No Asshole Rule
The Company A**hole, we all know him or her, and every company has one. A blow hard, a know it all, someone who has all the answers and in their opinion is never wrong. They think they are the life of the party and their shit doesn’t stink. I don’t think that most of these folks know they are a**holes and I don’t know how to help self identify if you are one. Half of the a**holes know they are asses and just won’t admit it to themselves and the other half wouldn’t believe it if they were told, so what is the use? I do know the effect they have on the rest of the team which is why so many companies have the self-explanatory “no asshole rule”. These people can make life miserable, demoralize teams and in some cases make us want to quit. My advice for those of you that do work with one, (and we all do), is to try to not let it bother you. Easier said than done I know, but if Mr. BlowHard wins the lotto and leaves the company, or better, gets hit by a bus, another BlowPop will stick his head up and start the cycle all over again. If you think quitting your job and leaving will help, there will be a Dumb Ass at your next company or department. Trust me, I am a professional, I know a few things.
If you are a reader of this blog, you know my other passion outside of HR is fly fishing for Steelhead in the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia with a Spey rod. The other day, I was reminded of an actual story from last years fishing season when a good friend wanted to quit their job because of a DooFus that was making his life miserable. I thought it might resonate here as well.
Every year I get together with a bunch of angler buddies in a large rented house we use as a base camp to go fly fish for Steelhead. Last year, I stayed there for about 5 days and during that time, anglers came and went. Some arrived before I got there, and anglers were coming and going after I left. Of course, the fishing picked up dramatically after I left but that is par for course. It was a revolving community, where everyone fished on their own or in small groups during the day, but every night, we all got together and sat around the dinner table family style to share stories, break bread and raise glasses.
I knew everyone there personally or by reputation and it was this way for everyone else. There were no strangers, and I went back a number of years with most of the guys. It was a pretty tight-knit group. Till day 3 anyway.
Now granted, I was half sick because it was snowing, 24 degrees, and I didn’t get to eat my usual breakfast of country fried steak, gravy on the side, with hash browns and an over easy egg on the first day. Somehow, I started the morning of day one with only half of a toasted pop tart, a cup of coffee, and a bowl of fruit from a pull-top can. No one else was complaining so I went with it, but my inside voice was screaming, “WTF? Who had grocery duty this week?” We are on the water by 7:00 AM and by 9:00 AM I was feeling the effects of my empty stomach and low blood sugar. I am sure that standing in a glacial melt river for the next two-days didn’t help, but that isn’t the point.
Doo-Dah arrived the third evening. I was doing my best to relax in the bark-o-lounger in front of a big screen TV and a roaring fire watching some MMA. Life was as good as it can get fighting a cold after smoking 3-4 cigars a day with no fish to the hand.
I don’t know what it was, but I immediately didn’t like the guy. My recruiter Spidey sense went off. Within 10 seconds of him coming through the door, my internal Lights and Sirens were blinding and blaring. I wasn’t even facing the front door when he arrived. There was literally a “disturbance in the force”. He was nice enough. He came around and introduced himself with the obligatory hand shake, but I just didn’t “feel right” about him and the way he announced himself.
He was a guest of one of the veterans of our year traditional trip, and in the moment I just accepted it and went back to fight night.
Not long after, I hear BlowHard explaining his fishing expertise to those that will listen. Thing is, he wasn’t just explaining, he was telling folks how good he was. He was bragging how big his fish were and what exotic lands and waters he had travelled to catch them. Most of us have been to all these places multiple times, so I wasn’t impressed. To the contrary, I was turned off. I was actually asking myself, “Does this guy realize he is just a peanut in a house full of giants? Half these guys are published, and the other have been written about or featured in films.”
During dinner our new guest dropped just a few too many F bombs. Again, I wasn’t just “un-impressed”, I was turned off. I am all for dropping an F bomb when appropriate, but as the new guy trying to make friends, I want to test the waters a bit first. Am I a prude???? Yes, there were a number of raised eye brows and some dirty glances shot in the direction of the guide that made the invite.
After dinner, more of the same. “I am really good at this” and an “eff’n this and eff’n that”!
The next day, three of us are floating down the river in a drift boat. It is cold, the air is silent, and the mood is not just peaceful, it is Zen. There are a few inches of fresh snow on the tree branches, and the water is so flat, you can see the reflection of the shoreline in the water’s edge. The moment of silence is broken with the single statement by Angler number 1. “I didn’t like him as soon as I met him”. This was as random a statement as one could come up in such a peaceful moment, but I knew exactly who and what he was talking about. This statement was followed by a moment of silence and then Angler number 2. “I don’t think he will be invited back next year”. (Angler 2 happened to be in charge of the guest list). DOHHH!!!! I just sat in silence and cracked a smile to myself. I didn’t need to say anything, and anything I would say wasn’t going to reinforce what was already considered “baked and done’.
I thought this was all pretty interesting. As an HR guy, I always try to give the benefit of the doubt in any potential negative situation. Doo-Dah didn’t really do anything wrong. He had just driven for 6 straight hours by himself, was excited about the fishing and probably wanting to talk. He wasn’t that offensive. He swore a bit much for me, but in his defense, it is a fishing trip with 9 type A’s trying to put fish on the board and “me”, type B-. A couple of the guys are going through a divorce, about to get into a divorce or just coming out of a divorce and with this demographic I fully expect two things: plenty of toasts and F-Bombs.
I couldn’t help but think if this were an interview (and it absolutely was), he wouldn’t have made it past round one. I don’t think he would have made it past reception. Obviously we shouldn’t come into the lobby of a company we are interviewing for and bust out with a “Fuckin’ great to be here folks, can’t wait to get this interview started. Just got done interviewing down he street at Acme Publishing, and yeah, I nailed it!” But I wouldn’t have put it past this guy.
It was an interview because in this small circle of anglers, this was a special group. I was stoked to be there because in this very niche circle, there were some heavy hitting anglers including professionals and published authors. In some very small circles they would be considered celebrities. (I don’t fall into either group, I hitched a ride on a buddy’s coat tails) BlowHard somehow managed to piss off a number of folks in the first 20 minutes and I am confident he didn’t even know what effect he had on the group.
So what is the lesson? I am not sure. All I can think of is “It is better to keep your mouth shut and let everyone think you are fool, than to open it and remove all doubt”. It’s not a competition, and we don’t have to show everyone how much better we are. Set the bar low and let everyone think you are a dumb ass then deliver the shock and awe of brilliance.
Whether it is a new group of people, a first date, or a job interview, try to avoid making it a competition where the goal is to show how you are better than everybody else. Approach it like a discussion where you are just as interested in finding out about everyone else rather than just showing the interviewer how over qualified you are. Everybody loves to talk about him or herself. We should also give the interviewers the opportunities to tell us how wonderful their company is and what they are looking for in a candidate.
Don’t hire assholes and we’ll see you at the after party,
nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.
PS. I am proud to say that I work in an asshole free zone.