200px-The_No_Asshole_Rule.jpgI’m reading the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Business Week Bestseller, and provocatively titled, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t by Robert Sutton reveals some harrowing statistics of bullying and abuse in the workplace.


  • A 2000 study found 27% of Michigan workers had been mistreated at work with one in six reporting psychological abuse
  • A 2002 Department of Veterans Affair study found 36% of workers reporting persistent mistreatment from co-workers and supervisors
  • A 1997 study of nurses found that 90% reported verbal abuse by physicians in the previous year; a 2003 study found similarly that 91% of nurses had experienced verbal abuse in the past month
These statistic suggest that there are a lot of assholes out there, people who cannot control their tempers and treat people with respect. Many are successful in the financial aspects of their work but their behaviors costs companies a lot of money due to the damage they cause. Businesses are discovering that it’s too expensive to keep assholes employed and many are adopting the “No Asshole Rule.”

(Note: Sutton debated on whether to use the potentially offensive term asshole and considered other terms such as bully or jerk. He decided on the term asshole is being more authentic than the watered down version. The Harvard Business Review agreed with him when they published his article, “The No Asshole Rule.”)

    I had to call my local phone company with a billing inquiry. I’ll confess at the outset, I’ve probably been an asshole on the phone in the past on at least one occasion. In the wake of goodness that the No Asshole Rule suggests and also after sitting in mindfulness meditation for 45 minutes, I approached this call with my buddhanature shining. I could have taken an angry, defensive approach, after all they are ripping me off. And while it was the case that the charges in question appeared exorbitant ($100 for two of those little plastic phone jacks) that doesn’t have to dictate the tenor of the approach. I reminded myself that if I was not successful having some of the charges reversed that I could politely say that I was not satisfied and request to talk to a superior. Rancor would not be necessary.
    What followed surprised me. I had a very pleasant conversation with the customer service representative. When she saw the installation charges appearing on my bill 4 months after the work was done and, yes, $100 for two little phone jacks was exorbitant she credited all the charges without my having to ask. Of course our grandmothers knew this wisdom too: “You get more flies with honey than vinegar.”
    The Buddha taught the “No Asshole Rule” 2500 years ago without calling it precisely that. He cautioned against the three poisons: Greed-Hatred-Delusion. These are the forces that make people act like assholes, whether temporarily in the moment or in a more enduring “certified” way. Greed reinforces a sense of separation from others that somehow “I” deserve more. Hatred is self-explanatory. Anger, hostility, contempt are all qualities that are provided by nature for dealing with actual threats that then get conditioned to and recruited for dealing with threats to our self-image. A lack of mindfulness may correspond to a lack of modulation around anger, hostility, and contempt. Ignorance is a lack of wisdom, and in this case a lack of understanding of the destructive effects of asshole behavior.
    This is karma. When we behave a certain way it has effects on people, including ourselves. If we go the asshole route there are a lot of karmic ramifications of such actions. If we go the benevolent route another set of effects arise. The evidence suggests that being nice, cooperative, and respectful is better for the bottom line. Being an asshole is expensive.
    Sutton presents a case a highly profitable salesman who treated his subordinates with contempt. His company did an analysis of the costs associated with his behavior and came up with a tab of $160,000. They subsequently deducted this from his salary and bonuses. These costs included time spent by his manager, HR professional, executives, and outside counsel handling the fall-out of his behavior; the cost of recruiting and hiring a new administrative assistant, and anger management training. 
    No one can be empathicaly attuned 100% of the time. Most of us all fall victim, at times, to being an asshole. Mindfulness can help us move from greed, hatred, and delusion to generosity, loving friendliness, and wisdom. Mindfulness practice helps us to decondition angry ways of responding and be less reactive. It helps us to build a pause between stimulus and response and to be thoughtful in that pause.
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