Book Me For A Speech

My Writing and Ranting

Press Room

Good Books

« Why Big Teams Suck: Seven (Plus or Minus Two) Is the Magical Number Once Again | Main | Walt Disney and Brad Bird on Why They Want to Make Money »


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


I'm late to the thread so this may not be read, but here goes anyway. I hadn't heard of your No Asshole rule Bob literally until today. So, totally right on the money and you wrote this about 10 years ago. I had a personal experience working for a Asshole CEO and waited too long to pull the pin.

Anyway I developed a suite of characters that are very aligned to your thinking, find them at Idea being they are one way to let someone know they are behaving like an AssFace or Asshole.

I'm delighted to find your list of Asshole personality types. I may add them to my list at

Gloria Johnson

I realize that this post is a few months old, but "Scaling Up Excellence" is fresh on my mind, so I'll weigh in anyway.

Simply put, you cannot change people. My mom nagged me for years to lose weight, but at the end of the day, it was my own realization that they didn't make clothes in my size any more that prompted a 150lb weight loss journey.

At the end of the day, you can only control your own actions... but those actions affect more than you think.

Embrace the naysayers. Understand why they are the way they are and feel the way they feel. When they get combative, let them know how it makes you feel.You can argue with facts (Who said it? What was the context? What was the sample size?) but you can't argue with feelings.

Being a set of fresh eyes to a bad situation can help catalyze change. Usually there's history behind people who are resistant to change or refuse to believe things can get better. Let them vent. Let them tell you how they felt. Ask them what they wished could've been done differently. And at the end of the discussion, let them know that you can see their point of view. Follow up that point with the fact that that was then and this is now. The past is not in our control; it would be unfair to blame the new gal for things that happened before she arrived. The future, however is in our control. Knowing what went wrong before can help inform future decisions. Reassure them that you will do everything you can to ensure change, but it won't happen every night.

The naysayer is one coworker most people can't stand. The arrogant boss is another. One problem is that people don't know their rights or use their human resources department enough. Bullying is unprofessional and has no room in the work force. I'd argue that most people feel powerless to challenge their managers. However, when managers abuse their authority, sometimes they treat people as "less than human" whether it's reprimanding someone for talking to an executive without permission, continuously squelching ideas with DEstructive feedback, etc. etc. That's an issue in which human resources should intervene. Talking with your manager's manager can also be effective if HR is unresponsive. At that point he/she can agree or disagree and address it directly. That individual also knows the situation now, so your manager would be wise to not punish you lest it be seen as retaliatory.

At the end of the day though, not everyone will get along. Some people just have bad attitudes. You can respond to it, report it - whatever - but the key is to act on it. Knowing that you've done all that you can to improve the situation, don't let it get to you. Be confidently optimistic that things will change.

I personally love the naysayers and those who are resistant to change. As a corporate culture warrior, I see it as a challenge. I make little improvements almost daily, and over time, those things going break down so many barriers and improve the status quo so much, the naysayers eventually run out of things to complain about. Those people become your biggest fans, and to be honest, their opinions of me are the ones I respect the most, because I worked hard to earn their respect.


I realize this post is late, but, when it comes to working with people you can't stand:

1. Define exactly what you need from that person (e.g., Are they a superior and it's authorization? Are they an SME you go to occasionally? ).
2. Define the best way to satisfy that need so that interaction is efficient (ahem, short!). Can you automate a monthly request for data? Can you set up a process for getting authorization?
3. See your interactions as a test for your own ability to communicate. It's's supposed to feel like a strain.

If you have a mentor, talk about it and ask for better tools.

Amiel Handelsman


I second John Rusk's point about testing your assumptions.

1. Think of yourself as a diplomat negotiating with an historic enemy of your country. Get to know the other person's interests, concerns, strengths, and weaknesses. Negotiate with the intent of developing a neutral and respectful relationship that builds on mutual interests.

2. Assess your own sources of power and leverage. Use the ones that will work.

3. Watch you own emotional triggers. Do what you have to to remain grounded, centered and relaxed when interacting with this person. If you lose your cool, you sacrifice your power.

Amiel Handelsman

Melissa Huggett

Hi Bob - First of all, love your stuff and look forward to reading your posts every time! Came to your recent talk in Toronto and took much away from that morning - thank you!

I'm no expert when it comes to dealing with co-workers, however, I am a big fan of Dr. Liane Davey of Knightsbridge. She has been posting thought-provoking articles on her "Change Your Team" blog that really dive into the difficult situations and questions. Thought you might be interested in connecting. Here is the link:

Happy to make an e-introduction as well.


Jennifer Lee

It's happen where I currently work. What I have observed is that it is the Peter principle at work. The disruptiveness of a few causes monumental damage at work. And internal communications is atrocious.

Management thinks they have all the answers. They also favor those that the majority dislike.

It's best to keep your interactions with coworkers to the minimum. There isn't much you you can do as these corporate leeches have pulled the wool over management.

I have a co-worker that is an off the charts narcissist. He always supports himself first, and every thing is a zero sum game. He tries very hard to appear benevolent, but I think he is evil to the core.

I've tried many approaches and none of them work. Open confrontation turned out badly for me and had no affect on his behavior. Another approach where I tried to be as charitable as possible only left me a chump.

Now I simply work behind the scenes to sabotage his self-centered schemes. I don't like it at all, and it's not my best self, but I believe strongly that his behavior is bad for "us" and cannot go unchallenged.


While it's difficult to work with people that you can't stand, it's a reality that most end up dealing with at some point.
For me, it just means keeping it all about the work- avoiding small chat and conversations that aren't about work and focusing on getting things done. This means managing projects, working towards goals with 100% of our logical brain- and avoiding emotion (as tough as that might be). I find that asking lots of questions, withholding your judgement and taking time before responding to things (to ensure that you're not reacting to what they are saying because of your strong dislike for them) are all techniques that can help.

Jim Grise

These people are not to be dismissed. I take solace in the knowledge that others have stuck with me and my shortcomings, as well. Wayne Dyer articulated it pretty well in a presentation where he talked about his approach to those who really push your buttons: "I honor you, my teacher."

I suppose I'm a pretty normal worker bee and believe in congeniality as a default position, but there's also less room for growth in a completely anesthetized environment. It's also why I've never been able to get fit in one of those boutique gyms that have juice bars and eucalyptus steam rooms as their main features.


First things first. Recognize that changing other people is extremely difficult (nearly impossible) and you're not going to succeed. Period. The bigger the desired change in the other person the more difficult it will be, and it doesn't take long to pass a point where it's all but impossible. If you have any doubts about this, ask your spouse.

So rule #1 is: it is in my own best interest to accept the person the way they are, and not try to change them, since trying to change them will fail. Nothing - absolutely nothing - tops understanding reality the way it really is. Rule #1 is reality.

Rule #2 is that people will not make long term changes in their character for you. Ever. It doesn't matter who you are. They might make short term changes, but nothing that will stick and nothing significant.

Enormous amounts of empirical research on getting people to change will show that people will change for themselves (and sometimes for loved ones, but not that often). Alcoholics will stop drinking, gamblers will walk away from the tables, so deep personality change can happen. It just won't come from you.

The one and only force you have control over in a work situation with people you just can't stand... is you. In that situation I do my best to understand the other person. What they are doing is good and right - from their frame of reference - so I do my level best to understand that. I find it very useful to admit I'm wrong (a practice I engage in literally every day), and to use one of Steven Covey's practices - seek first to understand, then to be understood.

I've long taught people Oprah's first rule in dealing with people (which she got from Maya Angelou) - when people who you who they are, believe them - the first time. That's who they are. Really. Honest. No kidding.

So the bottom line to dealing with people I can't stand is that it's very unlikely I'll ever be able to get them to make any substantial changes, all I have control over is myself. My healthiest two options are: I can change myself (reframe my understanding of them and seek to understand them, etc), or I can leave and work somewhere else that I'm not around people who treat me like they do.

Learn a simple lesson from the Bible - God does miracles, not you. If it's going to take a miracle for this person to change, you're not going to do it. Change yourself or get out.


For the most part, it's basic project & people management: clear commitments & an escalation path if the commitment isn't met. Make a genuine effort to understand what motivates the other person and to help them out. In almost every case, I know what to do, and usually what's stopping me is as much my emotion as it is the other person.

When I REALLY don't like someone, or when I get so aggravated at work that I'm driven to tears (2 or 3 times a year, usually), I have three tactics that help me get into a calm place and avoid sarcasm and eye rolling:
1. prepare for even small interactions using "getting to yes" approach: what do I want, and what's my BATNA.
2. a brisk walk or some breathing exercises while imagining a reward for later.
3. buy a powerball ticket. When I don't win, I become more appreciative of having a career that I like 95% of the time. I'm paid a decent wage to put up with the occasional unpleasantries.


A partial success and a total failure: In both cases, we invited them in to participate with our Team (we were all part of a Division of the organization) even though they did not really have a role in the Team project, but they were causing significant problems for us with negative talk throughout the organization. We tried the honest and open approach with them and, in one case, over time, while they never embraced our project, they moved to a more neutral position. In the other case, we were viewed as a threat to them even thought our project was under their charter and they used our outreach to burn the Team and me specifically. Eventually, it got so bad that I had to leave the organization. Our strengths were used against us (a la The Art of War). Our assessment of these individuals was based on assumptions that proved invalid (in the second case, I truly believe that the person was a psychopath in every sense). Lessons Learn: Test your assumptions before attempting to deal with problem people. Then test them again.


What about an organization where witch hunt is common, mediocre get the best posts and salaries while displaying a smoke curtain of pseudo capacity. Tribes are so powerful to influence every decision regarding personnel, promotions and pay rises. The managers are weak and totally under the control of the tribes? The same tribe that decides who is an asshole.
I think that generalizations are dangerous and can be manipulated by any kind of people.
So be careful with words.
They may end up hurting good hard workers that simply don't belong to the tribe..


John Rusk

I wonder if there's something useful in the idea "beware the unvalidated assumption". (I think Chris Argyris said that, but I can't find the quote.) For people we "can't stand", I suspect we tend to have fewer conversations with them, and therefore fewer chances to test (and perhaps thereby disprove) our assumptions about how impossible they are to work with.

I also suspect there are different kinds of "can't stand". Can't stand someone because they won't listen to you? Can you reframe it as a challenging opportunity to practice and grow your persuasion skills?

Can't stand someone because you think they have negative thoughts towards you? Can you have enough conversations with them, maybe just in passing in the kitchen/cafeteria - enough that their negative thoughts are either changed or found to be not as bad as you expected?

Can't stand someone because they get angry? Can you ask someone who's known them longer than you if they're always like this? (It's amazing how much inappropriate behaviour can be caused by sleep deprivation, which may in turn be caused by over work. But if they have a decent manager, the overwork should only be temporary.)

For me, the things that have worked best are reframing the situation as an opportunity to grow my people skills, and adopting the "argue like I'm right, listen like I'm wrong" viewpoint. And being patient - since none of the above works instantly.

These are all "honest/ethical/transparent" tactics - by which I mean if they other person somehow discovered what tactics you were using, they wouldn't feel offended and you wouldn't feel embarrassed.

P.S. In addition to the above, I can think of at least two other types of "can't stand": People you can't stand because they seem almost wilfully incompetent, and people who repeatedly violate the no asshole rule (without work stress or tiredness as the cause). I don't know how to deal with these... so I guess I'm relieved that in recent years I haven't had to!


I think the adage "kill them with kindness" works well here. Kindness (not to be confused with meekness or weakness, of course) often melts away whatever is making the coworker in question act so unpleasant. Most people just want to be heard and to feel important, so friendly listening and question-asking can go a long way. And even if it doesn't change their behavior, it can soften your attitude toward the person and make the situation seem easier to handle (you're focusing on how nice you can be rather than how much you can't stand them). Basically, you gotta Dale Carnegie the situation.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Scaling up Excellence

Good Boss Bad Boss

No Asshole Rule

Hard Facts

Weird Ideas

Knowing -Doing Gap

The No Asshole Rule:Articles and Stories