Even though it has been five years since The No Asshole Rule was published in hardback, I still get 15 or 20 emails a week about issues pertinent to the book -- descriptions of workplace tyrants and creeps, on how to avoid breeding them, and on what to do about them when you work with one -- or a lot of them.
This blog would contain nothing but "asshole stories" and I would be posting a couple times a day if I reported them all. Clearly, that would be both boring and depressing. And I am interested in other things. But every now and and then, I get one that is so well-crafted that I feel compelled to post it. I got a great one yesterday.
I don't want to put the whole email here both because it is so detailed and because I don't want to reveal any names. But the fellow who wrote this had quite an experience and did a great job of describing how he fought back. Here are some key excerpts (with some deletions to obscure identities):
His note starts:
I just finished reading The No A$$hole rule for a second time (I use $ instead of "s" just in case your email filters emails with the word "A$$hole," though I'd bet it does not. I'm just airing on the side of caution). Here is my reaction. Feel free to use my full name and any contents of this email in any of your published works. Back in 2005, I began my second job out of college working as a project manager at a marketing company. It was, and still is, a family business consisting of about 100 total employees. Here is a snippet what I endured, for nearly 7 years, from the A$$hole Family.
This is a partial list of behaviors in the cesspool where he worked:
- If I was eating something, a bag of potato chips for example, the President would walk into my cubicle, stick his hands in the bag, then look at me and say, "Can I have some?"
- Someone would walk into my cubicle and have a conversation with the person in the cube across from me...while I was on the phone!
- A coworker of mine made a mistake on a project, so the VP of Sales sent the client an email, copying my boss, which said something to the effect of, "I just fired ____. This mistake was completely unacceptable, and please accept my apology. We don't tolerate people like that here..." Ironically enough, it was a lie; ____ was never fired, but just moved off the account.
- The family members would routinely yell across the entire office to one another
- I was having a meeting with a vendor in a conference room. The door was shut. The Sales Consultant walked in, sans knocking, and proceeded to say, "I need this room" and set her things on the conference table. And no, she had not reserved the conference room; reserving a conference room in this company was far-too-advanced of an idea.
- [A married couple] who also worked at the A$$hole company were going through a divorce. They routinely had shouting and yelling matches, followed by slamming drawers, desks, and just about anything else that could make a loud noise and disrupt everyone in the office.
- [One family member] often spoke to me like I was a 5-year old child (she did the same to most underlings, especially the men), and always loudly enough so everyone in the surrounding area could hear that I was being thrown under the bus. She liked to make an example of her victims. Oddly enough, she apparently has a Psychology degree (No offense to you at all, Dr. Sutton).
- [Another executive] was famous for bullying vendors, yelling at them on the phone, slamming desks and drawers, etc.. He would also do this by using his blue-tooth ear-piece and his cell phone as he walked around the office, yelling on the phone.
- They hired another A$$hole (You wrote that A$$holes tend to hire other A$$holes). He was most lethal behind a computer, where he would send scathing emails to co-workers. However, he would not limit his exchanges to emails, as my colleague would often complain that he said things—NOT in private—like, "If you think you need a raise, then maybe you should quit and get another job."
- I literally witnessed my manager turn into an A$$hole overtime due to over-exposure to the A$$hole Family. In the beginning, he was an optimistic, friendly, driven, trustworthy manager. 6+ years later, he scowled and glared at co-workers; he became two-faced; I lost trust in him.
I love this summary, it is sad but funny at the same time:
There is such an infestation of A$$holes at this company that someone should tent the building and spray it with A$$hole insecticide. I could go on for pages about these stories. I wish I had documented more of them, because some of them were really funny.
Then, he tells us how he too started catching the sickness -- as I have written here many times, bad behavior is contagious. Thank goodness, he and his colleagues hatched exit plans:
After working there for a year, I realized that I was turning into an A$$hole: I was losing my temper with vendors on the phone; my stress-level was getting too high to manage; and I started to send more scathing emails. It also started to affect my personal life, as I would come home from work and lose my temper with my partner for no reason. I then realized that I needed to get out. Nothing I could do would help me manage this job long-term. So, 3 of my colleagues and I all made a pact to get new jobs as quickly as possible.
Finally, I was especially taken with his description of the things he did to cope with the infestation of assholes around him, many are consistent with my survival tips, others are new twists and turns. Here is most of his list:
- I confronted [a boss] about him throwing me under the bus. I explained to him that after throwing me under the bus, I become anxious, nervous, embarrassed, and I cannot concentrate, which greater increases my chances for making mistakes. My solution was to instead speak to me in private about a way that we can work together to reduce any mistakes and increase productivity for our whole department. He never threw me under the bus again (to my face, anyway), but he never took me up on the offer to speak with me about how to help improve my job performance, as well as my co-workers.
- Wrote in my daily journal (this was a tremendous small win; I could vent my frustrations and focus on my strategy to get out of the A$$hole Factory. I still write in my journal)
- Using any downtime at work to apply for other jobs
- Using the "I have a doctor's appointment" excuse to go on job interviews
- The President/CEO ran for a political post. I voted for the other guy.
- Working as hard as possible at my job, so that when I left, it would be difficult to replace me
- Wear headphones to drown out the A$$holes yelling across the office at one another
- Piled things like my briefcase and books near the entrance to my cubicle so A$$holes could not enter un-invited
- Deleted scathing emails and never responding to them instead of responding and escalating into email World War III
- Gave 2 weeks notice: No more, no less
Again, I don't usually provide so much detail, but this fellow did such a brilliant job of showing what an asshole infested workplace looks and feels like, the negative effects it has on everyone in its grips, and of listing the little and big things he did to cope with it. And, thank goodness, he realized he needed to escape and eventually got out -- while protecting himself along the way.
I won't name him (even though he said it was OK, I think a bit of discretion is in order). But I do want to thank this anonymous reader for taking the time to write me such a long note and for doing it so well.