As part of my goal of improving my social skills, last month I read The No Asshole Rule by Robert I. Sutton. I started with that book because in my life — in friendships, academics, and professional settings — I’ve (sometimes) been called an asshole. Fortunately, after reading this book, I realize that although I might occasionally be a temporary asshole, I am no where near certified asshole territory.

I’ve never actually worked in a place chock full of assholes, so I’m not sure how useful the book is to someone who does. I had hoped to come out of it with strong advice for how to not be an asshole, but it didn’t quite do that for me. It did spur a little thought on why I am an asshole sometimes, come off as one sometimes, or both, and the thought and deliberate reflection are valuable on their own.

The book also exposed me to two ideas that I think are valuable to apply in business:

  1. In addition to emotional costs, there are quantifiable financial costs to having assholes in an organization.
  2. Personality should be considered as a part of performance and competence.

What follows are quotes from the book (mostly from Chapter 4, How to Stop Your “Inner Jerk” from Getting Out) that struck me as relevant in some way to my condition, as well as my reflections.


If you are all asshole all the time, you probably need therapy, Prozac, anger management classes, transcendental mediation, more exercise, or all of the above.

I’m only a temporary asshole some of the time, but I think all of the above help me stay calmer more of the time as well.

Regarding meetings where men are talking over one another and showing each other up, in which assholishness spreads:

One management consultant whom I know describes meetings like these as “like watching apes in the zoo throwing feces to assert dominance.”

One night in college, after too many drinks, I ended up in someone’s face. At the time the situation seemed justified. I’d been wronged (more on that below) and was seeking some form of justice. Several years later I was walking in New York City and I saw two dogs on leashes absolutely going at each other. I immediately thought of that college confrontation. The situations, years and species apart, felt the same. I felt ashamed.

If you want to confront the hard facts about yourself rather than wallowing in your protective delusions, try contrasting what you believe about yourself with how others see you.

Although not just on the topic of being an asshole, I have undervalued how others see me and have not devoted enough thought to what actions I have taken that created those impressions. This is something I hope to change.

Regarding “honor cultures,” the author wrote:

if you were raised as a southerner—or perhaps a cowboy—you will likely be more polite than your colleagues most of the time, but if you run into an even mildly insulting asshole, you are prone to lash out

This is definitely accurate. Although I had started over the years to identify what I think of as “toxic masculinity,” I had not associated it with my culture’s (relatively mild, historically speaking) sense of honor. This feels like one of those things that, once pointed out, I can start to neutralize merely through noticing it.

efforts to win a big victory may provoke a more powerful opponent to spring into action against you, an opponent may think it is too much trouble to undermine or overturn any given tiny victory, or may not even notice that it has happened. Yet, over time, a series of small wins may add up to a big win against that opponent.

As far as I’m concerned any self help book gets better with a little The Art of War thrown in.

[Amabile] did controlled experiments with book reviews; some reviews were nasty and others were nice. [She] found that negative and unkind people were seen as less likable but more intelligent, competent, and expert than those who expressed the same messages in kinder and gentler ways.

Although I have never consciously been mean to create the appearance of intelligence, this passage makes me wonder what impact the underlying thought process here has had on my development. I have been seen as intelligent, effective, competent, and expert in some jobs; but also I have been as less likable than my peers in those same positions. I don’t want to assume anything about causation from that brief snippet of a study, but I sense that there’s a valuable nugget in there that I’d like to carry with me to occasionally reflect on.