The one sentence summary

Assholes should not be tolerated – at work or anywhere else.


  • This is all about building a civilized workplace and surviving one that isn’t.
  • A temporary asshole is anyone having a bad day or bad moment. We can all be like this.
  • A certified asshole is a persistently nasty and destructive jerk.
  • There are two tests for spotting them:
  1. After talking to the alleged asshole, does the target feel oppressed, humiliated, or belittled?
  2. Does the alleged asshole aim his or her venom at people who are less powerful than them?
  • Common everyday actions that assholes use include: personal insults, invading one’s personal territory, uninvited physical contact, threats and intimidation (verbal and non-verbal), sarcastic jokes and teasing used as insult delivery systems, withering email flames, status slaps intended to humiliate, public shaming or status degradation rituals, rude interruptions, two-faced attacks, dirty looks, and treating people as though they are invisible.
  • TCA is the Total Cost of Assholes to an organization, via retention and recruitment costs, lost clients, and wasted time fixing their issues.
  • A few demeaning creeps can overwhelm the warm feelings generated by hoards of civilized people.
  • The rule lives or dies in the little moments. Enforcing it isn’t just management’s job.


  • Negative interactions have a fivefold stronger effect on mood than positive interactions.
  • In medical school, units with the best leaders reporting making as many as ten times more errors than those with the worst leaders. That’s because people are too scared to report them in teams ruled by fear.
  • The power performance paradox is when intelligent leaders recognise that their company does need to have some sort of pecking order, but they do everything they can to downplay status and power differences between individuals.
  • The only thing worse than too much confrontation is no confrontation at all. Staff need to ‘Fight as if you are right; listen as if you’re wrong.’
  • “It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.” Leonardo da Vinci. Avoid getting involved in work with assholes if at all possible.


  • Talking about the rule is nice, but following up on it is what really matters.