Don’t be an a**hole.
This post is inspired by Stanford Professor, Bob Sutton’s, book The No Asshole Rule.
It’s been a long time coming. Hours of my life wasted on calls to customer service with me ranting and extolling the virtues of flexible systems. Hours of wasted breath. Hours of pain.
All for naught. But it’s over.
Because, I, Kevin Rustagi, am here to say, that today marks the conclusion (and ideally just the beginning), of my truly and deeply learning one of the most valuable lessons the Universe has to offer humanity.
Don’t be an asshole.
That’s right. I said it. And though it might be banned from TV and live feeds of the SuperBowl and Academy Awards - I said it because we’re all thinking it.
Sutton describes in his book that this word is just about the only word in the English language, that, despite its rancor, truly expresses the angst and frustration the rest of us feel when someone just can’t seem to have a decent outlook.
For me, it’s a story of reformation. I come from a loquacious bunch, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to enjoying a good, 3 hour conversation. And amongst willing, consensual friends, that’s great.
But when I subject customer service to the throes of conversational warfare, it remains futile. My last such episode was with a guitar cable manufacturer, that wanted me to ship them the bad cable (est. cost - $7) so they could potentially repair it. Cost of a new cable: $15. I’ve been spoiled by Zappos, and at my previous startup, Ministry of Supply, I sought to emulate their ways, so you can see where I might potentially burst out of my own skin at the mere thought of such a silly proposition. ‘You want me to pay nearly 50% of the purchase price because you screwed up!!!’
But alas - where did it get me? Nowhere. I ended up throwing the cable into a landfill as the whole thing had no doubt increased cortisol levels in my brain and body. If my exchange had been a prospective deal with a shareholder, that would be the equivalent of me phoning their sister and saying, ‘… ’ well - you get the idea. It certainly didn’t accomplish either party’s goals. And it just didn’t sit right with me. There was just no real reason to be such an asshole. If someone stiffed me for that amount of money (or any amount) I wouldn’t be that upset. So, why behave this way in a unique, but not uncommon everyday environment, be it on the phone?
In fact, and bear with me on the utter simplicity to the point of near ignorance on this one, I realize that though the policies may deserve a stern browbeating, rarely do the people ever. And if they do, it’s simply not my job.
Instead, at the admonition of those closest to me over the past several years - my former business partner, my Mom, and my best friends - I’ve seen the err of my ways and further, sought to revisit, repair, and ultimately, relinquish my misdirected and cantankerous behavior.
I have been unwittingly lead through some kind of multi-step program to the following realizations.
1) Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter that much. If it does, my and their time is more valuable. As human beings, time on Earth is relatively finite.
2) I can get the exact same, if not a better outcome, by being friendly (more on this after the list). So even if I didn’t care one dime about the other person (which I do), it would still be better for me. In this instance, as Adam Grant cites in Give and Take, people who are often more interested in BOTH others AND more interested in themselves come out on top.
3) It’s simply more fun to be friendly.
4) Back to me (or you). I’ll probably live longer. The folks at Science seem to think I’m 35% less likely to die in the next 5 years. I know we’ve all known a lot of old curmudgeons, but I’ll put in with them and agree that it is likely the case that happier lower-stress (bad kinds of stress vs. good kinds) probably live longer. It makes sense.
But where does this leave me?
While driving this morning, my car was rear-ended. And it was startling. I’ve been getting over a decently serious bicycle accident two days ago and my neck was not a happy camper, but I knew it would pass. No reason to freak out.
Growing up, my Mom would always post on the bathroom mirror that my sisters, brother, and I shared the following quote,
‘Something happens … The way you respond can make it better … or worse.’
Now, looking back, I see actually how foreboding that last ‘…’ looks, but I’ll look past that toward what I believe is something truly elegant. It has to do with the fact that we often don’t have control over what happens.
This morning, for instance, I stopped abruptly at the intersection to prevent running too close in front of an oncoming vehicle. And that decision, in one way or another, led to a Honda accord giving me a good knock shortly thereafter.
First, nobody was hurt. This is more than I can say for that bicycle accident a few days back.
Second, I had a choice to make. Be an asshole, or not.
On the asshole end of the spectrum - this was my baby! A car I really enjoy and one where cosmetics matter to me. And oh no! It hadn’t been in an accident, but now it has?! Woe is me. Give me your information!!!
Instead, it’s, ‘Well, you’re alright. Good. I’m fine. Let’s check the damage. Yeah, it’s a little messed up. No big deal. I’ll take your insurance, but I’ll call you before anything goes through. If you want to just pay for it, totally cool. Let me call your cellphone to make sure you have my number and photo everything.’
I did the EXACT same things I would have ended up doing as if I was being an asshole, but with an entirely different response than I’m sure I would have gotten.
In fact, the woman was so pleasantly surprised that I wasn’t an asshole about it and proceeded to be extremely cooperative. I called her later today and explained that I’d been to the hospital for whiplash. A joke, that highlighted just how chill the proceedings were. She was grateful that I was just pulling her leg. And, guess what - my car is made of plastic. And that part + paint + labor is going to co$t.
But I faced absolutely no backlash on her part.
Now - you may be thinking - well, of course, not - she’s bound by law. You’ve got photos. You’ve got leverage.
From the world of startups, I will tell you that life is not a chess game. And we, as irrational human beings, sometimes don’t care at all about who has what leverage. This, however dismaying, can be extremely positive.
As long as I remained reasonable, while still holding her accountable (remember the photos and insurance), everything was fine. I kept my cool, staying calm as we assessed the situation and even said a few different times that everything was fine - we just needed to figure this out.
And therein, something beautiful happened. Human reciprocity.
The moral being that if you’re reasonable and kind to people, they’re likely, it seems, to be pretty kind and reasonable to you.
Could I have been an asshole? Sure. Might that have gotten me to the same place of having my car repaired? Maybe.
But I can virtually guarantee that it would have been more painful for each party. I’ll admit, it’s been a learning process. Ultimately, though, I’ve taken away that spending my energies on lifting people up through the circumstances, unfortunate though they may be, is a far better application than the opposite.
So to the casual road-rager or the ‘Hey, you cut in line’ guy - I say ‘nay!’
Don’t be an asshole.
Life is too short and it’s more fun to make friends.