Monday, September 23, 2013

How to Know if You're an Asshole

(I began this article in 2008 and it's been sitting in Draft mode ever since. Why not release it to the wild? Here it is.)

While I was speaking privately yesterday with a business partner who has resigned from the position she has held in our company for 9 years, I was wondering to myself what she thought of me. I know one of my natural weak points is being insensitive to the people around me, so I've typically leaned on others when I needed professional advice on human factors. She is a great person, savagely loyal, and highly competent in high pressure situations. I'm not sure she would tell me if I was being an asshole though.

No one thinks they are an asshole. At least, probably not. Maybe a drill sergeant or a cop wakes up in the morning and self-identifies as an asshole, and is happy about it. I don't know any of them. But everyone knows an asshole or two. Why this disconnect? Do those guys know they are assholes? I don't think so. I frequently encounter assholes when I drive. Sometimes they know they've been an asshole, and I make it a point to let them know my point of view on the matter, but that's different than being an asshole when you exit your vehicle and interact with people at work, in public, or even among friends and family. Assholes must have friends.

So I was thinking about this, and trying to figure out a way out of this point-of-view problem: assholes don't think they are assholes. So how do you know if you are an asshole? I developed the beginnings of a strategy to determine this, because the world needs a logic based approach to this problem.

Step 1: Identify a person who is not an asshole
Most people are not assholes. But you need to find some who is universally considered a non-asshole. If this person has coworkers who thinks that he/she is an asshole, but you think the person is actually normal, this person is still disqualified from the role of being your "Am I an asshole?" litmus test.

This person should not be family. Family members might love you even if you are an asshole, but are otherwise too close.

Step 2: Ask them if you are an asshole
You might need to phrase this question softly. Because the person you are talking to is not an asshole (see Step 1), if you just ask them "Hey, do you think I am an asshole?" they are likely to respond with a quick "What? Of course not!" Ignore this part of their response. Listen to the next part: "I mean, you can be a tad grumpy when you haven't had your coffee yet..." Any negative criticism they say *after* denying you are an asshole, amplify that by 10x and now you are getting their real thoughts on the matter. It is hard to give criticism to someone face to face. And you selected them because you trusted their opinion, so no rationalizations or justifications here -- that would be being an asshole. Listen to this person. Do not interrupt them. Let them keep talking until they peter out, or ask you a question. Then, thank them for there honestly and tell them you value their opinion greatly.

Step 3: Stop being an asshole
Be extra kind to the person who gave you feedback, regardless of whether it was positive or negative. Prove to them you care about what others think of you. If you had any doubt that you were/are an asshole, in fact, be extra kind to everyone.

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