No Asshole Rule: One bad apple spoils the bunch

John Cousins
February 7, 2023
2 min read
No assholes allowed

This is a great concept that has really stuck with me, probably because the name is so sticky.

Although it sounds like an idea promulgated by a stevedore, it’s a book by Stanford professor Robert Sutton, not a dockworker in Bayonne.

The concept is that bullying behavior in the workplace is toxic and erodes morale and productivity. Not so surprising but we tend to let assholes slide instead of eliminating them from the scene.

If you are a manager or leading any group, this is a crucial non-negotiable rule. The rule screens out toxic staff or participants.

No matter how much talent someone has, if they are an asshole, eliminate them from your project. Their corrosive behavior can’t be overlooked for their redeeming qualities. They will tank your efforts.

Other words such as bully or jerk do not convey the same degree of awfulness. In terms of using the word in the book’s title, he said,

“There’s an emotional reaction to a dirty title. You have a choice between being offensive and being ignored.”

There are two tests for recognizing Assholes:

After encountering the person, do people feel oppressed, humiliated or otherwise worse about themselves?

Does the person target people who are less powerful than him/her?

There are 12 behaviors associated with assholedom.

The Dirty Dozen:


Violation of personal space

Unsolicited touching










Tolerate them at your peril.

If you enjoy strong foul language and think it is powerful in certain uses, here is a post with some great maxims.

Dealing with the assholes you can’t avoid.

You will encounter assholes that you can’t just fire or avoid. We need a way to spin these encounters into learning how to transcend them. Reframe the inconvenience: the obstacle is the way.

The stoic philosopher Epictetus said to look at every setback as an advantage, every obstacle as an opportunity for learning and glory.

When confronted with difficulty, feel proud and get excited, like “a wrestler whom God, like a trainer, has paired with a tough young buck.”

Think of every unreasonable asshole you have to deal with as part of nature’s attempt to “turn you into Olympic-class material.” This is a very powerful Jedi trick.

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John Cousins
Author, Entrepreneur, & Teacher

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