5 Ways To Put Assholes In Their Place

Being an asshole is all part of my manly essence

Assholes assholes everywhere…. ok, not really.  I spoke about engineers who behave with utter disregard for anything or anyone but themselves in this post, and now the time has come to elaborate on how a leader can manager these types of individuals.  These can be very easy to deal with (for the idle asshole), or incredibly difficult (with the conniving ones), but regardless of how asshole-like they are, here are some tips to deal with them when they are under your employ.

 

  1. Their condescending tone is something that cannot be easily remedied.  I’m not going to sugar-coat that because it is something that can be disheartening to the team.  What you CAN do about it is observe the effects of their behavior on others.  If it’s merely a tone, and no one really sees that it does much harm, ok fine, but when it breaches the line of unacceptable treatment of coworkers it has gone too far.  In the event that their condescension goes too far, a private meeting with them is in order, so that you can explain why their behavior is affecting the team as far as productivity, openness, and goodwill.
  2. In meetings, assholes will push to have their voice heard.  Their ideas may be entirely valid, but once they begin dominating the discussion with their views, it’s up to you to turn them off.  Ask other members of the team for different ideas to accomplish the same goal.  Their ideas may be the best, but without asking for different ones (by this I mean, not simply agreeing with the first), you may never get to a solution that is optimal for the situation.
  3. When it comes to project completion, it’s too late to find out who’s been putting in the most work on the project.  Throughout the process, you should be asking yourself, “Is this one person’s accounting of the situation correct?”  By holding meetings semi-regularly for status updates, don’t allow this one person to dominate all of the project discussion.  Find out what parts different people are doing and watch the interaction in the meeting.  In fact, watching this interaction can shed light on who is the dominant voice, whether team members’ concerns are being addressed or stifled, and whether the rest of the team is merely deferring to the asshole in “charge”.
  4. With respect to pointing out all problems and flaws of any ideas not their own, this one is actually fairly easy to overcome.  Shut everyone up!  Yes, that’s right.  In Good Boss, Bad Boss, by Bob Sutton, he makes a fantastic point that the purpose of creative meetings (this includes engineering design) is to elicit responses from everyone.  Assholes tend to be the first to poke holes in coworkers’ ideas to move them off the table, while theirs stays on top.  The remedy, no top billing.  Start with ideas.  Pull them out if you have to from everyone who can come up with one (and don’t give one person the ability to sneak out 5 at once), but under no circumstance should anyone begin assessing ideas.  Additionally, don’t put the employees’ names next to their idea.  Once they throw it out, it’s on the board and you (together) can evaluate the legitimacy of them afterwards.  Once all ideas are voiced, then comes the time for everyone to contribute to the solidification of the ideas together.  If the asshole is responding to everyone’s ideas but their own, try to get some realistic points on theirs from others.  If any animosity results, the person needs to be removed from the meeting.  Teamwork is just that; time for the team to make decisions collectively.
  5. Everyone loves praise.  I am no stranger to doing things just to make someone else like me more, but there is a line where the praise is insincere and merely a means to their ends.  Take it in, but when it continues to come, and especially if you can tell it’s inauthentic, merely say “Thank you, what can I help you with?”  The goal of work is to actually achieve successful completion of projects.  Kind words do little to achieve that end, and if your employee is coming to you specifically to tell you how great you are, there is usually something attached to that beyond praise.

This is a bit long-winded, but it needed to be hashed out.  Are there other suggestions to dealing with assholes?  I’m sure there are, so leave them in the comments!

 

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Comments
  • Amber Little says:

    This is so dead on! I’ve worked with some engineers that were real peaches…this would have come in handy. Great job!

  • Sumiko Maser says:

    Great article! I especially like #4 because I need to pay more attention to this myself in some of my own meetings. You dont realize how assholes can sneak up on the purpose of the meeting and quickly take it over, before you know it!

    • Christian Fey says:

      Thanks! I’m glad you liked it! All of these things are things that I need to work on, myself too! It takes time and practice to maintain working relationships with individuals who don’t quite believe you can do what you know you can.

  • I’m intrigued by your choice of words compared to your mission statement. How dó you combine bridging the gap you want to with calling people assholes? Is there a point or joke somewhere that I have overlooked?

    • Christian Fey says:

      Thank you for your comment Karin! I must agree that the term I chose to use was rather blunt. That being said, its bluntness serves the purpose of describing a specific type of individual in a one-word type way. This is all part of a foundation of different typologies of engineer personalities. Those being shy, asshole, inept, and great engineers. Through my experience, I have met and interacted with all four of these types of individuals, and each requires a different type of management and communication from the others.

      Never in my life would I consider pigeonholing any engineers into these “types” as a way to describe all that the individual is. This is for the obvious reason that it creates a hostile work environment and ill-will among the team, not to mention that engineers form a continuum from one end of the spectrum to the other. No one engineer fits a category in its entirety (though some do come close), and even the assholes may prove to be great in a different situation or project development team.

      Does that help explain at all? Again, yes, while my choice of descriptor is strong and negative, the behaviors that correspond to individuals fitting into this category are also just as destructive and unacceptable as the term is. Hence this post is on how to repurpose them into functional and integrated members of the group.

      Thanks again for reading!

  • Rick (UK) says:

    Your web site is compulsory reading.

    I like to think I am an Engineer (large E) but I have experienced “Not Invented Here” syndrome and rejection of an idea by a manager who didn’t understand how I did what I did (or the language I wrote it in) and hence could not take the credit.
    This AFTER taking the credit for an earlier idea of mine and when ‘delegating’ the rest of the work to me in a rather public way after due adulatiuon from the gathered on his “Master Stroke”, I asked “How do you propose I do that ?” which left him with his mouth open as he had no clue.

    As I once said to one of my “managers” in an earlier life, we “Engineers” can ‘out parallel process’ any number of ‘managers’ because ‘we’ understand the problems in hand when the managers are simply looking to further their own climb up the greasy pole.

    Engineers do not need managing, but need steering to an end result.
    Engineers and Scientists make the world. Managers like to take the credit.
    I have met very few Managers I trust and the way do destroy an Engineer is to promote them to a Manager.

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