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Bob Sutton


Great point. Emotions are very contagious, thank goodness it goes both ways.

Wally Bock

"being a jerk is something that you catch from a group of other jerks" Fortunately, it goes the other way, too. Get around good, engaged folks and you're more likely to become one yourself. The hard part is when you're in the middle, working for a jerk, but working at being a great supervisor to your direct reports.

Bob Sutton


For starters, there is an excellent article in Harvard Business Review on coaching the alpha male by Kate Ludeman and Eddie Erlandson, which shows how they use 360 degree interviews and then coaching to deal with overbearing executives (a form of asshole), and it is impressive in the Michael Dell and Kevin Rollins not only got such coaching, they allowed themselves to be described as needing it in HBR.

More generally, my view -- consistent with much research on the power (or lack of power) of personality to explain behavior -- is that being a jerk is somethingthat you catch from a group of other jerks. So when you interview for jobs, and they are all a bunch of jerks, rememeber that the chances are you will become just like them. And if you get a job offer and realize that you have signed-up to join a gang of assholes, get out as fast as you can. There are lots of other things you can do if stuck among them, and can't get out, but again, if you look at research on any behavior, for the most part, they are something we catch from other people -- especially emotions.

Great discussion! Thanks for all the the thoughtful words.

David Maister

Sorry if I'm only just catching up with what's in the book, Bob. Do you have any exercises you recommend for preventing yourself becoming an asshole? Are there mantras one can recite? Can a serial asshole be reformed or reform himself / herself?

I'm neither confessing nor teasing, but hope these are serious questions. I suspect that learning to NOT be an asshole takes more than just being given a mug, right?

What's the sympathetic, empathetic change program that would produce results?

ann michael

I find that the more rushed or stressed I am the more likely it is that I will be an asshole. When I have especially tough days I try to find a quiet spot at the end of the day to review that day's events in my mind and see if I was an asshole to anyone. I've apologized to people many times because of that (including to my kids).

Bob Sutton

PS to David: The next day isn't so bad, it takes years for some people!

Bob Sutton

David, I talk a lot in the book about how to stop your inner asshole from rearing its ugly head, and in fact, admit a number of times when it has happened to me (my wife is always quick to point it out, as she has a lot of experience with them). In addition to apologizing and making clear that such behavior is no acceptable, I also think that it is important for all of us to have people around us who are allowed to telling us when we are blowing it. This are just a few touch points... oh for me self-awareness is essential. I've learned to be especially careful over e-mail. I love to write and express myself, and that is not always a good thing. Again, I have a chapter on this, so I have thought about it a lot, but one key point is that we are all capable of it at times.

David Maister

Bob, do you or your community have any advice on what to do if you think (or realize) that you're the one that's the asshole? Do you apologize and move on? What if you don't realize what an asshole you've been until the next day?

Advice , please.

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