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Is There a Jerk at Work? Here Are 7 Tips for Staying Sane
Stanford professor Robert Sutton offers a slew of suggestions for how to break up negative vibes in the office.
We’ve all done it, had to interact with an asshole at work. Sometimes its the customer who will never be truly happy with their service and yet inexplicably keeps showing up for more service to complain about. Sometimes its the coworker who just enjoys walking all over everybody else on their way to the top. Some of us have even had to endure the sadistic boss who enjoys watching other people suffer.
More than half of all Americans have endured some kind of workplace bullying, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute. Dealing with a jerk at work is one of the most common problems you can have. It can also be bad for your health, as Stanford professor Robert Sutton says, “There are longitudinal studies that demonstrate pretty clearly that people who, for example, work under assholes for many years end up being more depressed, more anxious, and less healthy.”
But, what can we do about it?
In his book The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt, Professor Sutton proposes several solutions to how to deal with jerks based on your situation and their position. For him, an asshole is “someone who leaves us feeling demeaned, de-energized, disrespected, and/or oppressed. In other words, someone who makes you feel like dirt,” and is a person who does these things consistently. We can all be guilty of this kind of behavior from time to time, but if someone is doing it constantly that's what is known, in scientific terms, as a real piece of work. Professor Sutton offers us a slew of suggestions for how to improve our situation, in no particular order.
No Jerk Policies
A lot of workplaces have “No Jerk Policies”. As strange as it sounds, these policies can be effective. Sutton claims that, at Stanford, questions of how a person will behave once they have a job are openly discussed when making hiring decisions. The idea then is that civility will be enforced as a workplace rule.
Of course, even at Stanford, sometimes the No Jerk Policy fails. A jackass makes it past the interview process and is now working with you. Sutton relates how he and his coworkers will be cordial to such a person in the office, but will make no effort to interact with them unnecessarily. Avoidance of a jerk is one way of solving the problem in the short term.
Sometimes the schmuck causing you stress is your boss, or is otherwise too entrenched and powerful for you to ignore. The best thing to do here, says Sutton, is to leave. “If you’re stuck under a certified asshole, that means you’re suffering. And if that’s the case, you should get out — it’s that simple.” He recommends first attempting a transfer within the same company, but leaving the entire organization if you must. Don't accept a worse job just to escape: look for a better opportunity. What's that saying about the best revenge is to live well?
If you can’t leave, and not everybody can, trying to solve the problem by making it a group issue is an option. “To begin with, you've got to build your case. You’ve also got to build a coalition.” Having several people complain to HR with a large body of evidence that another person is being abusive stands a much better chance of working than just one person going it alone. This will also give you an opportunity to take stock of how other people view this alleged jerk: are your concerns shared by others, or are you inflating a gripe into a grudge? Now is a good time for reflection, and to help you in that, here is a little wisdom from Carl Jung to keep in mind: "Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves."
Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other. This advice from Ben Franklin rings true with assholes as well. Sutton agrees, “If somebody has a long history of hurting you, and they have a Machiavellian personality, the only thing they understand is a display of force. If that’s the case, the best way to protect yourself is to fire back with everything you’ve got.” Being an asshole right back might have the bonus that they try to avoid you.
One of the simplest and best solutions is the most difficult to use. It requires the patience of a saint. Ignore them, don’t let them cause you pain or at least don’t let them know they got to you. A lot of jerks just do it for the response. Deny them that, and you take the wind out of their sails.
Talk to the jerk
Lastly, a lot of people don’t know they are being assholes. While that might be hard to believe, it is the case. Consider how the same studies that show that more than half of Americans suffer workplace bullying also show that less than one percent of people admit to being the cause. If the person causing you grief is doing it out of ignorance rather than malice, taking them aside and explaining the problem could solve the problem.
But, how do I know if I am the asshole?
Humans are flawed, we can often have a hard time understanding our own personality problems. We can best understand our own occasional assholery by listening to a trusted friend. Ideally, we would all have a friend or family member who would call us out on this kind of thing, but not everyone does.
If you have to rely on your own self-reflection, we still have advice. Demographically, you are more likely to be a jerk if you are wealthy, well educated, and prestigious. While the idea of the entitled jerk who thinks they are better than everybody else can bring back bad memories for a lot of people, statistically you are at risk of doing this too if you move up in the world.
Almost every workplace has an asshole in it, but you needn’t suffer too much for it. Taking even simple steps to avoid a toxic person like the walking pile of radioactive fertilizer they might be can do wonders for your mental health. After all, life is too short to let them get the better of you.
Stay humble, and flex your empathy skills with Alan Alda:
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.
- Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
- As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
- The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
The multifaceted cerebellum is large — it's just tightly folded.
- A powerful MRI combined with modeling software results in a totally new view of the human cerebellum.
- The so-called 'little brain' is nearly 80% the size of the cerebral cortex when it's unfolded.
- This part of the brain is associated with a lot of things, and a new virtual map is suitably chaotic and complex.
Just under our brain's cortex and close to our brain stem sits the cerebellum, also known as the "little brain." It's an organ many animals have, and we're still learning what it does in humans. It's long been thought to be involved in sensory input and motor control, but recent studies suggests it also plays a role in a lot of other things, including emotion, thought, and pain. After all, about half of the brain's neurons reside there. But it's so small. Except it's not, according to a new study from San Diego State University (SDSU) published in PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
A neural crêpe
A new imaging study led by psychology professor and cognitive neuroscientist Martin Sereno of the SDSU MRI Imaging Center reveals that the cerebellum is actually an intricately folded organ that has a surface area equal in size to 78 percent of the cerebral cortex. Sereno, a pioneer in MRI brain imaging, collaborated with other experts from the U.K., Canada, and the Netherlands.
So what does it look like? Unfolded, the cerebellum is reminiscent of a crêpe, according to Sereno, about four inches wide and three feet long.
The team didn't physically unfold a cerebellum in their research. Instead, they worked with brain scans from a 9.4 Tesla MRI machine, and virtually unfolded and mapped the organ. Custom software was developed for the project, based on the open-source FreeSurfer app developed by Sereno and others. Their model allowed the scientists to unpack the virtual cerebellum down to each individual fold, or "folia."
Study's cross-sections of a folded cerebellum
Image source: Sereno, et al.
A complicated map
Sereno tells SDSU NewsCenter that "Until now we only had crude models of what it looked like. We now have a complete map or surface representation of the cerebellum, much like cities, counties, and states."
That map is a bit surprising, too, in that regions associated with different functions are scattered across the organ in peculiar ways, unlike the cortex where it's all pretty orderly. "You get a little chunk of the lip, next to a chunk of the shoulder or face, like jumbled puzzle pieces," says Sereno. This may have to do with the fact that when the cerebellum is folded, its elements line up differently than they do when the organ is unfolded.
It seems the folded structure of the cerebellum is a configuration that facilitates access to information coming from places all over the body. Sereno says, "Now that we have the first high resolution base map of the human cerebellum, there are many possibilities for researchers to start filling in what is certain to be a complex quilt of inputs, from many different parts of the cerebral cortex in more detail than ever before."
This makes sense if the cerebellum is involved in highly complex, advanced cognitive functions, such as handling language or performing abstract reasoning as scientists suspect. "When you think of the cognition required to write a scientific paper or explain a concept," says Sereno, "you have to pull in information from many different sources. And that's just how the cerebellum is set up."
Bigger and bigger
The study also suggests that the large size of their virtual human cerebellum is likely to be related to the sheer number of tasks with which the organ is involved in the complex human brain. The macaque cerebellum that the team analyzed, for example, amounts to just 30 percent the size of the animal's cortex.
"The fact that [the cerebellum] has such a large surface area speaks to the evolution of distinctively human behaviors and cognition," says Sereno. "It has expanded so much that the folding patterns are very complex."
As the study says, "Rather than coordinating sensory signals to execute expert physical movements, parts of the cerebellum may have been extended in humans to help coordinate fictive 'conceptual movements,' such as rapidly mentally rearranging a movement plan — or, in the fullness of time, perhaps even a mathematical equation."
Sereno concludes, "The 'little brain' is quite the jack of all trades. Mapping the cerebellum will be an interesting new frontier for the next decade."
What happens if we consider welfare programs as investments?
- A recently published study suggests that some welfare programs more than pay for themselves.
- It is one of the first major reviews of welfare programs to measure so many by a single metric.
- The findings will likely inform future welfare reform and encourage debate on how to grade success.
Welfare as an investment<p>The <a href="https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/hendren/files/welfare_vnber.pdf" target="_blank">study</a>, carried out by Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser of Harvard University, reviews 133 welfare programs through a single lens. The authors measured these programs' "Marginal Value of Public Funds" (MVPF), which is defined as the ratio of the recipients' willingness to pay for a program over its cost.</p><p>A program with an MVPF of one provides precisely as much in net benefits as it costs to deliver those benefits. For an illustration, imagine a program that hands someone a dollar. If getting that dollar doesn't alter their behavior, then the MVPF of that program is one. If it discourages them from working, then the program's cost goes up, as the program causes government tax revenues to fall in addition to costing money upfront. The MVPF goes below one in this case. <br> <br> Lastly, it is possible that getting the dollar causes the recipient to further their education and get a job that pays more taxes in the future, lowering the cost of the program in the long run and raising the MVPF. The value ratio can even hit infinity when a program fully "pays for itself."</p><p> While these are only a few examples, many others exist, and they do work to show you that a high MVPF means that a program "pays for itself," a value of one indicates a program "breaks even," and a value below one shows a program costs more money than the direct cost of the benefits would suggest.</p> After determining the programs' costs using existing literature and the willingness to pay through statistical analysis, 133 programs focusing on social insurance, education and job training, tax and cash transfers, and in-kind transfers were analyzed. The results show that some programs turn a "profit" for the government, mainly when they are focused on children:
This figure shows the MVPF for a variety of polices alongside the typical age of the beneficiaries. Clearly, programs targeted at children have a higher payoff.
Nathaniel Hendren and Ben Sprung-Keyser<p>Programs like child health services and K-12 education spending have infinite MVPF values. The authors argue this is because the programs allow children to live healthier, more productive lives and earn more money, which enables them to pay more taxes later. Programs like the preschool initiatives examined don't manage to do this as well and have a lower "profit" rate despite having decent MVPF ratios.</p><p>On the other hand, things like tuition deductions for older adults don't make back the money they cost. This is likely for several reasons, not the least of which is that there is less time for the benefactor to pay the government back in taxes. Disability insurance was likewise "unprofitable," as those collecting it have a reduced need to work and pay less back in taxes. </p>