ahbookThe title isn’t (just) click-bait.  This posts focuses on ways of dealing with people that demean others.  At this moment I am very happy with the group of people I get to work with at my job. I don’t have an issue with any of them. This of course has not always been the case, and in fact it isn’t the norm. For some reason I saw the book “The A$$hole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt” by Robert Sutton and I just felt like I should read it.  I thought it might be good to read up and prepare for the inevitable time when I am forced to work again with someone that meets this “classification.” It is a reasonably good book giving some good suggestions, many of which you might figure out on your own. The “real life” stories really help bring some of it to life and make it a bit more real.

I did start thinking of how this ties into individuals at church. Like any organization, the church will have a fair number of, “A-Holes.”  My experience leads me to believe there are fewer in the church than the society at large. But there is no personality test to become or stay a member.  The church scenario is different than a business scenario where individual (usually) desires to keep their income and they can be fired. It is even different than some other volunteer organizations. Most any volunteer organization wants to keep its volunteers, but in the church there is a deeper desire to try and keep everyone (by and large) to increase the number of souls saved. Also within the church we are encouraged not to be “in contention” with others and I think this does check many people before they act on urges to be mean to others. But sometimes all that social pressure does is move the aggression to be passive aggressive behavior (“passholes”?).
There are a few areas where the church, like most any organization, will draw out some of the bad traits latent in some individuals. This often comes into play when you give individuals power. Call it human nature or the natural man, but power just brings it out in many people. The author Sutton talks about “mini-tyrants” that have their role and love to leverage every bit of power (or FEELING of power) they can. This could be the ward librarian that counts to make sure you brought back the same number of pieces of chalk you borrowed. Or maybe the person put in charge of getting the building cleaned and they become the equivalent of midshipman over the plebes – looking for every missed cleaning item with their white glove.
And then there are those in Gospel Doctrine that are there to make sure that no other words other than what is in the lesson manual are uttered in class. They sit in class ignoring the lesson on “We need to be like Jesus.”  Instead of listening to the lesson to apply it in their life they wait to jump on someone.  The moment an uncorrelated comment is uttered they pull out their extensive scriptural hammer to refute someone’s ignorant blasphemy.
Of course the “power corrupts” cliché is not at all limited to church, but is rather universal in humans. The author points out

Wielding power over others is the second big risk that you will eventually start treating others like dirt. Professor Dacher Keltner from the University of California at Berkeley has devoted more than twenty years to studying the effects of wielding power over others and simply feeling powerful; the findings aren’t pretty. Regardless of how kind, cooperative, and empathetic you’ve acted in the past, Keltner and other psychologists show that power can cause you to have less empathy for others, to exploit them more, to focus more on your own needs and less on the needs of others, to be rude and disrespectful, and to act like the rules don’t apply to you.

Sounds a lot like D&C 121:39

We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.

As I read the book it brought back memories of my past where I had already figured out some of the strategies for dealing with abrasive people. I remember as a missionary getting the door slammed in my face. I learned it was best to just laugh it off. I recall one time they slammed the door so hard it bounced right back open.  This gave me an opening (pun intended) to leave with an upbeat, “Thanks! Have a great day!” This is certainly one strategy suggested in the book. Trying to frame the behavior in a way that keeps it from being so emotionally damaging to yourself. In essence, “don’t take it personally.” This is one of what the author calls, “Mind Tricks that protect your soul.”

The book does much more than give stories that are examples of A-Holes. As the title indicates, it attempts to help those that are on the receiving end of such people. He puts forward a strategy on how to look at and deal with those that treat you poorly.

The first few steps deal with looking at just how bad the person is (or “persons are”) and your relationship and situation.  Once you have that then you can look at ways you can deal with this. Many of these suggestions are ones you have already thought of or even subconsciously done – such as avoiding being near the person that really bothers you. In many cases this is the easiest and best course of action. This can be as easy as making sure you walk out of the chapel on the opposite side of Brother Buttewhole, or avoiding the angry ex-Mormon that asks you over and over, “why do you still go to that church?”
One of the items he goes into is to determine the type of “fun” individual you are dealing with. Is this just someone that occasionally goes on a rant (remember we ALL do this at some point), or maybe only in certain situations, or is this someone that stays “in character” all the time and with everyone? Sutton warns that it is hard to change other people, so don’t assume you can just fix everyone with a smile. He gives examples of how to “redeem” some minor offenders.

The author suggests the first think is to not just emotionally react before you study the situation and evaluate what is the best course of action.  One of the first things the author suggests that you look at your relationship with the bothersome person. Some relationships give you more power to have your suggestions considered. If you are a new person and learn you have a real bosshole, your power and options might be rather limited. If you have a relationship with someone that treats others poorly on occasion, he suggests that you consider tactfully trying to show them how they are behaving badly. Some people honestly don’t notice when they are treating others badly. The author mentions a study that showed 50% of people say they deal with these problematic people on a regular basis and only 1% of people say they dish it out regularly. I don’t think I need to write up an equation that shows that math doesn’t add up. There are some people that subscribe to “good guys come in last” and think they will get ahead by being ruthless to others. Possibly the worst situation to be in is when you are in an “A-Hole farm” where the contagious behavior has spread through the whole group. In that situation the author suggests one simple word – RUN. Get away as fast as you can. Even if not EVERYONE is “infected” the “make a clean getaway” is a strategy to consider.

BenThis strategy is not so easy in a ward setting, but if you find yourself in a group (EQ presidency, Primary presidency, etc.) you do have an option to ask to be moved to another calling.  Other options for dealing with gruff individuals is instead of fighting fire with fire, instead you just the Benjamin Franklin approach. The Franklin approach to someone that was confronting him was for Ben to ask to ask to borrow some books from offensive person.  No, he didn’t then burn them. He returned them and borrowed other books. Eventually the other person started liking Ben because he was able to get other person to serve HIM.  There are many ways to do what Ben did. You can ask someone their opinion, show them respect, or just show them kindness and ignore the few stones they threw (maybe they will see that stones don’t work on you). If you take this too far and love-bomb them with a plate full of cookies, they might see through this and feel they have more power though.  Be careful what behavior you reward.

The author admits there are some very limited situations when you might want to return A-Hole behavior to an A-Hole.  A bit of, “give them a taste of their own medicine.” But he reminds the read that, “when you throw poo you are going to get some on you”. Don’t become an A-Hole in your pursuit to cure someone else of being an A-Hole.

If anybody is pulling their hair out dealing with someone that really degrades others, I would recommend the book. I assume it is as useful as “How to raise a child” books. It can help and give you some great suggestions, but in both cases you will still have to deal with a lot of the stuff in the back of the diaper.

And my intent is not to poke just at church members, but it is an area that many of us find (just like our families) we are in our ward and just have to deal with the good and the not quite so good that is there.  The way someone treats others can be 100% independent of their status (or previous status) with the church. Sweet loving people with great people skills are both in and out of the church as well as jerks.  And those that leave the church are not absolved of acting in less than becoming ways towards others. In fact my hope that, especially in families, that changes in belief in the church don’t draw out the worst in us all.  It seems to me that way too many of us Mormons and ex-Mormons have some growing up to do in this area.

cliveThe author several times mentions that it can be hard to see when you yourself are being an A-Hole. Be slow to label others as A-Holes and be quick to question if you yourself are being one. We tend judge others by their actions and judge ourselves by our intentions. So given that I seem to feel I have no A-Holes around me at work, the author suggests that I might be the problem everyone else is dealing with.  That thought did make me look in the mirror and reflect on if (where) I might be acting this way.  It also reminded me of one of my favorite demotivational posters.

So does anyone have examples of where they or others were able to deal with someone that was really treating other poorly?

Have you ever had one of those epiphany that you were “that guy” and realized you could do much better?