Shocking Advice From a Stanford Professor

I was going to wait til Monday to begin the Self Confidence, Personal Impact, Outstanding Performance, Communication Skills and Interpersonal Competence cycle at the beginning, but I just couldn’t wait to do this post.  So, we’re beginning at the end — with a post on Interpersonal Competence.

Today is Friday, so this post is on interpersonal competence.

Recently, I came across a book called The No A**hole Rule, by Robert Sutton, a Stanford professor.  Pretty racy title for a Stanford professor, but Dr. Sutton says he chose it to be provocative in order to “spur corporate America to stamp out boorish behavior that reduces productivity, drives away talented workers and ruins morale”.  Besides that, in my opinion, a**holes are the exact opposite of interpersonally competent people.  And, interpersonal competence is a key to success in life and your career.

Dr. Sutton defines an a**hole as someone who “oppresses, humiliates, de-energizes or belittles a subordinate or colleague”.  He lists a dirty dozen actions common to them.

  1. Personal insults
  2. Invading another’s personal space
  3. Uninvited personal contact
  4. Threats and intimidation, both verbal and non verbal
  5. Sarcastic jokes and teasing used to deliver insults
  6. Withering email flames
  7. Status slaps intended to humiliate another person
  8. Public shaming or status degradation rituals
  9. Rude interruptions
  10. Two-faced attacks
  11. Dirty looks
  12. Treating people as if they are invisible

Clearly, these are all things to avoid.  However, my friend Paulette Ensign always reminds me that it’s always more helpful to tell someone what to do, that what not to do.  In keeping with Paulette’s excellent advice, here is my take on Dr. Sutton’s dirty dozen.

  1. Keep conversation focused on the problem or topic under discussion, not the people involved.
  2. Be aware of other people’s personal space.  Maintain an appropriate distance.
  3. Keep work relationships, work relationships.  Don’t assume that your work colleagues want to be your friend outside of work.
  4. Explain the consequences that come with a certain behavior in a non threatening manner.
  5. Use humor for humor’s sake, or to relieve tension – not to hurt or insult another person.
  6. If you’re upset, call or speak to the other person, don’t send an email.  Avoid copying others on an e mail where you are providing negative feedback.  Don’t use the bcc function as a means of sending a message about someone to another person.  Never respond to an e mail when you’re angry.
  7. Treat all people with the respect and dignity they deserve as human beings.
  8. Ban all hazing rituals in your workplace.  If you are not in a position to ban such activities, choose to not participate in them.
  9. Listen to people in an attempt to understand what they are saying.  Don’t interrupt, or speak until you are sure they are finished speaking.
  10. Be forthright.  If you don’t like something that someone has done, tell him or her – not other people.
  11. Keep a neutral or pleasant look on your face.  Avoid trying to intimidate others by your expression.
  12. Acknowledge others.  Say hello, look them in the eye.  Treat everyone you encounter with dignity and respect.

Dr. Sutton is writing for leaders.  He suggests some ideas for implementing a no a**hole rule in your organization.  He also presents some ideas on how to survive in a toxic work atmosphere.  And, as Dr. Sutton points out, all of us are probably a little bit guilty of being an a**hole on occasion.  However, by becoming aware of our actions we can stamp out inappropriate behavior and become interpersonally competent people.  And, as I always remind myself and those who I coach, interpersonal competence is a key to career and life success. How can you measure the progress of staff members that you won’t physically see each day? It’s a tricky one for managers, but there are plenty of ways to ensure your staff are meeting their targets while working independently. Some tools offer features like random screen sampling or time monitoring, while other time and attendance solutions allow remote staff to clock in and out as they would at the office. You can even schedule ‘watercooler’ breaks, where all of your remote staff join a group chat or a Google Hangout to show their progress and discuss their activity. Remember: try not to let ‘suspicion’ be your default mode when it comes to tracking productivity. Your flexible workers are more likely to be even more productive than your in-house staff!

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website for more common sense.  Check out my other blog: for common sense advice on leading people and running a small business.

I’ll see you around the web, and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand – my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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