Jerk is not a protected class III

I came across Robert Sutton’s article, Nasty People via Johanna’s Hiring Technical People blog.

Sutton reiterates the costs of tolerating abusive behavior in the workplace and poses three strategies to keep the workplace a jerk-free zone:

  • Avoid hiring jerks in the first place. Sutton says, “Indeed, the difference between the ways a person treates the powerless and the powerful is as good a measure of human character as I know.” To find out how to assess this, see Weed Out the Not-So-Nice in Hiring for a Collaborative Team & Johanna’s advice on asking behavior questions and obtaining a range of references.
  • Fire jerks when the show their true colors. Sutton points out that it’s easier to fire an abusive manager when the company policies are on jerk-behavior are explicit…so…
  • Make it clear and explicit that asshole behavior isn’t tolerated within the company.

    Of course, jerks aren’t always easy to see:

  • Many of abuisve people can be charming, and often are charming to the people who manage them.
  • People who are abused tend to start second-guessing their own perceptions They may even believe they brought this behaivor down on themselves, so they don’t report the abusive behavior.

    If you are a manager and hear reports that someone on your staff is behaving abusively, don’t assume that because the person never blows up at you that the abuisve behavior doesn’t exist. Investigate, get more data, and let the alleged abuser know that you are paying attention. Consider brining up the issue in a one-on-one meeting, saying “Some people feel that you abuse them. What can you tell me about that?”

    Sutton poses this two-part test to assess wether some one is abusive (Feb 2004 issue of HBR):

    “After talking to the alleged asshole, do people consistently feel oppressed and belittled by the person, and, especially, do they feel dramatically worse about themselves?

    Does the person consistently direct his or her venom at people seen as powerless and rarely, if ever, at people who are powerful?”

    Think your manager is abusive? See Is Your Boss a Bully? on (I’ve written about this topic before here and here.)

    I’ll end by quoting another eminent expert 🙂

    “Verbal abuse is never acceptable. People who cannot manage themselves should not manage others. No ifs, ands, or buts. No excuses. End of discussion.”