Dr. Asshole

by Arlen Meyers

In 2004, Stanford Professor Robert Sutton published “More Trouble Than They’re Worth” in the Harvard Business Review. His subsequent book, The No Asshole Rule, expanded on the theme and described how toxic the syndrome can be and whether you are one or not. Are you one? Here is a test to find out and the accompanying survival guide for assholes.

The Asshole Survival GuideProf. Sutton now has a new book that offers some ideas on how to deal with assholes.

Taking a page from that book and others like it, medical schools are confronting the issue of medical professionalism and issues that derive from student abuse and mistreatment. They are creating Offices of Professionalism that offer guidance, counseling, dispute resolution alternatives and education to faculty,staff and students to address and prevent unprofessional behavior that interferes with education.

So how do you know one when you see one? Prof. Sutton offers two tests:

1. After talking to the alleged asshole, does the “target” feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energized, or belittled by the person? In particular, does the target feel worse about him or herself?

2. Does the alleged asshole aim his or her venom at the people who are less powerful rather than at those people who are more powerful?

French and Raven described 5 sources of power:

  1. Legitimate – This comes from the belief that a person has the formal right to make demands, and to expect compliance and obedience from others.
  2. Reward – This results from one person’s ability to compensate another for compliance.
  3. Expert – This is based on a person’s superior skill and knowledge.
  4. Referent – This is the result of a person’s perceived attractiveness, worthiness, and right to respect from others.
  5. Coercive – This comes from the belief that a person can punish others for noncompliance.

In medicine, these sources are not much different and there are three main power imbalances that play out in practice and during training : the faculty-faculty imbalance, the faculty-student imbalance and the doctor-patient imbalance. If not managed properly, these interactions can have significant organizational, legal and educational implications.

The syndrome is even more pervasive in entrerepreneurial circles, where, in many instances, being labeled a toxic, bullying, annoying troublemaker is a badge of honor, when , in fact, you might simply be an asshole. Silicon Valley has made a cottage industry helping assholes via the radical candor movement.

Discovering you are an asshole can create existential questions that go to the core of your being. But, sooner or later, you will have to deal with your demons. If you don’t, you will be destroying your personal life and career, living in the veil of marginalization and career suicide. You choose. Good rebel or bad rebel.

Here are some words others might use to describe you: annoying, troublemaker, arrogant, bully, direct, hot-headed or, you are an asshole. Like crafting a value proposition, it really does not matter whether you think you are an asshole or not. . The only thing that matters is how others feel about being around you. So, if you finally admit that you are an asshole, here are some things you can do about it:

  1. Practice being considerate and caring. You might need to fake it ’till you make it. Start with using these five tricks to remember people’s names.
  2. Stay away from toxic assholes at work and in your personal life
  3. Do something that scares you every day and learn from it
  4. Ask for help
  5. Stop comparing yourself to others
  6. Give people the right to show you the yellow card or red card whenever they think you are acting like an asshole
  7. Listen more and don’t interrupt. Don’t say all that stuff in your mind that you want to blurt out when others are talking. Instead, write it down and either forget it because it wasn’t all that important anyway, send it someone who might be interested in your ideas, or wait for the right time to chime as long as you have not already talked more than anyone else.
  8. Use “we” not “I” and “us’ not “me”
  9. Like a contagious virus, quarantine yourself periodically until you have mutated into a less harmful form. Spend time in nature. She is forgiving.
  10. Jerks can be effective in organizations. Just don’t step over the line.
  11. Learn better feedback techniques.

Here’s how to survive a jerk at work.

Most people think power is a dirty word. However, it is an i nevitable part of organizational behavior and managing to use or not use power in the appropriate way is a core skill for doctors and teachers. Refusing to work with assholes is important. So is recognizing one in the mirror.

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Arlen MyersArlen Meyers, MD, MBA is the President and CEO of the Society of Physician Entrepreneurs at www.sopenet.org

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