Rob Cross is a Professor at the University of Virginia and has done A LOT of great academic work and work with companies on social networks. Rob is a driving force behind the The Network Roundtable at the University of Virginia, a consortium of companies and researchers that are interested in learning more about and applying network analysis techniques. Check out their website for all sorts of information. Rob and Andrew Park also have written a great --and useful -- book called The Hidden Power of Social Networks.
All of Rob's work is interesting, but I am especially taken by the research that he and his colleagues have done on "energizing" vs. "de-energizing" interactions. They have done a series of studies showing, to oversimplify a bit, that employees who tend to leave others feeling energized after interactions get better performance evaluations, advance more rapidly, and spark more innovation when compared to "de-energizers" (people who bring other's down, who leave them feeling sapped). I am fascinated by this research because I define assholes, in large part, as people who leaves others feeling demeaned and de-energized. So this means that, although my book and lots of other writings contain lists of actionsthat cause people to feel demeaned (yelling, teasing, glaring, treating people as if they are invisible), Rob's approach suggests that a more elegant and powerful way to measure whether some is an asshole is to simply ask how people feel after a single interaction (energized or de-energized? demeaned or esteemed?) and after a series of interactions: The first being a measure of if someone is a temporary asshole; the second being a measure of if someone is a certified asshole.
Rob wrote me and explained the single question they use to determine if a person is experienced by others in his or network as an "energizer" or a "de-energizer. This is amazing stuff to me because it is so simple, and these effects on others explain so much about how people propel -- poison -- the people in their networks and their own careers (Important note: Do not use this question for research without getting permission from Rob and then giving him credit):
People can affect the energy and enthusiasm we have at work in various ways. Interactions with some people can leave you feeling drained while others can leave you feeling enthused about possibilities. When you interact with each person below, how does it typically affect your energy level?
1 = De-energizing
2 = No effect/Neutral
3 = Energizing
To measure if a person is an asshole, I believe that there are only one or two additional questions required. Something like "After you interact with this person, do you typically feel better about yourself, worse about yourself, or roughly the same?" Or, "after you interact with this person, do you feel esteemed, demeaned, or about the same?" The blend of the energy question and one of these should be a nice way to assess if someone leaves people who are energized and esteemed (a constructive energizer, an anti-asshole) or de-energized and demeaned (a certified asshole, especially if it is a pattern).
I am trying to figure out some ways and places to measure this stuff, and am hoping to recruit Rob to help as has some really cool software that he uses with the companies that he works with and that are partners in his network. The thing I like about this method is that it is so simple, and Rob's pile of research shows that it will likely work for detecting assholes as well. Of course, the methods used by researchers who studying bullying and psychological abuse are also useful, as they look at what assholes do not on what they "do to" people (teasing, yelling, taunting, glaring and all that). By combining the two approaches, a pretty complete picture of what assholes do and what they do to others should emerge.
Check out the work done by Rob and his colleagues. It is great stuff.