Book Review: The Asshole Survival Guide

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Full disclosure. I count Bob Sutton as a friend. I also think he’s one of the top business authors writing today. You’ll know what I mean if you’ve read any of his other work, including Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, And Total Nonsense, Scaling Up Excellence, or Good Boss, Bad Boss. As good as I think Bob is, I didn’t read The No Asshole Rule.

I thought it was a bad idea to use the “A word” in the title. I thought it would turn people off. Boy, was I wrong.

But the reason that book was such a great hit wasn’t because of the particular word in the title. It was because it struck a nerve. Bob wrote the book as a way of describing how to create a people-friendly and productive workplace. But when people read it, what they seized on were those descriptions of assholes. They started sending him cards and letters, emails, and texts asking for advice on how to deal with those assholes. The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People Who Treat You like Dirt is the result of all those requests.

We’ve all experienced assholes. I had one boss whose picture should be right next to the definition of “asshole”. I’ve had clients who were assholes, some occasionally and some almost all the time. In the course of life and business, I learned that I needed to get those people out of my life.

I’ve also been an asshole myself. Sometimes it was just for a few minutes, but sometimes it was for long stretches. One friend described a younger version of me as “a bull who carries his own china shop with him.” At the time, I thought it was funny. Today, I realize how appalling I was acting to merit that gentle nudge of a description.

The Asshole Survival Guide is a great book in the Bob Sutton tradition. There’s a lot of solid research to support the points that he makes. There are lots of good stories. No, there are lots and lots and lots of good stories. Because the first book struck a nerve and identified a need, Bob has all those emails and letters, plus conversations and interviews to fill this book with dozens of great stories.

The book will do what it promises. It will teach you how to “avoid, outwit and disarm assholes.” It will help you diagnose the particular situation that you face. In other words, it will help you figure out what the problem is and put together a solution that works in your particular situation. But there’s more. It will teach you how to recognize when you’re being one. Bob includes descriptions of situations when we’re more likely to act like assholes and this handy mantra.

“Be slow to label others as assholes, be quick to label yourself as one.”

He also helps you recognize when you’ve become an enabler, someone who is making it possible for an asshole to continue being one without paying a price. Reading that reminded me of a friend’s situation when we were in our twenties.

She went to work for a senior editor at a religious publication who was such a horrible boss that the employment agency who supplied people like my friend would only do so if the publication waived the normal refund when a job candidate quit before 90 days on the job.

My friend lasted a little over two months and quit because she was getting physically sick every day before going to the office. She mailed her resignation so she wouldn’t have to face “that horrid woman” again. Her story was not unique, but it didn’t matter.

Everyone knew that the senior editor was a vicious, demeaning, and unfair boss. Her boss knew. The governing board of the church body knew. The employment agency knew. They all allowed her to keep ruining the lives of others because she was, according to them, a great editor. The Asshole Survival Guide could have helped all of them and my friend, too.

The Asshole Survival Guide is a great read and it will help you make sense of the world around you, no matter what situation you’re in right now. I keep wondering whether Bob sold the movie rights to this book. Surely, if “The Office” can be a hit, The Asshole Survival Guide could be a blockbuster.


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