[LINK] Analysis of why excluding hostile people is worth it

by NancyLebovitz1 min read9th Jul 201343 comments


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This is specifically about why it's important to get assholes out of open source projects, but it applies in general. It includes an analysis of the social cost of keeping people around who frequently make other people unhappy, and in particular a way to balance the social costs (distraction, people doing much less work or leaving, useful volunteers not joining, assholes recruiting other assholes, etc.) of assholes against the useful work some of them do.

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From 2010: Defecting by Accident - A Flaw Common to Analytical People. You may not feel you're being one at all, but - key insight - you're not the one to make the call on your actions fitting "asshole" or not.

Everyone should read through these even if they don't watch the video.

The slides cite various figures, such as " it takes 5 good interactions to make up for one bad one" and "assholes cause targets 80% lost time worrying". Does the video provide sources for these numbers that didn't make it into the slides?

My default assumption for figures of that sort is that the author made them up, based on a general impression and a desire to tell a good story with concrete details.

I thought I'd seen something from the sort from Gottman, but I haven't been able to track it down.

Whoa, when I read the title of this post I thought it was about killing hostile people. Might want to edit it.

Same here, but that intrigued me and made me want to read it even more. Didn't get what I came for, but still got something of value, so I'm happy.

I've been trying to think of clearer phrasing, and not getting anywhere. Suggestions?

"Filtering out" hostile people?

"Excluding" hostile people?

I've changed the title.

Curiously, the "killing" interpretation hadn't occurred to me before, but the first time I saw the new title I initially read it as "... executing hostile people".

[-][anonymous]8y 2

Ah, good ol' mortality salience.

I wonder how to detect and exorcise one's inner asshole. Or whether this is even an instrumentally useful thing to do.

It's a project I'm at work on. (It turns out that knowing your flaws doesn't fix them.) I'm not as much of an asshole as I have been previously. I have actually recognised and successfully suppressed the urge on occasion! This is vast progress.

Do you mean the part of your mind that is habitually hostile even if it isn't expressed? Something else?

For me it's when my literary impulse overcomes my awareness of how to work productively with others.

It made me think of your inner asshole from slide one. By all means, try to do it. try this: http://1000awesomethings.com/ Try anything.

Exorcising, as in preventing it from taking control whenever it feels like? Sounds good. Unwise to eradicate it, though.

[+][anonymous]8y -5

I would note how theists often call atheists arrogant and hostile. When you find someone else hostile, that's information about both of you.

The quiet, nonhostile atheists are not the ones heard about, so this is selection bias. The theists offended probably do meet unjustified hostility from the vocal and hostile atheists, so in this case it's a very weak sign of being deserving.

In some situations, such as leading a group, if you meet unreasonable hostility or dislike everyone, yes, there is something wrong with that your leading abilities. Labeling assholes as such would be making the fundamental attribution error.

Once you met a few hostile Greens, it is easy to take Greenness (disproportionately) as an evidence for hostility. After all, they are Greens, so they must agree with everything those other Greens said; they are just strategically less open about it.

If your group happens to have a Blue majority at given moment, and you find more people like this, you can organize a Blue takeover of the group by declaring a fight against hostility, and by specifying Greenness (and defending Greens) as one of the symptoms of hostility.

I note that in your description of atheists, "quiet and nonhostile" go hand in hand, as do "vocal and hostile".

Daniel Dennett is a very vocal atheist, yet I find it ridiculous to consider him a hostile person. Further, one might compare the hostility that atheists show theists to the hostility that theists show atheists for some needed perspective on "hostile atheists".

I was specifically thinking of the worst group of all, the atheists of r/atheism who are both very vocal and very hostile. For an issue like this, there's hostile people on either end of the spectrum and being vocal helps makes them more so. A quiet and hostile person isn't particularly threatening and neither is a vocal and nonhostile person. I was not trying to suggest that being vocal alone makes someone hostile.

It would have been helpful to note up front that your reference population was the "worst group of all", as it otherwise looked like you were making a very broad generalization.

Refusing to go along with the majority is often viewed as a hostile act. Theists and atheists are hardly unique here.

Disagreeing with the majority is often viewed as an arrogant act. Who are you to think you know better than us? Again, theists and atheists are hardly unique here.

On a similar note wedrifid_2008 recommends The No Asshole Rule. (I don't know whether I concur. I can't entirely trust his impressions.)

No Assholes, No Whiners.

I think most people would agree with that, but there would be wide disagreement about who those labels apply to.

Other people, obviously.

There was an operational definition in the video.

13:00: After talking to the asshole, does the target feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energized, or belittled?

There's evidence that verbal aggression is a serious problem in organizations. Do you have evidence that complaining a lot about verbal aggression (I assume that's what you mean by whining) is a comparable problem?

So, all I have to do to get you excluded from the group, is to report feeling oppressed and de-energized every time I interact with you? Awesome!

I better start now, because I suppose this game has a strong first-mover advantage.

(Note: The example is fictional; I actually like you. Also, I understand that there are people who really make other people feel bad, and it would be great to remove them. I just predict that if this is made an official rule, some people will abuse it. Will there be a meta-defense of saying: "I am really scared of Joe, because I noticed that when he does not like someone, he reports them making him feel bad, and then the group punishes the person, and I'm already afraid to speak my mind about something I know Joe would disagree with."? And of course at the same moment Joe says: "Viliam, this was really cruel, you made me cry. Don't ever say anything like this again.")

So that X is an asshole, if Y feels a certain way.

I just don't agree with the general trend to automatically privilege the offended. Sometimes I find them justified, sometimes I don't.

There is no "verbal aggression" meter that I am aware of, and I doubt that your study used one. There are people interacting, and people doing studies and characterizing their interactions as "aggression". Aggressiveness itself is not even necessarily a problem. It's likely that what I'd call aggression causes the biggest problem events, but the every day problematic work interactions I'm familiar with are more driven by emotional and economic insecurity than by what I'd call "aggression". People are defensive and fearful, and lash out or feel hurt when they perceive a threat.

What I noticed from reading the slides is that the cost is born out in the decreased productivity of the "targets", not the "assholes". That doesn't really make the case that the "assholes" are the problem.

I suppose there's a risk of Goodhart's Law-- any measurement which is used to guide policy will become corrupt.

I called it aggression. I'm not sure that the guy in the video did.

The intent isn't to solve every workplace problem. It's to solve one quite serious problem which appears in volunteer organizations (the video focused on open source projects) as well as conventional employment.

The claim is that a small percentage of people habitually leave the other people (probably the people of lower status) around them feeling miserable, and this is a problem.

Once a mechanism for excluding people who do this is in place, there's a risk it could be used for scapegoating, and I haven't seen any discussion of how that could be prevented.

In open source, competing forks with visibly different attitudes.

Could you expand on that?

I mean that there is a competition element in social relations if the projects are on an equivalent level. e.g. OpenBSD versus everyone; Apache OpenOffice versus LibreOffice; and this competition element will help the project that's nicer to work with gain participants, and this will help select against both assholery and scapegoating. This of course requires competing projects of comparable quality in the first place, which is not so common.

That's a really bad definition because it is entirely based on target's feelings. It promotes victimhood, can get in the way of getting things done, and makes it look like the goal of organizations is to make their members/employees feel good about themselves.

I think most people would agree with that

To some extent. Although from what I understand there are many who underestimate the practical (and even raw financial) consequences of certain cultural aspects.

, but there would be wide disagreement about who those labels apply to.

The book by that name focuses on specific destructive behaviours to prohibit or watch for.