One of the main themes in The No Asshole Rule is that, if you work with a bunch of mean-spirited creeps, it is very difficult to avoid catching these "adult cooties." There are at least two reasons this happens. The first is that a pile of studies show that emotions and behavior patterns are remarkably contagious -- that without realizing it, we mimic the way that people around us act. The second reason is self-preservation: If you work with a bunch of nasty creeps who put you down all the time, treat you as if you are invisible, bad-mouth you, and tease you in hostile ways, sometimes the only way to protect yourself (for better or worse) is to return fire. These points are supported by academic research, especially the one about emotional contagion.Yet it is always fascinating to see how this stuff plays out in the real world. I got an intriguing email the other day from a fellow (who had written me a second time) to report a big drop in his ARSE (Asshole Rating Self-Exam) score after leaving an asshole-infested workplace and moving to a civilized one. Here is his email, with names of companies and people removed:
Hi Bob, I sent you an email several years back (I believe around March 2008) when I left a horribly poisonous company after less than 3 months of employment.Since then I have started with [an energy company]. Very different environment. It's not Shangri-la but it's definitely a more positive workplace.
When I was
working for [the horribly poisonous company ] I had taken the ARSE exam and scored a 12 (after answering
honestly). Today, I retook the test (answering honestly again) and scored a 2.
I've sent the test to others in my work group and asked them to give me their
test scores. The highest score was a 6.
I also find myself much more productive and spend most of my time working on how to achieve the group's goals instead of how to protect myself.
This story also reinforces a point I make over and over again on this blog and every other place I write and speak: If you are in an asshole-infested work group or organization, the best thing you can do is to get out as fast as you can. Yes, there are ways to limit the damage, fight back, and to make changes -- but they don't always work, and even when they do, you can suffer a lot of damage in the process.