Why We Don’t Work with Assholes and Neither Should You

If you have ever worked with other people on a project, you know what it’s like to have an asshole on the team. Almost everyone has had the experience of working with employees, customers or partners who thought they were critical to the success of the project but turned out to create more problems than they solved. In many cases, you don’t even notice the disruptive effect of these people until they leave, at which point problems that seemed intractable suddenly start to resolve themselves. Of course, by then it may be too late to salvage the project. It’s important to identify and eliminate them quickly so you can get them out of the way before they can do serious damage.

Do You Have an Asshole on Your Team?

We are talking about people who seek credit for themselves and make others around them doubt themselves and/or each other. This is the person who often “teases” or injects insulting comments into conversation in order to point out mistakes or display inadequacy in teammates. According to Robert I. Sutton, who recently released a book on the subject titled The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, it is important to avoid these people at all costs, as their nastiness can be contagious. They often attempt to justify their behavior by claiming they are “being honest” or that they care about the success of the project too much to consider their co-workers’ feelings. Do not accept these excuses.

Celebrity chef, author, and TV personality Anthony Bourdain was once offered a life-changing TV deal which in his words was “helicopter on the side of the mansion money.” He and his team left the meeting, speechless, but were wary of the executive who made the offer. He enacted what he calls the 11 p.m. rule: if you get a late call and you see that person’s name pop up on your phone, do you want to answer it? Everyone on his team quickly shook their head, NO. He now uses the 11 p.m. rule as his litmus test.

Getting Rid of Them

Many business owners and managers put up with these folks for far too long, telling themselves that they will never find anyone with the right skills to replace them. Honestly, we have been guilty of this ourselves: we’ve held on to difficult people far too long because we thought they were critical to the success of projects due to their skills or relationships with customers. But we’ve learned there’s no reason to talk yourself into this fallacy. There are plenty of professionals out there who can get the job done without bullying those around them. You don’t have to settle. If someone is dragging down company morale, it’s likely that he or she is having a negative effect on productivity. According to Forbes, 75 percent of employees experience bullying at work, which can lead them to lose motivation or even have to take time off for stress. If you see this happening in your workplace, don’t hesitate to get rid of the negative element so you can watch your team flourish.

Since such deeply negative behavior reverberates, it may prove difficult to get rowing in the same direction again once he/she is gone. As long as you maintain the understanding that a culture of collaboration supports innovation, recovery is possible. 

A toned-down version of this post was originally published at SmallFootprint.com.