Stanford professor explains how to deal with assholes


I learned to deal with assholes by not giving a shit … and meaning it.


That’s how it works for me as a consultant, too. It only takes word that you’ve fired a client or two in the past for the arseholes to get their acts together if they value your work. Not everyone, and not every freelancer has that luxury, though.

I’d say no. In my experience, they’re often big softies underneath the surly exterior (assuming they’re not dealing with an arsehole).


We used to call that “being de-emphasized.”
“Where’s Phill?”
“He was de-emphasized.”


I’m lucky that my avocation and my vocation line up.

We all make our own choices. If stuffing the stress down into your ulcer is the best choice based on other metrics, then avoiding assholes is very low down on ones list of priorities, and I’d hope its in the same approximate place when it comes to complaints I should feel sympathy for.

I mean, if the cake in front of me comes with asshole frosting, and I’ve decided I can only eat cake, and that finding other cake is too hard… that might be on me.

I’m not entitled to a cake without asshole frosting unless I make my own.


For that to function it requires the asshole client to understand the difference between your high quality work and shit work. Many do not. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been hired to clean up someone else’s mess. Just this past summer I had to completely redesign someone else’s prototype.


Putting out fires and cleaning up other people’s messes is part of the competent freelancer’s lot. The best fictional encapsulation of it that I’ve ever seen is the Winston Wolf sequence in “Pulp Fiction”, right down to Jules’ look of utter relief when he finds out The Wolf is coming to help and his moment of sheer panic when Vincent is enough of an arsehole that Wolf politely threatens to leave them to sort out the mess themselves. I’ve seen both of those expressions on clients’ faces, and I’ll wager you have, too.

Siskel & Ebert's take on 'Pulp Fiction' when it first hit theaters (1994)

Yeah, that’s the tricky bit.


A curmudgeon might grumble and complain a lot. But they typically treat people with respect, at least the few people that have demonstrated that they have earned the respect.



Informative article, just what I wanted to find.


Also remember this rule:

  • If you encounter someone during the course of your day who leaves you feeling pissed off then you may have just met an asshole.
  • If most of the people you encounter during the course of your day leave you feeling pissed off then you may BE the asshole.


That’d be great!


this guy freelances


Agree. My old job took years of training to get certified, then years after that to become more than barely competent. No other opportunities exist in my city, and to leave means leaving my kids behind.
All that being said, the asshole quotient finally got to the point that no job was better than the job I was in.


Happened to me more than once. The given advice is still applicable though.

More than one work environment has given me health issues which persist to this day. I don’t resent the chain of command at my last workplace which I left almost 7 months ago even though I’ve been unemployed since then. Leaving there got me in much better shape than I was for the two years previous.


I used to work as a bartender/waiter at my friend’s restaurant and we had a curmudgeon coming in at once a week or so. He presented as an arsehole, grumpy, mean and unpleasant, but it turns out he knew this about himself, since he would always tip like 50-100% (and he didn’t like it if we thanked him for the tip, since, I think, in his mind that was just "curmudgeon tax). So while it was never fun to serve him, it paid off and after some months he lost some of the arseholery and it turned out that yes, he was just a guy who’d suffered like the rest of us.
I don’t mind people suffering from anti-social/annoying tendencies, as long as they are aware of it. To pick another bad trait, narcissism. I’ve recently starting listening to Russell Brand’s podcasts and normally his relentless ego-trip would turn me off, but since he’s aware and at least tries to counter it, I can enjoy his other thoughts and ideas.
Btw. isn’t arsehole just another word for sociopath?


Just ignoring assholes and hoping they will go away doesn’t always work. This is especially true if they feel entitled to their assholery and are in the same physical space. They will double down on their rudeness, getting closer and louder, insisting that you pay attention to them.
This is especially true for a woman who is dealing with a male asshole. Ignoring their attempts to chat you up and/or begin a sexual situation will usually make them more belligerent, especially if they have been drinking. A woman who freezes out a drunk guy who calls her “baby” and makes moves on her will be subjected to a diatribe of verbal abuse. Their physical behavior also carries the implicit threat of violence.

This sort of peril in the face of ignoring assholery is also present during political or social protests. From the attacks on the nonviolent marchers during the Civil Rights movement of the early 60s, to the violent beatings given to antiwar protestors during the Vietnam War, to the behavior of the armoured, bat-and spear-armed White Supremacists in Charlottesville, there is a proven danger to refusing to engage with assholes. The worst use violence to force you to pay attention. Their willingness to do so is a huge part of being an asshole.


If someone is putting the moves on you and you find them sexually unattractive, a sometimes effective tactic is to do something decidedly unsexy, like pick your nose or complain about how your crotch itches and you think maybe you should see a doctor. :slight_smile:

Sadly, some people are such extreme jerks even that doesn’t work. :frowning:




Indeed, and all the inevitable tone deaf advice we gals are constantly given does very little to help the situation.