"Jerks are everywhere." That's what Robert Sutton, professor of organizational behavior at Stanford Graduate School of Business and a bona fide international "jerk" expert, had to say in a recent interview to promote his new book, The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal With People Who Treat You Like Dirt.
1. Move to a different part of the organization.
Before you quit, Sutton states that "moving from one organization to another is not as smart as moving to a different part of the organization you're in."
He adds, "When you stay in your own organization, you often have more information about where you're going than if you go to an outside organization."
He cites Salesforce.com as a great example. Every few months, their employees (many of them engineers) do a musical-chair act by attending their own job fairs to be recruited by other departments, or to openly discuss switching teams. The goal, says Sutton, "is to make it as easy to switch within the company as it is to leave the company."
2. Distance yourself about 100 feet away from the toxic person.
If you find yourself in the challenging position of not having the freedom to leave a company or transfer to another part of the company, avoid the jerk like you would a toxic substance as much as possible.
Sutton cites research that shows if you're more than about 100 feet away from somebody, "they might as well be in another country." If you're within 25 feet of a toxic person, Sutton says "the chances that you're going to become toxic go up--and the chances that you're going to get fired go up as well."
3. Use a mind trick, like pretending that you study "a-hole-ism."
Let's say you work in close proximity to a toxic jerk. In order to protect your soul and minimize damage, a simple mind trick like pretending you're a doctor or expert studying the behaviors of your toxic colleagues will aid in making a toxic situation less upsetting, even when you can't control the situation.
Here's Sutton: "My favorite is a guy at Stanford who pretends that he's a doctor who studies 'a-hole-ism.' When he sees these people in meetings, he pretends that it's a privilege to be able to see such a rare specimen. It's a sort of detachment--pretending you're a doctor, just observing."
4. Watch how job candidates treat the people who work for your company.
To minimize the risk of hiring toxic jerks, Sutton advises putting a few things into play:
- Give potential jerks a job sample test.
- Have job candidates participate in a work project or two and see how the work and people dynamics play out. Jerks may show their true colors in real-life "job auditions."
- During the interview process, watch for uncivil clues of how a potential boss or colleague treats you and other people. If they don't listen, are rude, impatient, or keep interrupting, "that's a reasonable diagnostic sign," says Sutton.
- If you're the job candidate, talk to the people who work there, especially those who report to an immediate boss you'd be working under, as well as team members assigned to work with you in your future role.
5. Tack on an "asshole tax" to your nightmare clients.
If faced with a lucrative client as the source of your headaches, and they treat your employees like dirt, Sutton advises starting off with a conversation between the client and a senior partner in order "to cool that individual down, to caution them to treat people with more respect."
If that doesn't work and you're left with no other option, and the business can't survive without that hostile client, Sutton says that many in the professional services industry are adding an "asshole tax," a sort of eye-for-any-eye approach of leveling the playing field. The nastier a client, says Sutton, the more money they pay for goods and services, and the worse the service they receive for their troubles.
6. When everything else fails, fight back.
Your last resort is to fight back, but make sure proper precautions and a lot of thought goes into your plan of attack. Sutton says, "Your chance of winning [goes] up when you understand the power structure and dynamics, document the bullying, and gain allies."
On a parting note, Sutton warns readers that, on average, the more well-educated, wealthy, and prestigious people are, the worse they'll be.