Almost every job I know requires some people skills. But unlike sales and marketing for instance, being a project manager generally requires someone who may not naturally tend towards the “social theme” of the Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory, but someone who prefers working more with “things” and data. Maybe somewhat ironically however, it is rare to see great projects happen in an environment with toxic human behavior, and as we all know most project failures are directly due to failure by the human teams running them failing at the “team tasks” not the technology tasks. So spending time making your interface with people run more smoothly is almost without exception, time well invested. With that in mind, one of the best recent books I have run across on the subject is Robert Sutton’s,
Sutton articulates whatever many experienced working people already know in an easy accessible little book organized to help in a number of ways.
One of the most valuable things is to know how to recognize assholes. I know this seems like a “no-brainer”, but the nuance here is to not necessarily label everyone who annoys you as an asshole but only to finger those who meet Sutton’s two tests:
Test One: After talking to the alleged asshole, do you feel oppressed, humiliated de-energized, or belittled by the person? In particular, do you feel worse about yourself?
Test Two: Does the alleged asshole aim his or her venom at people who are less powerful rather than at those people who are more powerful?
What is great about these rules is that they are easy-however, as many of you may recognize, their simplicity can also make it easy to mislabel people. As the author points out, in creative and technical environments, we need to be especially careful not confuse an asshole with someone who may just have a high “quirk factor”, because as he quotes Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari, “the best engineers sometimes come in bodies that can’t talk.”
If you can’t tell for sure based on the tests, he also lays out what he calls the Dirty Dozen everyday actions that assholes use. I will guarantee there are many that you have run across in your professional life.
The other way that this book is useful is to help you recognize the damage assholes do in the workplace. Again we all have war stories-Sutton just helps us verbalize what we all may have felt and put facts and dollar figures to the damage this behavior creates in the workplace in a model he calls the TCA (Total Cost of Assholes) in your organization.
And then last but not least, two especially useful topics; how to recognize your own asshole tendencies-or how to stop your “inner jerk” from getting out, and tips for surviving nasty workplaces. That chapter alone is worth the price of the book.
Favorite Quote: “Passion is an overrated virtue in organizational life, and indifference is an underrated virtue.”
The Yawn-O-Meter (a very personal metric meant to reflect only how easy I found it to read based on a Harry Potter book being a 1 and War and Peace being a 10 or, if your prefer, a Guy Kawasaki book compared to an Edward Tufte): This is definite 1. Like some of Sutton’s other books, Weird Ideas That Work: How to Build a Creative Company, and The Knowing-Doing Gap: How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action, written with Jeffrey Pfeffer, this is an easy read and in my opinion a worthwhile addition to your own permanent collection.