two things. I collected all my emails and responses and then there's a pretty big peer-reviewed on all things a-hole. One of the most amazing things is although I don't specialize in all things a-hole, I kind of keep track of it and there's a good 200,000 peer-reviewed academic articles in the last decade about all aspects of jerks. It's just astounding. There's been an explosion in my behavioral science business.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:04] Right. So basically. Lots of us are working with jerks and lots of us don't know what to do given that body of work.
Bob Sutton: [00:05:12] It's amazing how little academic study, what to do. They mostly study all the ways and if you work with somebody who's rude to you, who bullies you, who yells at you, who treats you like you're invisible — what effect does it have on your physical health, your mental health, your productivity, then occasionally they'll sort of get into ways to fight back. So I talk about that a little bit or ways to cope with it. But it's really astounding how impractical my people are. We mostly just write about all the ways that being treated like dirt is terrible.
[00:05:40] The help for what to do is not always there. In the book, I combined both practical things that I've learned and seen and also some hints from the academic literature, so it's a combination of the two.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:05:50] So let's define this a little bit. Let me put myself in my dad's shoes here for a minute. Maybe not my dad, but just the dad's shoes. If I said in my 20s or 30s where I currently am, "Oh, I worked with this person in there such an a-hole." He'd probably say, "Well, that's just part of work." Is it bad? Or is it just something I need to suck it up and deal with it and there are people like that everywhere. So what?
Bob Sutton: [00:06:12] So we had different dads. My dad always told me not to work with a-holes, but he worked with plenty of them. So if you look at the range of research on abusive supervision, on abusive customers, on-air rage, you sort of go down the list, if you have regular exposure to somebody who leaves you feeling demeaned, disrespected, and de-energized — that's how I would kind of define an a-hole — you're more prone to anxiety, depression. If you have a boss who treats you like dirt over a long period of time, there are good studies that show you're more likely to have heart disease and a heart attack. There are other studies that show that you have sleep problems. There are other studies that show that your relationships will start degenerating with the people in your family and your close friends. So that's the wellbeing part. And then we can talk about if a-holes finish first, which I think they mostly don't, that when people treat others like dirt, they're less productive. They make more errors, they're less creative. They tend to quit. They're less willing to go the extra mile. So all sorts of evidence that although sometimes it might help the jerk to get ahead, on the whole, they're doing all sorts of damage
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:13] And everyone right now is going, "Oh my gosh. I work with a-holes." But also it's kind of a case study in "Oh crap, now I'm going to die 10 years younger because I work with a-holes and I haven't done anything about it up to now."
Bob Sutton: [00:07:26] There's lots of evidence that negative emotions are contagious. So they do these sorts of cool studies that show that nastiness spreads like a common cold. So if you're around people that treat you like dirt, you'll probably start treating other people like dirt too. So you will become what is making you sick. So that's the other part that's bad about it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:07:45] You know, I've noticed this. I noticed just from hanging around with certain people back in college, that I was a lot less nice than I was before. A lot of my friends are like, "Oh wait, how did that happen? You know, I haven't seen you in a while. Maybe you're really stressed out." And I thought, "I'm not, I just been hanging out with a-holes."
Bob Sutton: [00:08:02] So I've been teaching at Stanford for over 30 years now. And the advice that I always give my students when I see them is that when you interview for a job, look at the people at the workplace you're interviewing at, you will become like them. They are not going to become like you. Those forces are very powerful. You're very perceptive because that happens to all of us human beings.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:08:21] Wait a minute. I'm a positive person. I've got a great emotional balance. I'm working with these a-holes. How come they're not becoming great, healthy people with great emotional balance. How come I'm going in that direction? How come the river flows towards a-hole is I guess what I'm asking?
Bob Sutton: [00:08:37] The river does not just flow towards the a-hole. It flows towards who you're around. So let's just talk about one kind of cool little study. There was a study, some Harvard researchers did, they tracked 2000 people who were in a big company in an open office environment. And they actually rated toxic people and constructive stars. And what they found is. If you're within 25 feet as somebody who is a toxic person, on average, in a classic open office environment, your odds of becoming a toxic person yourself go up and your odds of being fired. That's the bad news. The good news is if you are within 25 feet of a constructive cooperative superstar, you will become more constructive and more cooperatives. Those who you lie or sit with that's who you're going to become. So there is a good news part about it, but be careful who you hang with, it's going to change you.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:22] Wow, but I think a lot of folks think, great, no problem. I can just choose to spend more time with these types of people or I can choose to elect qualities from these types of people. And I can try to block out these other types of people. And what you're saying is, "Nope, not really."
Bob Sutton: [00:09:36] I don't know whether everything is completely determined, but at the margin, you can decide who you hang with. You can decide who you work with. I hope we can also talk about if you're around people like this, it's not like you're this helpless person like, "Oh, I'm just going to get sick or turn into an a-hole." There are ways you can defend yourself. But one of the ways to defend yourself is to limit your contact with the worst people in your life.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:09:57] Get the heck out of there, yeah, because I think a lot of us feel like we can't get away from that. And part of the reason for that is that — maybe this is just an American thing, but I think it's probably a Western culture thing in general — a lot of people believe that a-holes finish first.
Bob Sutton: [00:10:12] So there are some people who — there's even been a book called A-holes Finished First, but if you actually look at the evidence — so there's a bunch of research by a guy named Adam Grant. The evidence is essentially that if you are in a world, there are some organizations that are like this. Microsoft used to be like this. They've actually changed. They've gotten better — where it's "I win, you lose," sort of game. If you are in a situation like that, probably the way you get ahead is by stabbing people in the backend, so zero-sum game.
[00:10:39] Most organizations, at least organizations that reward collaboration, that the people who get ahead are the people who help other people succeed. You know, some organizations I know, Pixar, The Cleveland Clinic in healthcare, McKinsey the consulting firm, Goldman Sachs — I don't have a lot of positive things to say about Goldman Sachs, but they do reward cooperation among their workers, not destructive competition. So a lot of it just depends on the game where you're at.
[00:11:06] And then to sort of go back, let's go back to the Steve Jobs myth, which you're talking about. So I'm somebody who even in The No Asshole Rule, I talked about Steve Jobs being an a-hole and stuff like that, but I got to know in the subsequent years, Ed Catmull. Ed Catmull is the precedent of both Pixar and Disney Animation Studios. He worked with Steve Jobs for 26 years. He met with him at least once a week for 26 years and Ed's argument is one nuance that is missed with Steve Jobs is he wasn't exactly a doormat in the last 15 years of his life. But he was pretty much of a flaming selfish a-hole in the early days of Apple. And then he got kicked out of Apple. He started NeXT and that failed and he sort of wandered in the wilderness and he came out a much more cooperative, collaborative, more sensitive, and empathetic human being. And that's the Steve Jobs who got famous. He didn't exactly become warm and fuzzy. It was at least the more civilized, less a-hole Steve Jobs who people really worship.
[00:12:04] I'm sitting here in Silicon Valley right now. You look at people like Reed Hastings of Netflix fame, or you want to pick somebody, Warren Buffet, who many of your listeners will know. There's a lot of people who are perfectly able to be successful and to still finish first. And my motto is that if you're a winner and an a-hole, you're still a loser in my book because what you've done in process of succeeding is you have damaged a whole bunch of people along the way. So why do you have to act like a jerk and damage others when it's still possible to get ahead? And I don't know the degree to which Jobs learned that lesson.
[00:12:39] Another story about jobs — this is not third-hand. This is firsthand. When a good friend of mine, David Kelly, got serious cancer and was in the Stanford Hospital for about two weeks and kept going back for treatment. And this was right during the first iPhone launch. It's not like Steve Jobs had anything to do. Steve Jobs would go to the hospital every day and see David. And him being Steve Jobs, he'd yell at the nurses a little bit on his behalf because he is Steve Jobs, right? But just simply labeling somebody like Steve, is this unsympathetic a-hole, well, he could be tough, but he was a complex person who did care about the people around him.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:13:12] This work also matters because literally tens of millions of people in the US and elsewhere are reporting things like workplace bullying, navigating nastiness. These things have consequences for your health, you covered that. But what I've also noticed, and I used to call this jokingly back in the day, the cycle of yelling because I would get yelled at, at work and I'd come back and yell at my colleagues and then they would yell at their girlfriends, and we'd be like, "What are we doing to each other? This is terrible." So we called it the cycle of yelling. The extreme example is a guy gets yelled at, at work by his boss who got yelled at by his boss. Guy goes home, yells at his wife, who yells at the kid, who kicks the dog.
Bob Sutton: [00:13:49] Right, redirected aggression, we call that an intro to psychology. Another thing about people who leave others, feeling demeaned, de-energized, and disrespected is that we tend to think of a stereotypical sort of boss with the veins bulging and screaming, but there are at least two other ways that people do dirty work, which are at least, and possibly more destructive.
[00:14:10] The second way is the classic backstabber. When I talked to the CEO who was talking about — so this guy is his subordinate and he was always kissing up to the boss. "Oh, boss, yes, boss. You're so smart. I can do that right away." And then he turned around badmouthing the boss, and would either not implement what he said he was going to do or do it badly to try to make the boss look bad. And backstabbers can come in all sorts of guises. And I always say I would much rather deal with somebody who yells and screams at me rather than somebody who smiles, kisses up, and tells me how wonderful I am, and then screws me behind my back. It's much more difficult to deal with that kind of person who — especially if they're socially skilled.
[00:14:47] And then there's a third kind of way in which people leave others feeling disrespected, which I think is also another problem. And especially powerful people will do this. They'll treat the human beings around them as if they're invisible or they're just objects to satisfy their needs as if they're not human beings. There are different ways to sort of cope with them, but it isn't just the screamers and yellers. There are other things that people do to leave the people around them feeling demeaned and de-energized.
[00:15:14] And my line always is if you're going to cope with a jerk or an a-hole, you've got to know you're a jerk or know you're a-hole to try to figure out the best way to manage the situation if you will. And this is one reason that I used this definition of somebody who leaves us feeling demeaned, de-energized, and disrespected, that some of that might be happening as well. We got thin skin. Maybe we're treating them like dirt and they're throwing it back. So you got to be a little careful about labeling everybody as an a-hole because there's a lot of reasons why it may happen. And you've got to sort of look at your motivation of maybe being a little bit too thin-skinned and a little bit touchy about it.
[00:15:48] And by the way, if somebody is leaving you feeling physically and mentally ill and you're having trouble sleeping and you're having trouble being productive, you've got a problem you've got to deal with, even if it's not their fault. I tend to call people a-holes who don't do what I want either, but then I have to catch myself.
Peter Oldring: [00:16:05] You were listening to The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Bob Sutton. We'll be right back.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:16:11] This episode is sponsored in part by Design Crowd. There are plenty of reasons you might need to hire the services of a designer. Perhaps you need a logo for your business. You want a little personalized stationery. Maybe you need to include some infographics and your podcast show notes. Here's how DesignCrowd works. First, you go to designcrowd.com/jordan, D-E-S-I-G-N-C-R-O-W-D.com/jordan. You post a brief describing the design that you need and DesignCrowd invites 750,000 designers to respond to your request. Within hours, you get your first design. Over the next week, a typical project will get 60 to more than a hundred different designs from designers around the world. You pick the one you like best, and if you hate all of them, money-back guarantee NBD. 60 to 100 designs within the week. You pay for the one that you like. Peter.
Peter Oldring: [00:16:57] Right now, listeners of The Jordan Harbinger Show will receive up to $150 off their design project. By going to designcrowd.com/jordan, D-E-S-I-G-N-C-R-O-W-D.com/jordan, or just enter the promo code JORDAN when posting a project.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:17:17] This episode is also sponsored by Better Help. We live in extraordinary times. And if you're struggling with stress, anxiety, depression, you are not alone and Better Help offers licensed professional counselors who are trained to listen and to help. And you know what doesn't help your anxiety — should you have any — is trying to find a therapist, going through crazy people on Yelp who actually just make the whole process even more confusing. With Better Help, you fill out a questionnaire. You get matched in a couple of days with a counselor. You can change the counselor if you want to. You can do secure video, phone, chat, whatever with your therapist, unlimited messages, and it's affordable. Peter, tell them where they can try it out.
Peter Oldring: [00:17:53] Better Help is an affordable option. And our listeners get 10 percent off your first month with discount code JORDAN. Join the over one million people taking charge of their mental health with the help of an experienced professional. In fact, so many people have been using Better Help that they are recruiting additional counselors in all 50 states. Get started today at betterhelp.com/jordan. That's better-H-E-L-P.com/jordan. Talk with a therapist online and get help.
[00:18:21] And now back to Bob Sutton on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:18:26] Well, how do we know if we're just thin-skinned or if we're actually dealing with an a-hole? I think we've got to start there because there's a lot of people that go, "I work with a-holes." And then I know plenty of people who tell me all the time. "This person screwed me over in this way. This person screwed me over in that way." And I thought, "Man, you work at the worst place." And then guess what happened? I got a text from his sister who I was friends with forever and it was like, "Actually, now he's mad at you." And I thought, "What are you talking about? How am I being an a-hole?" And then I realized from his perspective, every single person in his life is terrible and he's a victim.
Bob Sutton: [00:19:00] I liked your story because it's got the two diagnostics to sort of figure out whether it's you or whether it's them or both. To me, the first diagnostic is if everywhere you go, everybody is an a-hole. This is a sign that you've got a problem. You've got one of two problems. One is that you're too thin-skinned. The other one is when you throw shit, people throw it back at you. So I think you got the diagnostic. The second one is — gosh, researchers have a lot of evidence to support this — it's amazing how bad we human beings are at recognizing our own weaknesses, including being an a-hole and you had it in your story too. So having somebody in your life who can tell you the truth and maybe just tell your friends the truth is very important. The ability of people to recognize when they're being jerks is really, really limited. The two ways to tell it: everybody's an a-hole. Well, that's a sign that you've got a problem. And the other one is who in your life can tell you the truth that you trust.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:19:54]Well, how do we figure out what to do? Okay, great. I know I work with a-holes. Great. Tell me something. I don't know. Now, what do I freaking do?
Bob Sutton: [00:20:01] The first thing is I wish there was one-size-fits-all strategies. There are a few things that you might want to think about. I'll get to the main strategies in a minute, but there are a few things you might want to think about. One is, what kind of a-hole am I dealing with? Am I dealing with what I call a temporary or certified a-hole? If you're dealing with somebody who's just having a bad day, well, you just kind of avoid them for a little while. If day in and day out, they're treating you and others like dirt, you got a different sort of problem. The second thing that I always say that it's essentially, are you dealing with one person who's a jerk? Or for you in a Lord of the Flies situation where it's just a-holes everywhere? You got a different sort of problem.
[00:20:39] One of the most important determinants of what you do is how much power you have. So one of the heroes of the book is a guy named Paul Purcell. He's CEO of a company called Baird that has a no a-hole rule. Well, he fires a-holes. It's good to be king. If you can fire them, that's great. Most of us don't have that option.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:20:58] Do you remember Cloudflare who kicked the Nazi a-holes off their service? He was the king of the, "Yeah. I don't like a-holes on my service. Get out."
Bob Sutton: [00:21:07] So isn't that great. I mean, it's great to be king, right. So if you can do it, go for it. It's both to have both courage and power. So after a while, thinking about that stuff, to me, there's kind of four different options we probably should talk about that, that you kind of got to play off. One is, "Can I get out?" The second one is, "Well, if I can't get out, can I create some distance or just learn to take it?" That's kind of two and three. And then the final one is fighting back. "Can I change the situation?"
[00:21:34] So we can start if you want with getting out. My motto is if you've got a co-worker, a boss, an organization that customer who is treating you like dirt, can you just leave the situation? So that is if you've got somebody who is berating you, can you find another job? And I don't believe in the Johnny Paycheck, Take This Job and Shove It. I believe in leaving in such a way you can get a good recommendation, perhaps. Perhaps you might sort of lie and wait, but making that decision of, "Can I find another job?" is really important. With clients and customers — a lot of your listeners will have clients and customers — sometimes you just got to take it because they're so important to your livelihood. A lot of times you can fire them or pass them on to someone else.
[00:22:22] There was a wine buyer in Berkeley, who I had some conversation with some years ago. He used to describe how, basically in his business, you either could be an a-hole or somebody who didn't pay, but if you were both, you were gone. So I kind of liked that sort of decision making. The first set of questions is basically, "Can I quit? And can I leave the scene?" And if he can't, I recommend that you get out.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:22:44] You're wasting mental faculty and stress having to deal with it. So ideally you just surgically remove yourself from the situation if possible. But if you can't, then you've got to make some other determinations in it. In The Asshole Survival Guide, you've got some different types of a-holes. Can we talk about these types? Because I think it's very easy to say, "Oh, well, my boss was a total a-hole last week, so now I have to quit my job." That doesn't seem right. There are different levels here.
Bob Sutton: [00:23:12] Right, so let's start out with temporary versus certified. If you've got a boss who's just having a bad day or a co-worker or client, and they yell at you — I actually have an example of me sort of like giving one of my friends a bunch of grief because I was having a bad day in the book. Well, that's not just a serious situation, but if you're facing it day in and day out, that's a sign that maybe you should get out, or at least you got to take more extreme measures to fight back. That to me is one of the important distinctions that you have to make this idea of strategic versus clueless a-holes is one that's really important.
[00:23:46] My wife was managing partner of a large law firm, so that means that part of having a lot of lawyers reporting to you, or you have to oversee is that you deal with their a-hole problems and she would always make the determination, is it somebody who thinks that the reward system that we have here is such that if I treat people like dirt, I'm going to get ahead? Well, that was a much different conversation — usually about money, by the way — than the ones who were unintentionally ignoring people are treating people like dirt. For those folks, sometimes simple self-awareness was enough to get them to change their behavior. You know, to say you realize that you've been interrupting people constantly in meetings, you've been treating people like they've been invisible, people like that would be a much different, sort of if you will a-hole strategy than ones who were strategic.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:24:31] Right. Okay. Because it has to do with ignorance versus people who are trying to proactively figure out how to screw you over.
Bob Sutton: [00:24:37] So the psychologists say people who have Machiavellian personality are the classic people that when they see you suffer their brain lights up. And if you're dealing with somebody like that, ooh, you've got to fight back or you got to get the hell out. Those are the two main options.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:24:52] Yeah, let's talk about fighting back, because what about the, for real certified, trying to figure out how to make your life miserable a-hole.
Bob Sutton: [00:25:01] So from what I can tell, when you're in a situation like that, you've got to decide whether you can do open warfare and win — so that's my big motto is, you don't fight unless you have a reasonable chance to win. If you don't have immediate power, you perhaps put together a posse — a bunch of people to fight back, all sorts of evidence that the more people on your side, the better you do. And also documentation is very important. So that's the kind of stuff you need to increase your odds of winning. In terms of the classic person who is trying to get ahead by treating you like dirt and thinks it's going to work, there's this thing called porcupine power. That some psychologists talk about. The notion that if somebody is pushing you and treating you like dirt, if you sort of return their fire to some degree, they realize you're not a weak person. You're not somebody who is just a doormat. So if you're dealing with that classic sort of person, you should figure out what your options are, but shooting back is a good idea.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:25:54] Of course, if someone is a, a higher rank than us or a boss or well-respected, we have to make up for it in numbers. And it sounds like that might be what happened with Harvey Weinstein, right? He just stepped on so many people that eventually the critical mass was impossible to ignore.
Bob Sutton: [00:26:11] Yeah, I think that is true with Harvey Weinstein. The bloom was off the rose. He's starting to have some trouble in his company. And a lot of times when you're a powerful a-hole, people smile and they make excuses for you and they enable you. But then when you show a little weakness, it's amazing how quick your enemies can come out of the woodwork and shove you down. And to me, it's sort of a cautionary tale that when you're an a-hole, especially one who's abusive, your enemies lie and wait and look for weaknesses. And then they all come out at once. And you also saw this with Bill Cosby, by the way, as well.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:26:39] Ugh, yikes. How do we fight back? We get a posse. What other things can we do? I mean, what if we can avoid working for an a-hole in the first place? Do you have some red flags you might be able to fill us?
Bob Sutton: [00:26:49] The best thing in life is, as you say, is to avoid them in the first place. So you can do stuff like go on Glassdoor and google them but actually, the evidence is that that doesn't work very well. And the reason that it doesn't work very well is that the particular organization you're in is not a very good predictor of what your situation is going to be. So the things that I like to say is, try to find some socially constructive gossip. This is one of the most useful things. And I say this to my students all the time is to see who you can find who works for somebody in that situation. It's amazing. The speed at which the well-connected young folks can get to somebody who has the exact same boss they're going to work for. And then the best thing is if you can do a little project — and in this area of sort of the gig economy, a lot of times it's possible.
[00:27:33] There's a story. That I just love to talk to my co-author and friend Huggy Rao. This was about seven or eight years ago, and we were going to get involved in a long-term innovation consulting project. And we spent all day in a room with this guy who was just honestly — Huggy would call him a hippopotamus. He was the highest-paid person in the room and he had little ears and a big mouth. He just talked and talked and interrupted us and talked and talked and talked. So we figured out by the end of the day that what was going to be a one year gig, we all of a sudden declared we were too busy. Because we knew if we got entangled with his a-hole, our lives were just going to be miserable.
[00:28:06] If you do a job interview, you can look and see how your boss treats other people. But my favorite two things are the best information, get the gossip and see if you can put a toe in the water and do a little project with them.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:17] Oh, interesting. "Hey, I'd like to do something where I prove my worth here. Can I be on trial for 45 days?" "Oh, that's a great idea."
Bob Sutton: [00:28:25] Well, I mean, a day or two is usually enough, by the way. That's my perspective.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:30] 45 days is a lot of time to spend with the hippopotamus.
Bob Sutton: [00:28:33] It is a lot of time to spend with a hippopotamus, although it might be necessary in some cases, that is the advantage of the gig economy. So many people I know get jobs after working temporary, it happens all the time.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:44] Nobody named Huggy could ever be an a-hole. That's a good cover right there.
Bob Sutton: [00:28:49] I agree. Oh, Huggy is like the most delightful human being I've ever met. Huggy is my co-author. He's a good guy,
Jordan Harbinger: [00:28:55] So okay, we can avoid them in that way by trying not to work with them at all. You said get the gossip. What ways do you recommend trying to get that type of thing? Do we just ask people at the company, "Hey, is Mike cool to work for?" "No, he's terrible."
Bob Sutton: [00:29:07] This is one of the great things about social media. It's amazing if he used LinkedIn or Facebook. I've even done this with Twitter. The speed at which you can get to people if you're subtle is unbelievable. And what also happens in particular occupations. In academia, it's like this. I know tech firms, I know Hollywood is like this. That the world seems really big until you start breaking it down into little occupations. I teach in the Stanford Engineering School and people knew — I'm talking about my female computer science students who I teach — they knew that Travis was not a person. If you're a woman to get anywhere near for years, I've heard that for three years. Before all the negative gossip came out and everything. In contrast, I'll give an example of Netflix as a firm where women — although it's a really hard-ass place, it has a good reputation for women to work at. This is just stuff that just comes through gossip networks.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:29:56] Yeah. Interesting. So you heard, even before, just be where the guy's egomaniac or —
Bob Sutton: [00:30:03] You know there are other companies that I'm not going to say that I'm hearing that about right now, but people make decisions on the basis of that as they should.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:09] So you're just warming up your article for when each of these companies — yeah, you're just touching it up. Well, it's only a matter of time until this implodes.
Bob Sutton: [00:30:17] And get better. And even in the case of Uber — all the signs that I'm hearing in the new CEO, he sounds like he's doing a pretty good job. So you got to start to keep your ears to the ground because things do change.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:30:26] Are there ways we can lessen the impact of an a-hole on ourselves? "Okay, we already worked there. People aren't really going to rally around us cause they're also scared or they don't care or this guy's just got it out for us because you tripped him in elementary school and you never forgot about it." Are there ways we can sort of steal ourselves to this a-holery.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:30:45] Yeah, producers like me want to know.
Bob Sutton: [00:30:45] So I call these reframing or mind tricks to protect your soul. And essentially this comes from research on cognitive behavioral therapy. Some of your listeners will have heard of cognitive-behavioral therapy and essentially there are ways to redefine a situation so it doesn't hurt so much. It's essentially what it is. So one way to do it is to kind of laugh in the face of your a-hole and to just see them as a joke.
[00:31:10] I've got a friend, her name is Becky Margiotta, a total hero. So Becky later on in life led something called 100,000 Homes Campaign, which found homes for 100,000 thousand homeless Americans. She's just an astounding person. And when she was 18, she was a West Point Cadet. Somebody kind of gets an inch from your nose and screams at you every day. That's your life, right? So you're just knee-deep in a-holes. And Becky said, the first couple of weeks, she said, "I was kind of getting upset by this. But then I started seeing the upper-class cadets who were screaming at me as the world's greatest comedians. I just see them as just being so funny and I did admire their antics and cleverness so much." It enabled her to both see it as a joke. And in some ways she said, it's an emotional distancing strategy where when you do that, you're kind of looking at yourself as a character in a movie. It doesn't even feel that personal. Stuff you can do to redefine the situation, so it doesn't hurt so much. Some of the other strategies that also actually are pretty evidence-based, in addition to humor, are if you can see yourself as better than the a-hole, being above them, a better person — Michelle Obama, "When they go low, we go high," sort of strategy.
[00:32:17] So one of the organizations we did interviews for, for the book is called Philz Coffee. Philz Coffee is a sort of local chain, some of you may have heard of it. About 35 stores, they have now. And they really pride themselves — when we talked to Jacob Jaber, the CEO — really pride themselves of, if you will, showing love to customers, serving cups of love. And their motto was essentially when a customer treats them like dirt to not sink to their level and to show that you're better than them and to shower them with love, kill them with kindness. And it really does help the baristas cope with nasty customers because they see themselves as sort of better and really being proud of staying cool in the light of somebody who is throwing dirt at them.
[00:32:57] I've got a colleague at Stanford. This guy is so funny. I never can understand that when we're in a meeting with one of the biggest jerks you've ever met, he just is calm and cool and just looks sort of studious. And finally, I said one day, "So how do you do it? I study a-holes and I'm ready to go crazy. And you're so calm." And he said, what I do, as I imagine I'm a doctor who specializes in a-hole-ism. And I say to myself, 'I'm so lucky to have a specimen of just like this incredible sort of a-hole behavior right in front of me.' Sort of like you're taking bugs and putting them in the collecting jar." And I really liked that even though I can't do it myself, even though I guess I am somebody who studies a-hole-ism, anything you can do to create some emotional distance between you and the person who's treating you like dirt can be very helpful. In some ways, they're all sort of similar because what you're doing is you're creating a way to have emotional detachment.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:33:48] Right, emotional detachment. That definitely makes a lot of sense. And I can understand the baristas needing to do that because people are always in a hurry and you see jerks in line and things like that. Although, whenever I walk into Philz, I feel like they're all stoned. And I think maybe they misunderstood the old, "When they go low, we go high," advice.
Bob Sutton: [00:34:09] That's really funny. Yeah, I don't know whether they're stoned, but you know, since pot is more or less legal in San Francisco, they may well be stoned.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:14] You say it's contagious, but you're one of the nicest guys we've had in a long time. So you must have a lot of emotional detachment in some other way.
Bob Sutton: [00:34:21] When people treat me like dirt, I'm capable of being an a-hole and I can be one. So I might be a nice guy now, but put me in a hurry, put me under stress, put me around a bunch of a-holes, a little sleep deprivation, I'm just a human being alternative, you know, a flaming a-hole myself. Luckily, I'm well-rested in talking to nice people today.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:40] Sure. All right.
Peter Oldring: [00:34:44] This is The Jordan Harbinger Show with our guest Bob Sutton. Don't move a muscle. We'll be right back.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:34:49] This episode is sponsored in part by Feetures. I am — I don't know if I should — does it make sense to say I'm a sock guy, Peter? Is that a thing?
Peter Oldring: [00:34:59] Oh my goodness. I mean, it depends to whom you're saying it in front of.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:02] That's true.
Peter Oldring: [00:35:02] And then how it's received to me. I appreciate hearing that. Thank you.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:06] Yeah. Well, you got it. Now Feetures, they've created a sock with a custom-like fit to prevent the issues with conventional socks that I suffer from all the time. I walk like five, eight miles a day and I get bunching slipping friction, blisters, and Feetures has multiple cushion levels, ultra-light to max cushioning for unsurpassed performance, which you need in a sock. You can get zone-specific compression with Feetures. There's diversity in socks, Active, Relief, Everyday wear. You can choose the cushion level. These are some pretty pro-level socks.
Peter Oldring: [00:35:36] This is next level socking.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:35:37] Yes, it is next level socking and they've got a lifetime guarantee. Feetures — you know, F-E-E-T, very clever — they're so durable and long-lasting, that if you're unsatisfied at any point, they will just replace the pair of socks. So right now somebody's planning on never buying socks again, after this, which is fair, that's kind of what they want. Peter, tell them where they can buy some Feetures and try it out.
Peter Oldring: [00:35:56] See why Feetures has quickly become the number one running sock in America. For listeners of The Jordan Harbinger Show, you can receive $10 off your first pair of Feetures by going to feetures.com and using this code JORDAN. That's $10 off your first pair when you go to F-E-E-T-U-R-E-S.com and enter promo code JORDAN at checkout. Again, that's feetures.com and use the code JORDAN to get 10% off your first pair of Feetures.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:25] This episode is also sponsored by Fiverr. Fiverr's online marketplace connects businesses with freelancers, offering hundreds of digital services, including graphic design, copywriting, web programming, film, editing, and more. And we use Fiverr here for all kinds of — this is all about those tasks where you're like, "Oh man, where am I going to find someone who can do a PowerPoint presentation, but just the visuals," or like, "I need someone who could make graphs. I need somebody who can make a lot of little charts." You know you go to Fiverr for that.
Peter Oldring: [00:36:53] I can make a beautiful graph. I just have no idea how to then put that on the computer.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:36:58] Yes, that kind of thing. Or you can get drawings. I mean, Fiverr really has sort of like every little, tiny, random task you can think of digitally in one place. And it's easy, you can customize your search by service, deadlines so when you need it, price, seller reviews. No guessing games. You get the pricing upfront. There's no negotiation. There's no like hiding the ball with the quotes and this fee add-on blah, blah, blah. They don't do that. 24/7 customer service and we've got a little discount code for you. Peter, tell him what it is.
Peter Oldring: [00:37:26] Indeed, indeed. Check out fiverr.com and receive 10 percent off your first order by using this code JORDAN. Find all of the digital services you need in one place at fiverr.com with the code JORDAN. Again, that is fiverr.com, code JORDAN.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:37:44] After the show, we've got a preview trailer of our interview with Dr. James Fallon on how psychopath's brains function differently from the rest of us and why psychopaths thrive in modern society. So stay tuned for that after the close of the show.
Peter Oldring: [00:37:59] Thank you for listening and supporting this show. Your support of our advertisers is what keeps us going. To learn more and to get links to those great discounts you just heard so that you can check out those amazing sponsors for yourself, visit jordanharbinger.com/deals. And don't forget the worksheet for today's episode. The link is in the show notes at jordanharbinger.com/podcast. Now, for the conclusion of our episode with Bob Sutton.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:38:27] Okay, fighting back — how do we decide to confront or change the tormentors? I know you mentioned a posse. That's not bad, right? That's a good idea. When do we have a gentle private conversation or is that sucker strategy?
Bob Sutton: [00:38:41] Actually, that's really a great point. And this has to be with the difficulty of understanding how we are making other people feel in our lives is really difficult. I think the first assumption when somebody is leaving you feeling bad or is doing something that's subjectively nasty, to make the assumption that they don't understand the damage that they're causing. You assume that they're clueless, not a strategic a-hole if you will.
[00:39:03] And we teach at Sanford, we teach these executive education classes where we get executives from all over the world. And I've seen this group exercise where one of the things that was going on was that the students were recording interruptions in this group dynamics exercise that I do. And so this woman comes up to me afterwards. She tells me this great story. She says, "Okay. I'm a senior vice president. I'm on a team with six people and a CEO. Our CEO had some problems with being a clueless, sexist pig. He was constantly interrupting us, the two women, and not interrupting the four men." And by the way, just for your listeners to evidence that women get interrupted more than men is unbelievable. A new study shows. That female Supreme Court justices in our Supreme Court get interrupted three times more than the male justices. This is a universal problem. So what she said was, "Our CEO who really prides himself in being a feminist and everything, we pulled him aside after a particularly nasty meeting and we showed him the numbers. He had interrupted us, the two women, 20 times. He never interrupted one of the guys once. He felt terrible. He apologized and he asked us to keep track of it from then forward."
[00:40:10] So to me, that's nearly a perfect example of when you've got somebody who is kind of a clueless, but well-meaning a-hole that having the private conversation can sometimes be constructive. And gee, by the way, sometimes if you have a safe conversation, that person may tell you that they're just throwing it back. So you might learn it's partly your fault too.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:40:30] Oh, interesting. I like that. I think whenever we have. Longstanding a-holery, especially outside the workplace, I find that there are usually two people involved and you've studied this, so I don't know if that's accurate.
Bob Sutton: [00:40:44] Absolutely. It's the classic Hatfield and McCoy problem. Sometimes psychologists call this revenge cycle that, "I throw the mud, You saw the mud, I throw the mud." And to the extent that you can have empathy for the other person, and you can have somebody come in who understands both sides and to mediate, it can be very powerful. The other thing is if you can get rid of them, that's the other thing too, to get them the hell out of your life. That's why divorce happens sometimes as well. But yes, when there's ongoing longstanding conflict, usually both parties are partly to blame. That said there are flaming a-holes who treat everybody like dirt. You mentioned Harvey Weinstein. I think that's the guy who might've deserved a certified a-hole label.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:41:24] What are some things that we can do practically to deal with this in real-time? One of the things that stood out in the book that was practical was the temporal distancing. And I really liked this because it can be done without any fancy techniques and probably not a lot of practice either.
Bob Sutton: [00:41:38] So what temporal distancing is it especially comes from a series of studies done at the University of California, Berkeley. And what they showed Berkeley students who had problems like breaking up in a relationship or doing badly on the exam, the ones who would think about how they were going to feel about it a month or two weeks later, and they literally look back from the future, would have less anxiety and depression. Then the ones who just focused on how they felt right now. So the basic mind trick is to imagine you're in the future, looking back on it, and it doesn't hurt so much.
[00:42:10] So I got this great note from this guy who wrote, he said, "So when I was a first-year cadet, they'd be just hazing me and screaming at me an inch from my nose." He said, "I do two things." The first one is actually kind of funny. He said, "I look at the guy's eyebrow rather than in the eye. So I didn't get his full facial effect. And the other thing I would do is I would imagine it was three years later. And I was flying my plane and I was looking back to my first year as a cadet. And it was really a small price to pay just for being yelled at kind of once a day by somebody who's sort of young and crazy." And I really liked that because he was able to get out of the moment and look back from the future. And he said it worked. He said, "I got less upset. Then I got to fly my plane."
Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:50] Wow, it was almost like an out of body experience.
Bob Sutton: [00:42:53] Yeah, imagine, you time traveled.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:54] You're reducing it.
Bob Sutton: [00:42:55] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:42:56] It seems sad that we have to do this. If it works, and maybe it's only a little bit at a time because you don't want to quit your job if your boss's boss's boss that you see three, four times a year is an a-hole.
Bob Sutton: [00:43:06] And there are just some things in life, honestly, we just have to get through some of our students who will have bad internships. Recently, I flew from Chicago to San Francisco and I got the middle seat in the very back row. And I sat between two guys who were even bigger than I am. So, you know, what do you do? You shut your eyes and imagine you're already there and wait for it to be over. You sometimes just got to get through it.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:43:26] One of the practicals that I've really loved was figuring out what triggers our own a-holery. I think this is important. And I find myself doing this with my wife, noticing, "Oh, I'm tired. Oh, this is what triggers me here. This is what triggers her there," and paying attention. That's actually helped me avoid triggering certain crappy moods that would turn me into an a-hole or helping me help others, for example, my wife, avoid situations that would trigger her because I can handle it more easily, for example,
Bob Sutton: [00:43:57] I liked the direction we're going here because to me, to sort of figure it out, if you will, diagnosing when you're going to be an a-hole, I guess, sort of three things. One, you need that person in your life. I like you're talking about your wife because spouses are really good at telling you the truth. Second to teenage children. So you got to have somebody in your life to tell you the truth. The second thing is just generally knowing what triggers nasty behavior in people, and then knowing your quirks. So in terms of what triggers nasty behavior in people, it's actually pretty clear evidence and you've sort of laid it out. Being tired, sleep-deprived, it's a great way to make people grumpy, putting people in a hurry. There's all sorts of evidence. You start rushing, people get nastier and less polite. The other one is power. If you have power over people. Be very careful about how you behave or maybe you don't care. And then finally being around other a-holes as we've discussed, in other ways, one of the most reliable ways to turn into an a-hole. If you've been around a bunch of grumpy people, be aware, And then finally, there are these things that set you off because I think that all of us who know each other well — I got my own little peeves of things that drive me crazy. So a long boring meeting, the best way to turn me into an a-hole is to try to talk to me minutes 75 into a really bad boring meeting. That's when I'm most dangerous.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:13] Yeah. Jason gets grumpy.
Jason DeFillippo: [00:45:15] I've got a podcast called Grumpy Old Geeks, so I think it's in the title. As they say, in Britain, it's written on the tin. So you get what — that's how it works.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:45:25] You have this mantra, "Be slow to label others as a-holes and be quick to label yourself as one." What do we mean by that?
Bob Sutton: [00:45:32] So if listeners come away with one thing, this is it. The research we have on self-awareness indicates that just about all of us human beings, we're going to be quick to blame others for our problems. And we're going to be slow to see our flaws. We can avoid creating all sorts of problems by, well, when somebody is being nasty, giving them the benefit of the doubt, not blaming them, and perhaps thinking, "Well, what might I have done to trigger that person?" And that offsets a whole bunch of cognitive biases. Because if you look at research, for example, on the percentage of Americans who say that they engage enduring bullying in the workplace, it's one out of 200. And if you ask the national survey of Americans, "Have you been the direct victim or observed firsthand workplace bullying, ongoing bullying?" It's 50 percent. It's one out of two. So something's wrong with those numbers. And so just as a little bit of an offset, if you can be, if you will, slow to label other people and to be quick to label yourself because you might be part of the problem. I think it's one of the most important things. And God, I wish our politicians would do it, but I don't see much of that going on right now.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:38] Yeah. Good luck.
Bob Sutton: [00:46:41] Yeah.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:41] Those guys, we need to mail a whole crate of your book over there to Washington.
Bob Sutton: [00:46:46] To both sides of the aisle, by the way.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:48] Yeah, absolutely. I'm not even —
Bob Sutton: [00:46:50] Bipartisan in this case.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:46:51] Absolutely. Bipartisan effort to get this stuff handled. Absolutely. Thank you so much. Is there anything that I haven't asked you that you want to make sure you deliver?
Bob Sutton: [00:47:00] If we're going to — we as a society, us in our organization, us in our relationships — are going to do something about this problem, it isn't just a matter of us surviving the a-holes in our midst and not being jerks ourselves, there's a third category, what I call toxic enablers. So these are people — and there are lots of people who do this in life, who aren't a-holes themselves, but they sort of clear the way for a-holes to be effective. If you want to be a successful a-hole, get somebody to clean up your mess. And if you're somebody who does this, who after your boss has a temper tantrum, you go from office to office and you say, "Really he or she wasn't that bad. It's not as bad as you think." And then you go into your boss's office and perhaps you say to her, when she says, "Was I nasty?" You say, "No, no, you weren't really that bad." There's a lot of people in the world who actually get rewarded for that sort of stuff.
[00:47:49] There are at least two or three famous Silicon Valley CEO a-holes that I know in history who've gotten ahead by having these toxic enabler folks, but they're actually doing a lot of damage when they clean up after people and make excuses for them. You were talking about the Harvey Weinstein case. It's the enablers and bystanders that are more interesting than what he happened to do because a lot of people let him run nasty for a long time. If somebody had done more of an intervention with him and called him out earlier, it wouldn't have gone on for so long.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:48:18] I love the idea of the toxic enabler. They sort of are not a-holes directly. The toxic enabler could be us as well, right? We're the person who doesn't report the sexual harassment for the 87th time because, "That's Harvey," or, "Yeah, I know that this boss is a total jerk and I'm a secretary, but I don't want to say anything because even though he might listen to me, he might also just get mad at me instead," that kind of thing.
Bob Sutton: [00:48:42] In addition to that, there are people who get paid for this. There are lawyers who get paid for this. As I say, two or three COOs, who've turned into multimillionaires by just sort of covering up. It's like the parade comes through and the cleanup crew cleans up the poop. It's sort of like a job for some people, but it sure does a lot of damage because it makes it possible for them to both sort of like cool out the victims. And at the same time to sort of kiss up to the boss or other nasty person to keep doing the dirty work. Also, Lance Armstrong, you look at like the people around Lance Armstrong, who actually many of whom now feel terrible for the toxic enabling that they did, either wittingly or unwittingly. It's another example.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:49:17] A lot of people have what you would call actually a-hole blindness, which is that they feel they can't leave. They feel trapped where they are. There's a habituation that takes place being around it where you think, "Well, this is just what it's like working at a company or this company, or even in this department, this is just what I have to deal with." And this takes such an emotional toll, that we now know takes a physical toll on our health. Staying in a job where you're dealing with a-holes longer than you need to, actually, we'll often limit options you had earlier. I think people don't really understand that they don't realize, "Yeah, I have to stay here even though I don't want to." No, you can get good references from earlier jobs, but if you're there for three and a half years, you're going to have to explain this gap on your resume. And we've all heard, "Oh, well, my old boss was an a-hole," and we just go, "Uh-huh, sure, he was."
Bob Sutton: [00:50:06] This guy wrote me. He worked for a horrible boss for eight years, eight years. Finally, he got out and he said he could have gotten good references the first three or four years, by year six or seven, he was sort of in a trap situation. And it's the classic — some of the rationalizations that we use, "It's going to get better. I'll do something about it next week." And all of a sudden you've been in the job in this guy's case for eight years. So, yeah, so that's why I say if you possibly can get out earlier rather than later, because things are not likely to get better, they might get better and you should do your homework. Sometimes, the grass is browner, but I mean, just over the years — and this is one of the great things about the emails that people send me. They'll send me a note and they'll say, "You know, I actually moved to another place and now I'm in a place where people treat me with respect and they're civilized in my relationship with my spouse's much better because I finally have gotten out." So sometimes it does get better, especially if you're in a bad context.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:50:59] Well, Bob, thank you so much. Great show, really fun, funny — clearly, you're taking your own advice here.
Bob Sutton: [00:51:06] Well, you guys are really fun to talk to. It's been a pleasure.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:51:10] Always fun talking to Bob. I love this episode from the vault. Links to his stuff will be in the website in the show notes. Please do use the website links if you buy the books from the guests on the show. It does add up. It does support the show. Worksheets for this episode are in the show notes. Transcripts for this episode, always in the show notes. I'm at @JordanHarbinger on Twitter, Instagram. Hit me on LinkedIn if you want to make a comment or talk.
[00:51:32] I'm teaching you how to connect with great people and manage relationships, using systems and tiny habits over at our Six-Minute Networking course, which is free over at jordanharbinger.com/course. Dig that well before you get thirsty, people. Most of the guests you hear on the show, they're in the course. Come join us, you'll be in smart company.
[00:51:50] This show is created in association with PodcastOne, and, of course, my amazing team, which includes Jen Harbinger, Jase Sanderson, Robert Fogarty, Ian Baird, Millie Ocampo, Sal Cotching, and Evan Viola. Remember, we rise by lifting others. The fee for this show is that you share it with friends when you find something useful or interesting. If you know somebody who's dealing with difficult people at work, please do share this episode with them. And, hopefully, you find something great in every episode. Please do share the show with those you love. In the meantime, do your best to apply what you hear on this show, so you can live what you listen, and we'll see you next time. You like that, folks? We tightened up the show close for you.
[00:52:27] As promised, here's a trailer of our interview with Dr. James Fallon.
Dr. James Fallon: [00:52:32] I'm a neuroscientist since about 1989, I've studied the brain imaging scans of killers, serial killers, really bad murders. And you should do one or two a year for many years. And then in 2005, 2006, I got sent a ton of them and I analyzed them. I said, "Oh my God, there's a pattern." So I saw this pattern that nobody had ever described. But at the same time, we were doing a clinical study on the genetics of Alzheimer's disease. And we had all the Alzheimer's patients we needed. So we needed normals, just normal controls. And so I asked my family — that was kind of my first mistake — I said, "Look, guys, you want to all get in?" — my brothers, my wife — I said, "We'll test you." And the idea being that on my side of the family was there was no Alzheimer's at all. So we did it.
[00:53:18] And the two technicians walked into my office. On my right side, I've piled all these murders' brain scans and they handed me the pile of my family scans and they were covered up, so I couldn't see the names. And so I went through with one, two, three, four, five, six, seven. I was really relieved that they looked at the first pass normal. And then I got to the last scan and it looked at it. I said, "Okay, guys." I said, "This is very funny. You kid around with each other, right?" And I said, "Okay, you switched them. You took one of the worst psychopaths from this pile of murders and you switched it into my family. Ha-ha." And they go, "No, it's part of your family." I said, "You got to be kidding." I said, "This guy shouldn't be walking around in an open society. He's probably a very dangerous person." So I had to tear back the covering on the name of it. And there was my name.
Jordan Harbinger: [00:54:09] For more with Dr. James Fallon, including how to spot a psychopath in the wild. Check out episode 28 here on The Jordan Harbinger Show.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I'll send you periodic updates about the podcast.