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Dear Anon,

It's pretty hard to give really good advice without many specifics to catch the themes that might help with problem-solving.

Here are some generalities:

First, don't stoop to the negative behavior yourself. Stay high-road. (The high road: longer, bumpier, harder; always better.)

Second, do set your time horizon in a way that you won't torment yourself when you don't see instantanous results. These are long-term problems and require a perspective to match. (Please note: if you don't ever start, you can be pretty sure nothing will ever get better.)

Third, pick ONE behavior at a time to work on.

Fourth, build a coalition to support you.

Fifth, be sure to reward constructive behavior, while at the same time withdrawing any positive feedback from the destructive conduct.

As I said, it's not easy. It's not fast.

Having done it and seen it done, allow me to assure you it's also not impossible.

Almost everyone has a postive view of him or herself, and almost everyone (not all; there are evil people out there) has some positive characteristics and contributes something. If you can encourage the positive and discourage the most negative stuff--incrementally--I promise you'll see results. But you might have to keep reminders for yourself to track between here and there, as it's not fast.

As I said, good luck. Truly, it can be done.




Thanks for your response. For me, this is a tough one for several reasons. From an organizational perspective, the faculty member and several of the main combatants outrank me, our chair is disengaged and temporary as a search is underway, the higher administrators say that our unit has to "fix" the problem. I'm assigned the responsibility to coordinate curriculum that this individual is passionate about and polarizes but I have no authority. Another key senior faculty retreats to the "silence" mode of "Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when the stakes are high". I'm one of the few on reasonable terms with all involved.

Any suggestions? I'm tempted to make an anonymous gift of some key books to some administrators. :-)

Ironically, I began learning about leadership after, as a brand new assistant prof, experiencing a director who was almost a sociopath. The irony is that he left to become a chair at UI for a Dean who was his friend and wanted a hatchet job done.


Dealing With Bullies

evden eve nakliyat

thanks for your informations.very good informations..i will read all the time this blog.again thanks...


Dear Anon,

We must have been composing at the same time yesterday, as I hadn’t seen your post when developing mine. Bob has invited me to respond to your query, so let me take a stab at your question.

It’s pretty clear from social psychology that people who are critical are perceived as smarter than those who are nice, which is one way to understand the common—and mistaken-—tendency in academia to equate being unpleasant with having high standards, or worse, being likeable with having low standards. Look at Bob’s posts about the research of Rob Cross on people who energize vs. de-energize to think about this from another perspective.

The “brilliant” professor has likely been socialized to some degree to his approach and it takes a lot more maturity, self-control and discipline to be civil than it does to have temper tantrums or act out. If one is able to rationalize that one’s poor behavior is actually “the only way” to get through to people, isn’t that convenient? It’s hard work to use self-restraint and good manners, even though better for the organization and, ultimately, for one’s own effectiveness.

What’s really important in this setting is how others react to the brilliant professor’s conduct. He’s likely pretty set in his ways, and like all of us, is biased to pick out the parts that reinforce his ideas and ignore others, which conspires against him making changes on his own.

So, this leaves all the impetus on those who are responsible for the environment. You say that his approach is increasingly isolating him (again, if you think of him as a de-energizer, this makes perfect sense), which is increasing his frustration and thus escalating his unpleasant conduct.

Assuming he is a valuable enough resource to try to rescue, there are a couple of steps that can be followed. The first and most important is to see this as a medium- to long-term project: a year or more before it’s likely to be fully effective. Setting one’s time expectations for visible change on the right scale will help prevent hopelessness and giving up too soon. Second, there must be a disincentive for the bad conduct and positive responses to the constructive portions. And, it has to be done consistently. (This is harder than it sounds.) Check out my chapter on bullies and think about this guy in the context of Professor Major, whom I discuss there. I’d be happy to talk with you as well, if that would be helpful.

And good luck.



Thanks for this great post, Bob. I’ve since learned that the student who made this observation was Ben Wright, a first year MBA student at Illinois. I credit him for originating the “I hate the word ‘rule’, too” comment with his permission.

After the first chapters of your book were assigned to the class, one of the writing assignment choices was the following question:

Is the Sutton book about ethics? Is it about leadership? Why are we reading it in a course on leadership and ethics? Support your position with references to the book itself and any of the readings in the coursepack.

Of those who answered this question (the preponderance of the class of 104), 64 (not all that surprisingly, given the prompt and that I assigned the book in the first place) thought it was about both leadership and ethics. By and large, the papers were thoughtful and well-reasoned.

15 thought it was only about leadership. Four thought it was only about ethics and had nothing to do with leadership. Four thought it wasn't about either: only about how you treat other people (!) or only about management.

The most surprising aspect (to me), that I had not expected, was the number of students who took the opportunity to reflect upon their own behavior and whether or not they would qualify as "certified assholes" in light of their reading. A number of those papers spent time considering aspects of their own conduct and ways it might affect others, as well as changes they might consider for the future.

Thanks again for encapsulating not only a philosophy of leadership but also marshalling the evidence about the cost-effectiveness in business of various approaches to interaction.



ASHOL Motivation differences?

IMO most of the book's focus is on ASHOL's motivated/corrupted by position power; the John Bolton's who "kiss up, kick down" who do it because they can.

How about those ASHOL's who kick in any direction because they believe that to cause change they really have to? Their paradigm being that at the core most people (particularly those who disagree with them but themselves included) have weak knowledge, ethics, values and motives and that unless confronted with these flaws will not change.

The otherwise brilliant professor who immediately polarizes almost all discussions because he honestly believes that he has to be combative to get people to change their views, not realizing that productive dialog is quenched instead. That fact that people confronted in the past (Presidents and Deans on down) later moved toward his point of view (his ideas are often insightful and correct) he views as supporting this confrontational approach.

However, his approach impedes the very change he desires. People acknowledge his brilliance but, growing tired of his personal attacks on their values, motives and ethics, are more and more isolating and ignoring him, which is a loss to everyone. This increases his frustration, which escalates his response.

Any insights?

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