The No Asshole Rule

The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't
Genre: Self-Help
Publisher: Business Plus
Published: 2/1/2007
In a landmark article published in the esteemed Harvard Business Review, Stanford University professor Robert I. Sutton addressed a taboo topic that affects every workplace: employees who are insensitive to their colleagues, corporate bullies, bosses who just don't get it, the kind of people who make you exclaim in exasperation, "What an asshole!"

The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't

Key Insights

It’s no secret that we can all be assholes sometimes.

But, what about those people who seem to be major jerks 24/7?

According to Robert I. Sutton, those are the real assholes of the world.

In his book, “The No Asshole Rule” Sutton shares his views on what an asshole really is, how to deal with them in the workplace, and how to successfully structure a workplace that’s “asshole-free”.

“As much as I believe in tolerance and fairness, I have never lost a wink of sleep about being unapologetically intolerant of anyone who refuses to show respect for those around them.”- Robert I. Sutton

After reading his key insights, you will be ready to take on these hostile characters with the utmost grace.

Key Points

  • Assholes in the Workplace Don’t Lead to Success

It’s sad but true, that bad behavior or asshole behavior in the workplace is often left untouched. Management often ignores it thinking that talking about the issue will just lead to more problems. But, as a result, the morale of the employees is left bruised.

When people are not professional and respectful in the workplace, productivity slows. And, other employees start to act out. For example, if the work environment is toxic, they may call out of work more simply because they don’t want to be in that environment.

When your boss is an asshole, humiliation for their employees is common. Employers work in fear of messing up, which causes damaging effects on the person and on the team.

Hard-working and smart employees that mentally register that their workplace is toxic will leave for other positions at other companies that are asshole-free.

  • The No Asshole Rule

A lot of times assholes in the workplace are overlooked because they are talented and have skills. But, that doesn’t make up for the harm it causes to their team.

All assholes should be kicked out of the workplace at the first sign of disrespect.

An employee that makes others feel as if they are worthless, incompetent, or uncomfortable should not be allowed to stay in the company. Team members who get along and encourage each other get a lot more done.

This rule should also be applied to clients and customers. If they are not kind, they should not be served.

  • More Equality

It’s been proven that people who are the higher-ups on the ladder are more likely to be assholes. It’s an elitist mindset.

The higher-ups are often more talkative because they feel what they have to say matters more because of their position.

“Winning is a wonderful thing if you can help and respect others along the way. But if you stomp on others as you climb the ladder and treat them like losers once you reach the top, my opinion is that you debase your own humanity and undermine your team or organization.”- Robert I. Sutton

They also take things from the workplace without consideration for the other employees. For example, if a boss goes to someone’s desk and takes their stapler with no intention to return it. Sure, it might be just a little bump in someone’s day, but that doesn’t excuse the inconsideration of the boss.

Bosses will often show disrespect to their employees because of social distinction in the company. To remedy this, it is a good idea to tighten the gap between the higher-ups and lower-ranking workers. An easy way to do this is with salary wages. How much money you make directly correlates to status.

  • Motivating Employees

Being aggressive in the workplace isn’t always bad. A lot of times it can lead to wins. Sure, being aggressive can be seen as cold and harsh, but it can also make you be seen as successful and knowledgable.

The loudest, most aggressive person is oftentimes the leader. For example, think about being in school as a kid. Who was the one that spoke out without raising their hand? That was usually the leader of the group.

But, being aggressive does not translate well when it comes to being in charge, or “the boss.” It actually is quite detrimental.

When you’re a boss, the best thing to do is motivate your employees with incentives and recognition. This helps to keep employees happy and productive in the workplace.

  • Focus on Cooperation

Companies should be competitive, but not internally. That means, they should compete with other companies, but employees competing against each other should not be encouraged.

Instead, cooperation should be encouraged in order to bond the employees onto a working team.

“The implication is that if you want to quell your inner jerk and avoid spreading (and catching) this form of asshole poisoning, use ideas and language that frame life in ways that will make you focus on cooperation.”- Robert I. Sutton

Healthy competition, such as brainstorming ideas, however, is very healthy for companies and will help keep the company innovative.

To foster a cooperative environment, it is important to reward cooperation.

Replacing even simple words with less aggressive ones can make the world of a difference in the company’s morale. Using words such as “we” and “us” will help the company to feel like a unit to promote productivity.

  • Avoid Assholes

If you are around assholes too much, chances are you will start picking up some of their undesired traits.

If you are working with a disrespectful group of people, then get out quick before you start to pick up their habits. They could affect you in not just the business world, but in your personal world, as well.

“Life is too short to put up with assholes.”- Robert I. Sutton

Obviously, there are assholes everywhere we go. And, you can’t always pick who is sitting in the cubicle next to you. So, just try to avoid them as much as possible. You don’t need to eat lunch with them or join them for a happy hour drink after work.

The more time you spend with an asshole, the harder it will be to distance yourself from them later.

  • Build Emotional Distance

As humans, we can’t let assholes get to us. We have to learn how to build emotional distance from them so that they don’t interfere with our goals and our work ethic.

A good way to build emotional distance is to remain calm. Do not let the asshole make you miserable or drag you down to their level. Even if they are your boss and you have to respect them, you don’t have to let the things they say get to you. You are bigger and stronger than that.

A few things to remember are:


  1. The asshole won’t be in your life forever.
  2. You are not the cause of the problem.
  3. This won’t ruin your life.


Being an asshole is their problem, not yours. So, don’t adopt it!

If you need to prepare for a difficult conversation with an asshole, please remember to hope for the best, but expect the worst.

  • No Asshole Rule -- All the Time!

The no asshole rule doesn’t just apply to the workplace, it also applies to your personal life.

An asshole can ruin your day, even if the day was going perfect. So like in the workplace, avoid these toxic people in your personal life.

Take a look at yourself too, are you being an asshole? If so, then change. Nobody wants to be treated unkindly.

The golden rule to follow is to be respectful, kind, and encouraging at all times.

The Main Take-Away

Companies should not work with assholes, whether it be an employee or a client. People should avoid assholes at all costs in both the workplace and in their personal lives in order to remain happy and escape adopting their habits.


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