One of the strange things about The No Asshole Rule that took me at least a year after publication to understand is that just owning, displaying, and -- in particular -- giving someone the book as a present (or even suggesting they read it) can have strong effects. And they are not all good. On the positive side, a senior executive at a large professional service firm told me that at a meeting of the firm's partners, the CEO waved around a copy of the book and told them that whether or not they followed the rule would be factored into compensation decisions. Most of them had not read the book, and didn't read it after that, but just the act of waiving around the book and suggesting something like "and if you are a chronic asshole, we are going to push the delete button pictured on the cover" was enough to get their attention and, I am told, did help a few of the most recalcitrant jerks tone down their nastiness.
A number of people have also explained to me that the book is a useful "defensive tool" or "protective device." An attorney reported that although she had not read it yet, she bought a copy and displayed it prominently in her office – and pointed to it when one of her colleagues started turning nasty. A senior executive from a large technology company told me a similar story just a few weeks ago. He did claim to have liked and read the book, but argued it was even more useful as a protective device. People saw it on his desk, which reminded them to be civil, and “When they do lose it, I hold it up in front of my face like a shield – they usually get the message and turn down venom immediately.
But there are also dangers to simply owning the book, as people are sometimes offended by it -- especially when they are concerned that they are the asshole in question. In the fast few years, several people have told me that when they brought the book to work, they were ordered to hide it, bring it home, and never bring it to work again because the title was in such bad taste. An office assistant wrote me that her boss put a negative note in her personnel file because the book upset several coworkers. This assistant added that the only person it really upset was her boss, because she was a certified asshole and she and everyone else knew it. In a more troubling case, a woman berated me on the phone and over email because her sister was fired for bringing the book to work because her boss found the title offensive. This cold-hearted act provided further evidence he was a bosshole, but that was little consolation as she needed the job.
Unfortunately, I learned of a new example of the dangers of using the book (regardless of its actual contents) yesterday in a rather heartbreaking comment that “Regan” made in response to my question “What’s the worst advice you have ever received:”
The only management book I have ever bought was the "No Asshole Rule" because it was about time someone put it in writing. It was a great book, my whole department loved it - they advised me give it to my boss to read - he did not see the humour in it, and he must have seen himself clearly fit the definitions of "asshole" because I lost my job shortly after giving him the book. So, although I think The No Asshole Rule is the best management book ever written - I think the advice about giving it to your boss if he/she is a tyrant is pretty bad advice - didn't work out too well for me anyway.....
I found it quite painful to read how much Regan liked my book and how much it ended-up hurting him -- I didn't advise him to give to his boss, but I hope others can learn from this incident . Although I hope you find the ideas in the book to be helpful, but I also hope that – especially if you are in a place where paranoia and mistrust run high and psychological safety is low – you will learn from these cautionary tales, and be careful where you bring the book and who you give it to as a "present."
A broader lesson is that – ironically – telling a person that he or she is an asshole can be an insulting thing to do, and can sometimes turn even a civilized person into an asshole. And apparently, this is especially true if that person really is a certified asshole (and especially dangerous to you if he or she wields power over you).