The Asshole Survival Guide

How to Deal With People Who Treat You Like Dirt

I wasn’t entirely sure about this book while glancing through it at the bookstore. It was another customer nearby who saw me flipping through the pages, and approached me.

“You absolutely have to buy this book,” he said in his thick British accent.

“Really? Why so?” I asked him.

“This book has helped me kick the shit out of the assholes in my life,” he said with a cheeky grin. “This book has helped me develop antennas over my head to detect assholes from far away.

Yes, that’s what I need! Antennas over my head to detect assholes from a mile away!

He then went on for a few minutes to tell me of some of the tips he picked up from this book. I was sold and got the book, and thankfully, I’ve also managed to kick out some of the assholes from my life. Hah!

The Author

Robert I. Sutton is a professor at Stanford’s Department of Management Science and Engineering and has written over 150 academic articles published in prestigious journals in the US. He utilizes his own life experiences, research groups, stories from civil servants, French bus drivers to 8000 emails that he has received on asshole behavior, to come up with tips and techniques to deal with such people.

The book is split into three major parts:

The book is spread over three overarching ideas.

  1. Asshole Audit: discover what kind of assholes to deal with, and asshole directional strategies

2. Techniques: Asshole avoidance, asshole taxes, and love bombing

3. Assshole Blindness: discusses where the problem might be yours when you can’t             detect assholes

At the end of some chapters, there are some rather nifty questions that can help you in your quest to deal with assholes. This also acts as a great summary of the chapter.

Jerks, Losers, and Empathy

One of the many interesting ideas discussed in the book is the idea that some people have to be a jerk to survive in today’s overly competitive world. They have to fight and lie and cheat their way to the top, and the author acknowledges that these kinds of people do seem to get ahead. But then, he gives names of CEOS (Tim Cook, Warren Buffet, Robin Williams, etc) who have managed to get to the top without being assholes. The aforementioned people may be assholes and a winner, they will still be a loser in the author’s book.

Having said that, Sutton does encourage his readers to be slow to label someone an asshole. He asks us to “consider other explanations and develop empathy for the alleged assholes” to be certain that they are not assholes. This will prevent us from becoming angry or hurtful unnecessarily.

Clean Getaway

Getting out can provide sweet relief from a certified jerk or from a place where jerks rule the roost. Leaving the scene can also save you from brief but dreadful encounters.

In other words, you don’t have to face the jerks- if you can leave, leave. This part of the book gives the readers enough tips and methods in order to make a clean getaway without the assholes figuring it out. One part, in particular, has excellent advice on dealing with online trolls who just end up harassing others. One effective technique I picked up was blocking certain people on my Facebook friends’ list. These assholes never deserved to be there in the first place, and with them out of the way, I am a much happier person!

Avoidance and Mind Tricks

Subsequent chapters deal with some brilliant advice, methods, and techniques to avoid assholes, and most of it deals with colleagues/ boss at work. Sometimes, we feel we need to be working with these assholes because we don’t have a choice, and even in that situation, there are ways to avoid being with these assholes.

One of the tips is mind tricks– how you can retrain, or reframe, certain things in your mind to shift away from the blame and guilt from you and realize the other person is indeed an asshole, and you have nothing to do with it. It’s easier said than done, but it can be done.

Fighting Back

There are three resources you need to have to fight back:

  1. How much power you have compared to the assholes
  2. Documentation: keep a record of everything (emails, letters, pictures), so you can always throw back to their faces
  3. Unity or Solidarity: sometimes you must fight alone, but you have a better chance of winning when others join you.


  1. Be calm and rational- be civil, not aggressive
  2. In more difficult scenarios, be aggresive
  3. Love bombing and ass-kissing: “flattery, smiles and other signs of appreciation (even if not entirely sincere( can be useful for convincing volatile and vindictive people to tamp down their inner angst and anger- so they won’t take it out on you.”
  4. Revenge is sweet but can be useless and dangerous
  5. Use the system to reform, defeat and expel jerks.

“I’ve encouraged you to fight, but not to be an idiot about it.”

You are the Solution, Not the Problem

According to Sutton, sometimes we are our own problem. We may need to look into ourselves and have an internal assessment and identify any problem areas.

Here are some tips:

  1. Follow the Da Vinci Rule: Da Vinci said: “It’s easier to resist at the beginning than at the end.” Get out early if you can.
  2. Protect others, not just yourself.
  3. Use the “Benjamin Franklin” effect to turn assholes into friends.
  4. Take a look in the mirror- are you part of the problem?
  5. Apologize when you’ve behaved like an asshole- but only if you really mean it and then do it right.
  6. Are you a toxic enabler?


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