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GUEST COLUMN

Not-so-nice Type A's ruin work for everyone

Don't you wish there was a test you could use to keep jerks out of your office? You know, those people who seem nice during the interview process but, once they're hired, they make life miserable for everyone.

Or worse, the people who are perfectly harmless while they're one of the rank-and- file but, the moment they get promoted, they turn into complete bullies.

The jerks of the world just ruin things for everyone. If you've ever been the victim of a workplace jerk, you know that sometimes the word jerk just isn't strong enough to describe their abysmal behavior.

Author and Stanford University Management professor Robert Sutton suggests, "you might call these people bullies, creeps, jerks, weasels, tormentors, tyrants, serial slammers, despots or unconstrained egomaniacs but, for me at least, the word A$$#@!* best captures the fear and loathing that I have for these nasty people." (Sutton uses a word that begins with A and is oft uttered in the halls of corporate America, but not used in polite conversation.)

Normally I'm not a fan of such profanity, and I can't even print the title of Sutton's book in this newspaper, but Sutton is so determined to rid the workplace of these awful you-know-what's, that he wrote a book entitled "The No A$$#@!* Rule" (Warner Business Books, $22.99).

As a former Fortune 500 flunky, I was immediately intrigued by the title. I mean, who doesn't want to rid the world of all the you-know-whats? (Let's call them A's for the purpose of this article.)

I was shocked to see the A word in a prestigious business journal. Sutton's original article (www.BobSutton.net), titled the same as his book, appeared in the Harvard Business Review and he was deluged with emotional e-mails from people expressing the fear and despair they had suffered at the hands of A's.

Sutton says that, "while potentially offensive, no other word quite captures the essence of this type of person".

He's even created a two-part test to identify whether or not a random jerk is fully deserving of the A label.

Test One: After talking to the alleged A, does the "target" feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energized or belittled?

Test Two: Does the possible A aim his or her venom at people less powerful than him/herself rather than at those people who are more powerful?

Imagine the pain and heartache companies would save if they used this simple test during the hiring or promotion process.

Sutton suggests that organizations would do well to calculate their "Total Cost of A's," otherwise known as their TCA. It's hard to estimate exactly how many hours managers devote to you-know-what management or to predict future legal costs incurred by A's, but everyone knows that A's drag down an organization.

The damage inflicted by these people is often underestimated when they're perceived to be high performers. Yet Sutton cites an example of a company whose top sales performer was such an A that, despite his big sales numbers, he actually cost his company $160,000 a year in turnover, management and overtime, through problems caused by bad temper, insulting behavior and late night e-mail rants.

Not surprisingly, when confronted with the cost of his behavior, he flew into a rage, and was eventually fired.

So how do you live your life and do your job without letting the A's get you down? First, take the test yourself and make sure you're not one of them.

Then, if you can safely say that you're one of the normal people, insist that the A test become part of your company's hiring criteria.

Because after all, life is too short to work with a bunch of A's.

Lisa Earle McLeod is a speaker, syndicated humor columnist and author of "Forget Perfect" and her new book, "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear."

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