This blog post is all about: the Mother of All Rules; consciousness of assholes; why being an asshole with almost 100% certainty eliminates the possibility of building up sustainable, high-performing team; what's the problem with sarcasm (& how easily it can be solved); How not to be an asshole (it ain't that hard, really ...)

Each week I'm trying to share some thoughts & frequently even make some advice to you: about architecture, leadership, technology, management & what not. And still, until this very day I didn't mention THAT. The most important advice. The most valuable rule. The mother of all principles.

It's time to fix it.

Rule #0:
Don't be an asshole.

Obviously, I didn't invent it.

It started to exist as a term ("The No Asshole Rule") in 2007, after Robert I. Sutton, Stanford professor, has written a well-received book about it.

DoA (Definition of Asshole)

I don't think the term "asshole" needs much clarification :) but for the sake of being in full sync, let me bring up my definition:

Asshole is a person who has a toxic influence on the (work/life/whatever) environment.

Usually an asshole is selfish & lacks general maturity:

  • doesn't listen to other people (hears but doesn't care/try to comprehend what others say)
  • doesn't respect other people (self-oriented egoist)
  • has her/his own agenda and forces it upon others by not using facts, only cheap social engineering techniques (like whataboutism, priming, passive aggression, Red Herring/evasion, belittling/shaming, projecting the blame, ...)
  • lacks elemental fairness, either by freely manipulating "the rules of the game" or applying different measures to different people/situations - based on her/his personal interest/whims

Asshole doesn't always realize (s)he's an asshole - this takes some imagination & self-awareness :) More simpleminded or thoughtless assholes do just expect everyone else reflecting her/his own drives (/goals/motivations/interest) - they don't understand that people differ. In other words: such an asshole simply lacks perspective & can't put her/himself in other people's shoes.

Assholery in scale

Obviously no two assholes are identical :) There are not just types, but also levels of assholery ...

Some more dangerous, higher level assholes are completely devoid of empathy & tend to use other human beings as tools. Ruthlessly manipulate & break them, "format" their way of thinking in a way that is well aligned with asshole's best interest. And the higher the assholery ascends, the easier it is to break any standards of fairness & honest behavior, hereby smashing all the trust & bonds between people.

(Un)surprisingly being an asshole can bring great results short- & sometimes even mid-term. Knowing some social norms, other people may not expect someone's toxic behaviors (or the level they can escalate up to). There's common knowledge that the most sustainable scenarios are built on win-win setups, where everyone has a stake & everyone's goals are aligned (so if one succeeds, others succeed as well). As assholes don't give an f-word about win-win & can exploit people naivety short-term, they can even impress the observers with the flamboyancy & effectiveness.


But people are not stupid, they do learn. And long-term assholes can impress only other assholes - in fact a bunch of opportunist assholes can drive each other for some time, hence bloating their individual auras of "grandiosity", which are in fact (for a standby observer) rather grotesque :). Team built on assholes is not sustainable at all - in fact: it's not even a team, but a temporal setup where everyone wants to grab as much benefit as possible & flee before getting screwed by others.

Assholes should be eliminated from the work (& other) environments. Quickly. Their behaviors severely impact the culture as they are very anti-team. Public (even if not verbal) consent to such behaviors breaks the trust and the sense of belonging to the local community.

Even tiny assholery leaves its imprint. Everyday sarcasm drains positive energy, discourages from taking action, puts razor-sharp wit (that solves nothing ...) over actually getting to the trenches & grabbing the bull by the horns. Keeping in mind that the border between sarcasm & irony is very thin, once we've (in one of my teams) introduced one simple rule that has (surprising us all!) made a huge difference:

Don't criticize. Never.

It doesn't matter what are the circumstances. How bad things are (or appear to be). Who did the stuff you're looking upon. How frustrated you are.

Don't criticize. Never. Ever.

You don't know the exact conditions that have accompanied the thing you're going to criticize. Maybe someone was forced to do so, maybe didn't get support (s)he needed, maybe it was the optimal decision then, maybe ... So don't criticize. Just act in the best possible way - assess the situation, understand the context, make action, evaluate outcomes, proceed.

For me it has made a seismic shift - in our interactions, in how we've approached the new challenges. One of the best ideas we ever had.

Don't be an asshole. Please

  1. Respect others & their opinions.
  2. Acknowledge the fact that people are different - learn to step into their boots.
  3. Don't do to others what you'd like them not to do to you.
  4. Keep you word, keep your promises, never over-promise.
  5. Never fucking-ever lie.
  6. Always try to learn and understand others' motivations, passions & what drives them - to be able to shape a value proposition that will make a win-win setup feasible.
  7. Same rules, same norms, same measures for everyone. No sacred cows, no favoritism.
  8. Rules don't change during the game, expectations need to be known & clear before the game starts.

Stick to these rules & your life will be not only much simpler, but also more successful & better balanced.

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