They are everywhere — at work, in our communities, in the media, and yes, sometimes running our nation’s politics. Like the plague, a$$holes are unavoidable, and lately, they seem to be succeeding on an even grander scale. Yup, it’s sad to say, but nice guys seem to finish last…or at least 2nd to the a$$holes.
Why the heck are a$$sholes winning anyway, and how are the “rest of us” supposed to deal?
It turns out that there’s scientific evidence behind the success of people who behave badly. It’s not uncommon to see the a$$shole get the promotion, the girl, or elected into office. In fact, studies have shown that the unlikeable often achieve greatness.
According to a study conducted by the Journal of Business and Psychology (Dec. 2015, Vol. 30), people often described as argumentative, aggressive, and egotistical, excel at effectively vocalizing and having their ideas heard. This study found that subjects described as such who worked on a project with fellow team members were far more likely to have their ideas used in the final product versus their more “agreeable” colleagues.
Studies have also shown that overconfident, semi-obnoxious a$$holes are perceived as having more social status. The ruder someone acts, the more convinced we become that he/she is powerful and important. If you own and act like you’re the smartest, most competent person in the room, people will believe it.
“We believe we want people who are modest, authentic, and all the things we rate ‘positively’ to be our leaders,” says Jeffrey Pfeffer, a business professor at Stanford University. “But, we find it’s all the things we rate negatively—like immodesty—that are the best predictors of higher salaries or getting chosen for a leadership position.”
Point blank, a$$holes seem to win because they simply aren’t afraid to…
- Be assertive
- Hurt other people’s feelings
- Set boundaries
- Say NO
- Step on other people’s toes
- Voice their opinions
- Be an a$$hole!
If anyone is a true expert on a$$holes, it’s Dr. Robert Sutton of Stanford University, who has written several books on the subject, including The No Asshole Rule and The Asshole Survival Guide. Dr. Sutton says that through thousands of studies conducted across diverse disciplines, the impact on our society is dramatic when a$$holes are allowed to treat people badly. The negative consequences can be felt on every level, and leaders need to be mindful of this research and how the demeaning behavior of one can affect their entire organization.
HOW TO TAKE COVER FROM THE REIGN OF AN A$$HOLE…
OR FACE ONE HEAD ON!
As frustrating as they may be, the a$$holes of the world aren’t going anywhere. That said, what does this mean for you, AND, what’s the best way to deal?
- If possible, get the hell out of there! Walk away, ignore, unfriend, block – do whatever you have to do to detach and escape an undesirable situation. This is often the easiest and best solution, but if it’s a work colleague or someone you’re around frequently, this is not always possible. If leaving isn’t an option, read on…
- Find the positive with their behavior. Yes, even a$$holes have their silver linings! A$$holes are very clear about what they want and don’t want, so you’ll never be confused about where they stand. A$$holes manage to command attention, which will keep you focused and on your game.
- While you’re looking for the good, also bear in mind that it’s possible to learn a thing or two from a$$holes. Yes, it’s true! People today are too consumed with the opinions of others, and there’s something almost admirable about a true a$$hole’s indifference to what other people think.
- Should you need to stand up to a completely intolerable a$$hole, join forces with those non-a$$holes around you. It’s better to have the support of others so that you’re not standing alone.
- Particularly in a professional environment, keep a paper trail. Dr. Sutton suggests documentation, keeping emails/communication, social media exchanges, photos etc. – whatever backup you need to fight the good fight should things get ugly.
- For the inescapable a$$hole, try looking deeper into why they act the way they do. Could their obnoxious behavior stem from insecurity? Are they coming from other environments where being passive left them in the dust? People are often conditioned to behave in ways – both good and bad – as a response to what they’ve been through, and might not know any different. This understanding doesn’t justify an a$$shole’s behavior, but it certainly makes it a smidge more tolerable.
- Talk to someone, be it your partner, colleague, friend, family member, therapist – anyone that can lend an unbiased and supportive ear. If an a$$shole’s behavior is causing you to suffer emotionally or physically, it’s crucial that you seek help and solace from trusted people around you. Your trusted network can assist both emotionally and strategically with how to cope and manage your situation.
I suggest stealing a few plays from the a$$hole playbook where possible. Being more assertive to get your ideas heard? Absolutely. Not being afraid of what other people of you? 100% Developing a thicker skin. Y-E-S! It’s striking the balance of civility, decency, and respect for others that true a$$holes lack, which in my opinion, already makes them a loser at life.
NICE PEOPLE SUCCEED TOO
Fear not…just because a$$holes seem to succeed, doesn’t mean that you have to subscribe to a$$holery to get ahead. Dr. Sutton strongly believes that you don’t need to be a jerk to win. He cites examples such as Warren Buffett, Shonda Rhimes, and the late Robin Williams and Anthony Bourdain. Dr. Sutton says, ”Even notorious Steve Jobs was more successful at Apple when he was more thoughtful and caring in later years than the early years when he was famous for mistreating people.”
For those of us non-a$$holes, I firmly believe that the key lies in a combo of acceptance and avoidance. Bottom line, some people are just plain A-HOLES, and there’s nothing you can say or do to change that. For your own sanity, it’s knowing the people and the moments to face head on that make all the difference. The raging a$$hole who cut you off in the Starbucks parking lot and then proceeded to give you the middle finger? AVOID. Your narcissistic, “always right”, obnoxious boss on the other hand? You probably can’t avoid him/her, so I suggest creating a combo of specific communication strategies, copious acceptance exercises and avoidance where possible.
An anonymous source so eloquently said “I am thankful for the difficult people in my life. They have shown me exactly who I don’t want to be.” This couldn’t be truer of the a$$holes that pervade our lives. In their own unique ways, a$$holes remind us to appreciate the good people around us. They keep us in check so that we don’t waste time or energy on people who don’t deserve it. A$$holes reinforce what it means to lead a good, decent life, and for that, we’ve already won.
Like weeds in a beautiful garden, left unattended, a$$holes will take over. Now more than ever, I encourage the “nice people” out there to tend to our communities before they are overtaken by weeds. We need good people to be vigilant, vocal and courageous when tending their gardens, for when we shine our light and warmth, no weeds can grow.