“ How to deal with people who treat you like dirt ”

by Robert I. Sutton

Book Cover

I didn’t plan on reading it, but I saw a couple of posts related to that on HN and thought “eh, why not, seems funny and practical enough”. It’s globally a list of short-term tactics to escape bullies.

My main grievance is that it’s mostly targeted towards avoidance and treating symptoms ; quite in contradiction with the proactivity principles preached in books such as the 7 Habits. One might need short-term technics to avoid the current situation, but the best yet seems to fix the problem rather than building elaborate schemes to avoid it.


Keep your distances from assholes, block them out physically or mentally, try to not be an asshole yourself.

Reading notes

  • There’s no single definition of what an asshole is, because people have different reactions to the same action
  • Generally assholes are people who trigger an emotional response to acts such as bullying, belittling, etc.
  • Assholes might not know they are. Less than 2% of American population identifies as assholes, yet 20% is identifies as such (check numbers). A rule of thumb is to be quick to judge oneself as an asshole, but be slow to judge someone else as such.
  • Actions from assholes trigger distress and psychological problems
    • They can have a long term effect
  • Several types of assholes
    • Temporary asshole is someone usually nice but temporarily AH.
      • Bad day
      • Or sometimes a useful tactic to convey frustration at underperforming underlings or such
    • Certified: always an asshole
  • Tactics when confronted to an asshole
    • If certified, fly away
    • Confrontation might work
    • Sudden escalation, such as staying composed and documenting, then escalating
    • Put physical distance, change building floor or building, seat at another seat where you can’t make eye contact, etc.
    • Create a safe place where assholes can’t reach (break room for just blue collars, backstage, etc.)
    • Use human shields - other colleagues who are more thick skinned
    • Take turn in dealing with assholes
    • Don’t take it personally
    • Relate to your colleagues, bound around the asshole
    • Emotional detachment. Three stages: unplug when off, give a dilute version of yourself (reduce the surface exposure), tune off when with the asshole
  • Fighting back
    • Can backfire because AH will probably make things worse
    • Several attitudes possible:
      • Documenting and having data, make it harder to contest
      • Staying quiet and rational to create contrast
      • Emphasizing thru hotter tone
      • Passive-aggressiveness might actually be seen as less confrontational
      • Legal way - there’s no evidence that this works
  • Be part of the solution
    • Implement the no asshole rule if you are in a position to do so
    • Try to keep an eye for your own assholery - you might be the asshole.
    • Bond with other non-assholes
    • Help other people who are being bullied
    • Identify yourselves as non-assholes
    • In a position of authority, provide feedback to the assholes, fire them if they don’t change.

About Reading Notes

These are my takes on this book. See other reading notes. Most of the time I stop taking notes on books I don't enjoy, and these end up not being in the list. This is why average ratings tend to be high.