Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t
by Robert I. Sutton
From the jacket… Employees who are insensitive to their colleagues…corporate bullies…bosses who just don’t get it. Let’s face it, every office has workers who are flat-out rude, selfish, uncivil, mean-spirited, and who really don’t seem to care about whom they step on. They’re the kind of people who make you exclaim in exasperation, “What an asshole!” Dr. Sutton sheds real analytical light on how this ongoing problem ruins morale, lowers productivity, and can truly devastate a company’s culture. Sutton not only confronts this issue directly, but also provides extensive strategies and insights into how your company can pinpoint and eliminate this problem.
pg 18 …companies had learned to ignore job candidates’ quirks and strange mannerisms, to downplay socially inappropriate remarks, and instead, focus on what the people could actually do. I first heard this argument from Nolan Bushnell – the founder of Atari, which was the first wildly successful gaming company. Bushnell told me that although he looked for smooth-talking marketing people, when it came to technical people, he just wanted to see their work because “the best engineers sometimes come in bodies that can’t talk.”
pg 25 These test imply an even more fundamental lesson that runs through this book: the difference between how a person treats the powerless versus the powerful is as good a measure of human character as I know. … To me, when a person is persistently warm and civilized toward people who are of unknown or lower status, it means that he or she is a decent human being.
pg 40 As the late corporate quality guru W. Edwards Deming concluded long ago, when fear rears its ugly head, people focus on protecting themselves, not on helping their organizations improve.
pg 75 Despite all the trappings, some leaders do remain attuned to how people around them are really feeling, to what their employees really believe about how the organization is run, and to what customers really think about their company’s products and services. …the key things these leaders do is take potent and constant steps that dampen rather than amplify the power difference between themselves and others (both inside and outside the company).
pg 80 At Intel, the largest semiconductor maker in the world, all full-time employees are given training in “constructive confrontation”, a hallmark of the company culture. … Intel preaches that the only thing worse than too much confrontation is no confrontation at all. So the company teaches employees how to approach people and problems positively, to use evidence and logic, and to attack problems and not people.
The University of Michigan’s Karl Weick advises, “Fight as if you are right; listen as though you are wrong.” That is what Intel tries to teach through initial lectures, role playing, and, most essential, the ways in which managers and leaders fight. The teach people how to fight and when to fight. Their motto is “Disagree and then commit,” because second-guessing, complaining, and arguing after a decision is made saps effort and attention – which obscures whether a decision is failing because it is a bad idea or is it a good idea that is implemented with insufficient energy and commitment. People are also taught to delay their arguments until all the key facts are in, because it wastes time and because taking a public stance based on incomplete information leads people to defend and publicly commit to paths that ultimately clash with the best evidence.
pg 90 Manage moments – not just practices, policies, and systems. Effective asshole management means focusing on and changing the little things that you and your people do – and big changes will follow. Reflect on what you do, watch how others respond to you and to one another, and work on “tweeking” what happens as you are interacting with the person in front of your right now.
pg 110 Again, a bit of framing can help. Tell yourself, “I have enough.” Certainly, some people need more than they have, as many people on earth still need a safe place to live, enough food to eat, and other necessities. But too many of us are never satisfied and feel constantly slighted, even though – by objective standards – we have all we need to live a good life. … These wise words provide a frame that can help you to be at peace with yourself and to treat those around you with affection and respect.
pg 113 And after Dell and Rollins began talking openly about their weaknesses, it gave other senior executives “permission” to talk about their own nastiness and insensitivity, and gave their colleagues permission to “call them” on bad behaviour. As one general manger put it, “After someone discloses that he periodically lobs grenades into meetings but intends to stop, we all have permission to call him on it. And we do.”
pg 131 Physiologists have found that if you can’t escape a source of stress, changing your mind-set about what is happening to you, or reframing, can help reduce the damage done to you. Some useful reframing tricks include avoiding self-blame, hoping for the best but expecting the worst, and, my favourite, developing indifference and emotional detachment. Learning when and how to simply not give a damn isn’t the kind of advice you hear in most business books, but it can help you make the best of a lousy situation.
pg 137 As Walt Whitman said, “Dismiss whatever insults your soul.”
pg 139 Stockdale and other prisoners survived by finding hundreds of tiny actions they could take each day to take a modicum of control over their lives – like saying a prayer, doing some push-ups, or trying to develop new ways to get a secret message to other prisoners. … research confirms that the feeling of control – perceiving that you have the power to shape even small aspects of your fate – can have a huge impact on human well-being. Consider a compelling study by Ellen Langer and Judith Rodin with elderly patients in nursing homes. One group of patients attended a lecture about all the things that the staff could do for them; they were given a houseplant and told the staff would care for it, and they were told which night to attend movies. Patients in the other (quite similar) groups from the same nursing homes were given a “pep” talk about the importance of taking control over their lives, and asked to take care of the new houseplant in their rooms, and given choices about which nights to attend movies, when they had meals, when their phones rang, and how their furniture was arranged. These small differences had big effects. Not only did those patients with greater control engage in more recreational activities and have more positive attitudes toward life in general, an eighteen-month follow-up found that they had a 50% lower death rate.