I am enjoying this book "The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't" by Robert Sutton.
First, to define... in this book's definition, an a-hole is to ask this question... "After talking to the alleged a-hole, does the "target" feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energized or belittled by the person? In particular, does he or she feel worse about him- or herself?" It also suggests that a true a-hole primarily directs this behavior towards people in a subserviant position to themselves, be it subordinates, or service/retail workers or what have you.
There's been some fun examples, like the Southwest senior exec. that saw a customer mistreating an employee, went over to the customer, told him he wasn't a good fit for Southwest and walked him to a competitor's ticket counter and bough him a ticket on another airline. Or that Southwest sends out letters, when necessary, asking someone not to fly on their airline anymore.
And a really sobering chapter that pretty much puts us on notice: we all have an inner a-hole that we need to keep in check.
And an interesting theory that you should keep around one a-hole to serve as a negative example. A study on a college campus with a parking lot that faced the elevator of a building: (1) they made the parking lot really dirty, scattering garbage on the ground and then stuck flyers on everyone's car, they monitored how many people took the flyers off and threw them on the ground; then again (2) with a spotlessly clean parking lot and a third time (3) with a spotless parking lot, but right as a group of people came off the elevator, someone very visibly took the flyer off his car, read it, crumpled it up and threw it to the ground. The highest percentage of people taking the things off their car was in the dirty parking lot (1), but the next highest was the perfectly clean parking lot (2). The lowest was the one where people witnessed someone else throwing litter on the ground (3). But, the book cautions, you should be careful to limit the damage the a-hole is allowed to do. That even if they are a star performer or rainmaker or closer, they still should be considered as defective for the increased costs the company pays in hiring and training people to replace victims who leave, lost productivity of victims who stick around, HR and legal costs and supervisory costs in dealing with the a-hole.
And the whole reason I decided to write tonight... they were talking about an a-hole who seems to block your every move, thwarts your efforts, shoots down or sabotages your projects, things like that... suggests finding smaller projects, smaller wins, ways to break up your project so there's less visibility. A small project might not be worth their time to screw with and you can achieve success. Thought that was pretty profound. It was the idea that the feeling of control, even a small amount has a huge impact. There's a nursing home example involving death rates of patients, but I don't want to just give away the whole book.
It is an interesting read if you have any sort of HR leanings or have worked in an environment with a-holes or think you might be one yourself.