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

post by NancyLebovitz · 2013-07-09T16:01:03.363Z · score: 9 (12 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 43 comments

http://blip.tv/tech-love-live/osb09-donnie-berkholz-assholes-are-killing-your-project-2464449

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.

43 comments

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comment by David_Gerard · 2013-07-09T20:21:56.935Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

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.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-07-09T17:04:07.448Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Slides are here.

comment by David_Gerard · 2013-07-09T20:22:40.975Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

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

comment by taelor · 2013-07-10T15:54:58.869Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

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?

comment by RichardKennaway · 2013-07-11T14:10:10.748Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

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.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-07-11T16:09:47.165Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

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

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-07-09T23:09:23.112Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

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

comment by Eneasz · 2013-07-10T00:36:32.125Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

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.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-07-10T05:21:16.053Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

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

comment by CronoDAS · 2013-07-10T05:57:57.081Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

"Filtering out" hostile people?

"Excluding" hostile people?

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-07-10T06:56:56.496Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I've changed the title.

comment by gjm · 2013-07-10T11:01:29.396Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

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".

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-07-10T13:29:32.552Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

For All the Rude People

comment by [deleted] · 2013-07-10T12:52:03.462Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ah, good ol' mortality salience.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-07-09T22:00:36.042Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

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

comment by gyokuro · 2013-07-10T02:10:33.930Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

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.

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-07-10T08:10:47.250Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

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.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-07-10T07:39:32.922Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

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".

comment by gyokuro · 2013-07-10T20:26:56.916Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

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.

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-07-13T22:29:18.673Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

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.

comment by elharo · 2013-07-10T10:23:02.291Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

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.

comment by shminux · 2013-07-09T18:31:16.132Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

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

comment by David_Gerard · 2013-07-09T20:19:24.900Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

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.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-07-09T20:08:16.327Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

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

comment by David_Gerard · 2013-07-10T14:10:41.728Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

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

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2013-07-10T18:11:44.947Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

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

comment by SuspiciousTitForTat · 2013-07-09T20:31:47.119Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

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.

comment by [deleted] · 2013-07-10T18:49:57.161Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

The Star Trek episode "The Enemy Within" gave a plausible answer to this, which gibes with my experience. To really get things done, you need assholes, and you need to be somewhat of an asshole. The meek, non-asshole "Good Kirk" was too weak to lead, while the psychopathic asshole "Bad Kirk" was too aggressive. But the idea that assholes should be exorcised from communities because, for example, they make women run away is just not a persuasive argument. Study the history of great minds and men (yes, almost all men) and you will find assholes everywhere. This is an aspect of our modern culture that I profoundly despise and disagree with: the hostility to conflict and abrasive people. It seems to me to be essentially a celebration of mediocrity. High functioning assholes are the intellectual equivalents of lions hunting infirm gazelles; rather than exorcise them, perhaps we need more of them to prevent mediocrity, stagnation and groupthink.

comment by shminux · 2013-07-10T19:05:16.837Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

We might be using different definitions. It's OK to break a few eggs to make an omelette, it's not OK to break a few eggs just for the fun of breaking eggs. I'm pretty sure it's the second kind of people that is usually termed an asshole.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-07-10T21:16:14.360Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I think definitions (and understandings) need to be made more explicit.

People who break eggs for the fun of breaking eggs are usually called something along the lines of sadists and psychopaths.

In the context I would assume an "asshole" is someone who just wants X done and does not care at all about your feelings, opinions, convenience, etc. Example one: a recruit training sergeant. Example two: Steve Jobs.

An alternative definition would be "someone who wants to play power and status games" and that's a different case.

An yet another alternative definition is "someone who's more ambitious/aggressive than me".

comment by shminux · 2013-07-10T22:15:57.091Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Right, good classification. From the slides:

  • Does the target feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energized or belittled?

  • Does the asshole target those less powerful?

  • Everyone has a bad day sometimes. For assholes, every day is a bad day

Seems like your second definition, "someone who wants to play power and status games" is the closest.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-07-09T16:33:25.451Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

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.)

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-07-09T22:11:58.199Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW · GW

No Assholes, No Whiners.

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

comment by David_Gerard · 2013-07-10T06:54:40.578Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Other people, obviously.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-07-10T05:51:22.541Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

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?

comment by Viliam_Bur · 2013-07-10T08:26:36.620Z · score: 9 (13 votes) · LW · GW

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.")

comment by buybuydandavis · 2013-07-10T07:28:29.794Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

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.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-07-10T08:43:52.342Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

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.

comment by David_Gerard · 2013-07-10T11:19:02.893Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

In open source, competing forks with visibly different attitudes.

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2013-07-10T13:20:18.945Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Could you expand on that?

comment by David_Gerard · 2013-07-10T14:08:42.721Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

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.

comment by Lumifer · 2013-07-10T21:22:01.771Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

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.

comment by wedrifid · 2013-07-10T05:59:23.423Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

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.