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Pete Aldin

Must agree with mattam above. This is a sensational post and I welcome your thoughts and the way you articulate the problem. There's gotta be some other solutions though. Coz I worked for a workplace psychopath for a decade; I've escaped but many others are stuck there by the Golden Handcuff and are still being abused, even turned abuser themselves to survive.

I wrote a series of posts about Dependency Theory and how we can use its principles to find ways of getting away from thse assholes that unfortunately hold the power of the dollar over us.

If i had my way the NO Asshole Rule would become law. :) - great blog man.


Though interesting and in many ways enjoyable the post and comments are, effectively only one sound solution has been suggested to a problem faced by the employee: "get out of there". I appreciate it is difficult to apply but there are a number of techniques to stand up to an abusive boss. Surely, with the abundance of a.holes around, every one of us has a trick or two to share, that makes the life easier.

Bob Sutton

Thanks for the very thoughtful comments. In many of your comments, there are two themes. The first one (Michael, I think you nailed it) is the question of who the asshole is here -- if a boss lets a manager get away with this time and time again, it is a sign of incompetence. The second one (Lilly and Jim) points to the fact that there is something systemic here, apparently a system of norms about what is right and what is wrong, as well as a power structure that make it hard to fix -- so I agree with Jim that HR likely did nothing because they didn't have any real power (a problem in too many organizations). And finally, Lilly, yes , you are on target about a documenting, and also about the climate of fear and how it leads to disasters like BP.

Oh, one more thing, in writing The No Asshole Rule, I looked (with a lot of help from my wife, a lawyer)into the question of whether it is against the law to be a jerk. And it seems that in the states -- although perhaps not in the UK -- that being an equal opportunity asshole is likely not unlawful. BUT if, say a man, is generally an asshole and happens to do it to minorities or women, nasty actions may be labeled as unlawful. Think of trying to defend a client (like the star of the TV show House) with argument "I know he make nasty comments to women and Asians and Blacks, but he demeans everyone, not just members of those groups." It might fly, but is not a very convincing argument.

In fact, I had an earlier post on an attorney at Holland & Knight who was accused by women in his office of sexual harassment, in part, because he asked them to "feel his pipes" (his muscular biceps); he admitted that he did this, but his defense was that he asked both men and women to feel his pipes. It would be funny if it wasn't true.


I found the story about the woman who was promoted to supervisor by an abusive boss very interesting. Who's the asshole here? Is it the abusive boss or is it the abusive boss' superiors who tolerate this and let it go on? Allowing one of your subordinates to be an asshole not only makes you one too - but a bigger one at that! You don't have to overtly act like an asshole to be one, sometimes accepting this behavior in others is enough to make you one.

Lilly Evans

This is a terrible situation and surely one that the person should prepare to leave. Documenting situation is worthwhile for her sanity. Unfortunately, I do not think it will change anything.

However, you do not say where is your correspondent working. I mean, let us suppose this is a company where errors can have catastrophic outcomes - say chemical plant. The asshole boss is effectively creating situations where the whole company is at increasing risk! And then, Health and Safety regulators may have something to say on the matter.

I think the example of BP in Texas refinery case might have something to do with asshole bosses. Has anyone checked? If so, I think other companies will be weary in the future.

Finally, my advice woul be, keep diary of situations and reactions, try to record (hidden mike) some of the yelling sessions, realise this is not just you, try to detach from it all, get another job and then pursue the woman for personal injury/ harrasment/ ureasonable behaviour at work!

Pat McGee

Is it possible that some laws outside the employment law realm already address behaviors like this? I'm thinking that if my neighbor did stuff like this to me, I could find a legal remedy. Could those same things work in employment situations? After all, no employment contract specifies that the employee must quietly put up with abuse.

Jim Anderson

Your advice about documentation is good, although ultimately HR is not likely to be able to solve this problem. Abusive managers are given permission (explicit or implicit) to behave that way by *their* management. Maybe HR can help raise the issue somewhere up the line, but in most cases the only authority HR has is that which is granted to it by line management.

In my view the problem has to be solved by the management of the functional area or business unit she is in. And if her boss's boss, or even higher, won't do anything about the problem, then it's clear what kind of organization she is working for and she should get out. Maybe she can pursue legal action, but if she's already having sleepless nights and taking anxiety medicine, I'm not sure I'd recommend that appraoch. Such an action is an awfully stressful and anxiety-provoking experience, "win" or lose.

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