If You Do These 3 Things, You’re Probably A Hateable Boss

To avoid being a gigantic jerk, you need to understand what gigantic jerks do. Luckily, leadership experts Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins have done research on this.

If You Do These 3 Things, You’re Probably A Hateable Boss

“If you realize you’re going to sound like an asshole at least three times a week, you’re apt to catch yourself at it now and again.”


That’s Geoffrey Nunberg, the University of California linguist who penned Ascent of the A-Word, a concise history of assholism. We talked to him last year about what makes assholes such assholes (the takeaway: if you think your title is your identity, you’re most likely one).

Fresh light has recently been shed on assholish behavior over at Harvard Business Review, as executive coaches and leadership developers Amy Jen Su and Muriel Maignan Wilkins distilled the findings of 360 qualitative interviews about the behaviors of bosses that are most aggravating–or, in other words, what makes you sound like an asshole.

Hateworthy: Judgmentality

Most of our communication is nonverbal, Su and Wilkins observe, so much of one’s jerkishness comes not from what one says, but how, in terms of tone and body language.

What are the ways? You may sound “evaluative, harsh, or condescending,” which, the authors observe, might not be intentional, but in the moment. It’s also in your face: furrowed brows, deep scowls, quizzical looks, resting bitchface syndrome–each can be microviolence.

Ire-stoking: Interruptionism

People are most creative, thoughtful, and integrative when they feel secure. But if they feel like a predator is afoot, ready to gobble them up for the slightest squabble, they won’t be able to tap into their inner Einstein.

What are the clues of predatory interruptionism? Do you wait to talk or do you listen? Do you cut people off? Do you unnecessarily interrogate? I’m not done here: Do you expect every idea to be fully structured before someone speaks? If so, Su and Wilkins say, you’ll find yourself without partners in thought.


Chagrin channeling: Inconsistence

Most Creative Person Bryan Cranston, whom you may know as Walter White on Breaking Bad, talked to us about how inconsistencies in his show give “pinches of poison” to the viewer–if he’s not sleeping on the same side of his bed every episode, it irks the viewer. Poison pinches happen at work, too: Su and Wilkins observe that if a boss is charming with the exec team and disrespectful to everyday workers, it makes the office a walking-on-egg-shells environment, since you don’t know if the charmer or the judger will be showing up.

Bottom Line: Catch yourself when you’re sounding like an asshole. Consistently.

Which Behaviors Must Leaders Avoid?

[Alphabet Letters: Wanchai Orsuk via Shutterstock]

About the author

Drake Baer was a contributing writer at Fast Company, where he covered work culture. He's the co-author of Everything Connects, a book about how intrapersonal, interpersonal, and organizational psychology shape innovation.