How to get promoted, get a raise, or get her into bed… by being a jerk

Assholes

[Images by Sean McCabe.]

Gene Simmons doesn’t care if you call him an asshole. In fact, he considers it a compliment.

“I don’t think ‘asshole’ is a bad word,” he says, with a smirk that rarely leaves his face. “It means you’re a leader. You’re out in the front of the line, making the big decisions. The followers are behind you, and when they look up all they see is an asshole. Because that’s their only view. That’s not the life I want. I’d rather be the guy in front who sees no assholes.”

We’re backstage with Simmons at the Park West Theater in Chicago, a few hours before he goes on. It’s a solo show, not his usual gig singing and breathing fire for the seemingly immortal glam-rock band KISS. A day after his 68th birthday, he’s in his street clothes—a leather jacket, way-too-tight jeans, and sunglasses that never come off, even in a dark dressing room. He’s invited us here to talk about his favorite subject.

“I’m delusional in my sense of self,” Simmons says, pausing to check himself out in the mirror. “I’m aware that I’m not the best looking guy in the world. But I’m also aware that I could walk into any room in the entire world and walk out with anybody’s girl. That’s just a fact.”

Simmons has a new book out, a guide to attaining supreme control in your professional and personal life by behaving like an unrepentant prick. The title gets right to the point—On Power: My Journey Through the Corridors of Power and How You Can Get More Power—as do the declarative chapter titles: “Get Better Friends,” “Speak English,” and “If You Want It Done Right, Do It Yourself.” The cover features a money symbol, which Simmons tells us without a hint of sarcasm he’s trademarked. “I’ve owned the trademark to the money symbol for 28 years,” he insists. “It’s not my fault other people were too stupid not to think of it first.”

No indeed. Love him or hate him, the only rational response to almost everything that comes out of Simmons’ mouth is, “What a fucking asshole!” He has an essence to him that the Germans call Backpfeifengesicht, a word roughly translated as “a face in need of a good punch.” But he’s done pretty well for himself. He’s rich—worth an estimated $300 million—and still regularly sells out auditoriums full of adoring fans. He’s had sex with 4,600 women (his estimate) and still ended up with a loyal and devoted wife, model Shannon Tweed. He has no ethical hang-ups about hawking merch—everything from cologne and bicycle shorts to condoms and caskets—with his face emblazoned on it. He’s composed songs about his penis (“Love Gun”), publically mocked anyone who struggles with drug or alcohol addiction as “weak,” and takes delight in showing us how he’s trained the Siri app on his iPhone to address him as “My Lord and Redeemer.”

He smiles at Siri’s assurances. “See?” he tells us. “She gets it.”

Why do the people who act like the biggest jackasses invariably win, sometimes bigly? OK, yes, there have been a few instances of assholes getting their comeuppance recently. Travis Kalanick took a forced “leave of absence” as the CEO of Uber, the multi-billion-dollar company he co-founded, after too many incidences of rampant assholery. And pharma-bro Martin Shkreli, who raised the price of Daraprim—a drug used by AIDS and cancer patients—by 5,000 percent, was convicted of securities fraud and is (as of this writing) serving a seven-year sentence in federal prison. Yet for every asshole who gets what he deserves there are thousands who thrive in spite of, or maybe because of, their behavior. You likely personally know at least one.

Assholes are easy to hate, but also easy to envy. If we’re being honest, we want what they have—the money, the women, the jet-setting lifestyles, the fulfilling careers—but we’d like to get it without resorting to dickish power moves. The problem with trying to follow in the footsteps of assholes is that it’s too easy to focus on their egregious behavior (e.g. the lying, the bullying, the sadistic psychological abuse they giddily inflict on others) and miss what they’re actually doing right.

“Assholes don’t succeed because they’re assholes,” says Aaron James, Ph.D., a philosophy professor at the University of California at Irvine and author of Assholes: A Theory. “The asshole tendencies make it easier for them to accept some basic strategies for getting ahead that nice guys always forget.”

Here’s how James defines a true asshole: “He’s a guy—and they are mainly, but not only men—with a sense of entitlement that immunizes him against the complaints of other people.” Most assholes fall into this category. Still, if you think about it, it’s possible to be an asshole in the technical sense without actually being an asshole. You could be the wanker who’s willing to crush anyone in his path and doesn’t give a shit, or the guy who just thinks he’s deserving of happiness and won’t let the haters drag him down. Both of those fit James’ definition of an asshole. If your sense of entitlement is “I deserve a raise” or “I should be with a partner that doesn’t fill me with self-loathing,” that’s the good kind of entitlement. Maybe the secret to being an asshole is recognizing when to prioritize yourself, but doing it in a way that doesn’t mean destroying the competition.

“You think you deserve good things in life because you’re a good guy?” Simmons asks. “You’re a fool. Nature is laughing at you. You deserve nothing. We’re not born as equals. People come into this world with genes that make us fatter or thinner, taller or shorter, dumber or smarter. We’re all starting at a disadvantage somehow. If you want something better from life, you have to take it.”

A group of fans files into the dressing room, eager to meet their musical hero. Simmons invites them to have a piece of his birthday cake but insists with a leer that “you have to swallow.” Everybody, including the women, bursts into appreciative laughter at his creepy joke. Simmons smiles and shoots us a look as if to say, “Could a non-asshole could away with that?”

Here are just a few ways you can reap the rewards of being an asshole without being such an asshole.

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1. Be Overconfident Even If You’re Clueless
What do Gene Simmons and Muhammad Ali have in common? They both considered themselves extraordinary long before anyone else did. “I am the greatest,” Ali said. “I said that even before I knew I was.” Simmons cops to the same overblown sense of self: “I was always delusional about my abilities long before I had any success with KISS,” he says. “If you believe that for long enough, eventually you turn out to be right.”

Why It Works:
David Dunning, Ph.D, a social psychologist at the University of Michigan, helped come up with a theory to explain this reality disconnect: the Dunning–Kruger Effect. “It’s a cognitive bias where incompetent people don’t recognize their own incompetence,” he says. Not having the skills or talent for a task but doing it anyway—like, say, flying a plane or performing major surgery—can be a bad idea. But when the risks are lower, an unflappable self-confidence that overshadows ability might actually pay off.

“Michael Jordan, long before he was a superstar, was asked what he thinks about before he takes a shot,” says Aaron James. “Jordan replied that he always thinks he’s going to make it. He only made it half the time, but he never thought about that in the moment of shooting.” The facts didn’t matter to Jordan and then eventually his ability caught up to what his head was telling him.

Do It Without Being an Asshole:
You don’t have to be as naturally talented as Michael Jordan, or as arrogant as Gene Simmons, to benefit from some overheated self-actualization. “The asshole will deny, deny, deny any evidence against him, perhaps convincing himself that others are being unfair to him,” James says. You don’t have to stoop to that level of delusion. There is no fake news when it comes to your potential. “It’s not about denying the evidence,” says James. “It’s just not caring about it. Any evidence, good or bad, has limited relevance until you try.”

2. Be Immune to Criticism
Assholes are strangely unfazed when confronted with their own assholery. Remember that time when Tom Brady took a leave of absence to reflect on why he’s so universally loathed? Or when Kanye West publicly admitted, “I’ve read the complaints about my embarrassingly narcissistic behavior, and you raise some valid points”? Of course you don’t. Because it never happened.

Why It Works:
It’s not that they’re just ignoring the critics; an asshole might honestly not realize he’s being criticized at all. In a 2014 study at Columbia University examining the interaction of 338 MBA students, participants took part in fierce negotiations and were later asked to evaluate how others in the group perceived them. Of those who behaved like total assholes—who were pushy, loud, or unnecessarily aggressive—64 percent believed the group probably thought they acted appropriately or under-assertively. Not only do assholes not think they’re assholes, most of them are convinced that nobody else thinks they’re assholes either.

Do It Without Being an Asshole:
Billionaire business mogul Mark Cuban has received his fair share of criticism—some of it fair, some of it mean-spirited. To wit: he’s been fined thousands by the NBA for his courtside temper tantrums, including shouting at a player’s mom, calling her son “a thug.” But when it comes to haters, he trusts his own instincts. “[I] check my hole cards,” he says. In poker, the hole cards are the ones dealt face down; they can make or break your hand. “You never look at your hole cards just once,” Cuban says. “It’s smart to always check to make sure you are right.”

That’s how Cuban responds to criticism. He doesn’t ignore it and doesn’t acknowledge it directly. But it gives him a reason to check his hole cards one more time.

3. Be Your Own Biggest Fan
While accepting his Best Actor Oscar in 2014, Matthew McConaughey revealed the identity of his childhood hero. “It’s me in 10 years,” he said, with a big, shit-eating grin. Across the globe, millions of viewers muttered under their breath, “What a tool.”

Why It Works:
McConaughey isn’t the first asshole to be inspired by his own reflection. A 2015 study by the University of Amsterdam found that powerful assholes are typically more inspired by their own tales of glory than the accomplishments of others. “They tend to inflate their own importance, and that just reinforces their feelings of self-worth,” says Gerben van Kleef, professor of social psychology and the lead researcher of the study.

Do It Without Being an Asshole:
If you stuck around for the rest of McConaughey’s Oscar speech, it made more sense. His hero really isn’t himself, he explained, it’s his vision of himself, his ideal of who he could become in 10 years. Mark Cuban has a similar definition. “I don’t get inspired by myself,” he says. “I get inspired by my competitive spirit.” Sounds like something an asshole would say, but it makes sense to Erika Kao, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in San Diego, California. “Just remember that moderation is key,” she says. “Powerful people are often inspired by themselves, but if it’s only ever about you, it’s easy to become selfish and exploit others for personal gain.”

Be inspired by your own potential but never forget that you live in a big world with other people capable of being just as awesome as you. “They don’t have to be your hero,” says Kao. “But don’t ignore what they can teach you.”

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4. Treat Your Body Like a (Douchebag’s) Temple
It’s not that eating right and exercising makes you an asshole. It’s that assholes are more likely to make sure you know that they eat right and exercise. They’re so arrogant and self-absorbed that they can’t accept anything less than physical perfection. “Narcissism is positively related to self-esteem,” says psychologist Erin Hill of West Chester University in Pennsylvania, who has studied how assholes tend to be more physically fit and experience less mental health problems, including anxiety and depression.

Why It Works:
There’s something about healthy eating that makes assholes feel justified in their assholery. A 2012 study from researchers at Loyola University in New Orleans found that a regular consumption of organic foods “can lead to harsher moral judgments.” If you eat more organic apples than, say, ice cream or mustard (their examples, not ours), you’re significantly less likely to volunteer to help needy strangers. Why? For the same reason working out at the gym makes you feel justified in eating a big dessert later that night. You were good, so now you have permission to be bad. In the same way, eating an organic apple helps a person feel okay about walking past a homeless person without giving them any money, because “Hey, I’m still a good person. I ate that apple!”

Do It Without Being an Asshole:
The narcissism that drives assholes to take better care of their bodies with diet and exercise is, ironically, what often causes them to sabotage themselves with risky behaviors, like drinking, drug use, and gambling. The trick is to find a happy medium—what Hill calls “the right level of narcissism”—between feeling like a god and remembering that you’re very mortal.

5. Don’t Apologize
Last summer, tennis legend and proud, lifelong asshole John McEnroe claimed that Serena Williams, one of the best athletes in the world, would only rank “700th in the world” if she played tennis against men. When given an opportunity to apologize for his blatant assholery on a morning news show, McEnroe responded with a blunt, “No.”

Why It Works:
Refusing to apologize, even when you’re clearly in the wrong, isn’t just a dick move. It might have psychological benefits. “By admitting fault and apologizing, we open ourselves up to the mercy of others to forgive our mistakes, relinquishing a sense of power and control over the situation,” says University of Queensland researcher Tyler Okimoto, who led a 2013 study on why not saying sorry feels so good.

Okimoto and his colleagues surveyed 228 Americans, asking them to recall a misdeed, from trivial offenses to more serious crimes like theft, and then asked if they apologized to their victims. “We found that refusing to apologize can boost feelings of power and control over the situation, temporarily inflating self-esteem,” says Okimoto.

Do It Without Being an Asshole:
Never apologizing is a bad idea. Only a true asshole thinks his behavior is always beyond reproach. And refusing to apologize might make us feel better in the moment, but it can also “jeopardize trust and other people’s willingness to work with you,” says Okimoto.

But we’ve all fallen into the trap of over-apologizing, or apologizing for the wrong things. “There’s a big difference between crapping on people and not apologizing for it, and saying things that people disagree with and being okay with it,” says Jody Foster, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania and co-author of The Schmuck in My Office. “If you’ve done something legitimately hurtful to somebody or caused them real pain, you should apologize. But it’s important to recognize what ‘legitimately hurtful’ really means.”

6. Be the Squeaky Wheel (Who Knows When to Shut the Hell Up)
If an asshole is upset, you’re going to hear about it. It’s hard not to cringe when you see some S.O.B. scolding a waiter, or screaming at a minimum wage employee for the most minor of grievances. Sure, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, but does he need to be such an unrelenting prick about it?

Why It Works:
During Steve Jobs’ reign at Apple, a chip supplier, VLSI Technology, couldn’t finish an order on the original timetable promised, so Jobs burst into a meeting with the executives and called them “fucking dickless assholes.” Not exactly constructive criticism, but it did the job. The order was delivered on time. It’s a strategy that doesn’t just work in Silicon Valley. A University of Colorado study found that many companies have a “squeaky-wheel system of customer service,” often conceding to the biggest complainers just to make them go away.

Even if you don’t get what you want, complaining is good for you. Studies have shown that it lowers blood pressure. And if you drop enough f-bombs while complaining, it increases your tolerance for pain. A healthcare psychologist at the University of Minnesota even found that terminal patients who bitched about their physical pain lived longer than those who suffered in silence.

Do It Without Being an Asshole:
Save the outburst for when you really need it.

Bob Sutton, a professor of management science and engineering at Stanford University and author of The Asshole Survival Guide, says this strategy is often utilized by great coaches. “The best ones only lose their temper when they need to,” he says. “If they’re always screaming, eventually their players will think, ‘Well, it’s not me, it’s him, he’s just an asshole.’ But when a normally calm and collected coach loses it, everybody pays attention.”

Also, pretending to be angry just to get results is a sure-fire dead end. “Research shows that faking emotions is often picked up on by others,” says Fadel Matta, a University of Georgia professor who has studied why jerks are (or aren’t) effective. “We are hardwired to recognize fake emotional displays, so rendering such emotional displays is less effective.”

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7. There’s No “I” in “Asshole”

Assholes are by definition selfish pricks. But sometimes they manage to convince their followers that they’re serving the greater good, and are only acting like assholes to protect the interests of their exclusive community. It’s why tech company CEOs and divisive political leaders get away with being such colossal dicks. As GOP Congressman Duncan Hunter said this summer about President Donald Trump, “He’s an asshole, but he’s our asshole.”

Why It Works:
People are surprisingly forgiving of terrible behavior if they think it’ll benefit them. In a 2012 University of Amsterdam study, participants were unimpressed with an asshole who stole coffee just for himself. If he asked permission or was invited to take the coffee, his popularity numbers tanked. If, however, he swiped an entire pot and shared it with the group, suddenly he was a hero and the unanimous pick as their leader. The exact same behavior went from reprehensible to celebrated based on A) whether he was breaking the rules, and 2) who was getting a cut of the booty.

Do It Without Being an Asshole:
There’s a big difference between claiming to have somebody’s back and actually having somebody’s back. True assholes are rarely as selfless as they claim, and their followers eventually figure out that they’ve been had. Why go the non-asshole route? Promising to put other people before yourself, and then actually following through on that promise, can have numerous life-extending benefits, like lowering blood pressure and reducing symptoms of depression.

But that doesn’t mean you become a pushover. The perfect balance is somewhere between asshole and saint. As a 2017 Ohio State University revealed, being too generous to others—what the researchers called “unbridled selflessness”—without taking care of your own needs invariably leads to stress, burnout, and crappy health. “The goal is to find opportunities that allow you to be good to yourself and to others,” says lead author and psychologist Jennifer Crocker. “A non-zero-sum.”

How Big an Asshole Are You?

There are two types of assholes in the world, says Stanford’s Bob Sutton: strategic assholes, who treat people like dirt to get ahead, and clueless assholes, who are oblivious to their terrible behavior. The vast majority of assholes are clueless, he adds.

For proof, Sutton cites the annual Zogby survey of workplace bullying in the United States. In 2017, 19 percent of workers felt bullied at the office, and another 19 percent had personally witnessed bullying. But just .3 percent admitted to having bullied someone. Not 3 percent, three-tenths of a percent. That math doesn’t work out. Almost 40 percent of those surveyed have seen or been victims of assholes, but only a third of a percent are actually assholes? “The world would be a better place—and you will be a better, more successful person—if you are slow to label others as assholes and fast to label yourself,” says Sutton.

So, how big an asshole are you? Take this quiz and find out.

1. How much undeserved praise did your parents give you as a kid?

a) None. They were never that impressed with me.
b) A good report card went up on the fridge
c) I can recall them saying “We’re proud of you” more than once.
d) I couldn’t poop my pants without them calling me a genius.

(A 2015 Dutch study confirmed that when parents go overboard, kids grow up to be narcissistic pricks.)

2. Were you one of the “cool kids” in school?

a) I was more of a loner.
b) Not really. I wasn’t unpopular, but I wouldn’t have called myself “cool”
c) I sucked up to the cool kids at every opportunity
d) You know it. Everybody wanted to be my friend.

(Cook kids get their status by being assholes, according to a University of North Carolina study. “Aggression, intimidation, and manipulation can pay off,” says study author and sociologist Roger Faris. “But many of the most popular kids are also the most disliked.”)

3. Do you agree with the sentiment “you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs?”

a) Not in the slightest.
b) I know it’s necessary, but it eats me up inside.
c) I’d rather hire somebody to break the eggs for me.
d) Well duh. It’s why I make more money than most of my peers.

(A Cornell University study found that “disagreeable men” make significantly higher salaries than their “agreeable” colleagues.)

4. Do you enjoy correcting people’s grammar?

a) Nope. I have better things to do.
b) Only to friends. And I do it privately.
c) People who can’t tell the difference between “your” and “you’re” make me a little crazy.
d) Even my mother has called me a Grammar Nazi.

(Unsolicited grammar policing means you’re likely disagreeable and close-minded, according to a 2016 University of Michigan study.)

5. Do dogs enjoy your company?

a) They flock to me like I’m a frisbee covered in bacon.
b) I’ve been known to scratch a dog’s belly.
c) I like dogs, but I’m more of a cat person.
d) Dogs avoid me entirely. Which is how I like it.

(Dogs—and weirdly, capuchin monkeys—know an asshole when they see one. 2017 research from Kyoto University found that both animals stay away from people they’ve witnessed being jerks.)

6. What are your thoughts on chicks?

a) Chicks? Seriously? You’re like a sexist cliché from the 1960s. I’m not even answering that.
b) I’ve had some bad relationships, but who hasn’t?
c) I have trust issues. I’m working on them.
d) Chicks, man. They’re the worst!

(A 2010 study from Kent State University found that heterosexual men save most of their overt hostility for heterosexual women, more than they do for lesbians, gays, or other hetero men.)

7. Do people generally seek out your pop culture critiques?

a) What? No, I’m not a movie critic.
b) I’ve written a few Amazon reviews, but just for fun.
c) I think my opinions on popular culture are intelligent and thought-provoking.
d) I’m my generation’s Harold Bloom, but with a mean streak.

(A Harvard Business School study found that “negative or unkind” book reviews were considered “more intelligent, competent and expert” than those expressing the same opinions in less abusive ways.)

8. Would your wife or girlfriend describe you as a good dancer?

a) I think I’m terrible, but she insists I’ve got some killer moves.
b) I’ll do the electric slide at a wedding, but otherwise I’m no dancer.
c) She tolerates my dancing because I make an effort.
d) She says I’m not, but I know I’m amazing.

(In a 2011 German study, women were asked to pick the best dancers among a group of men, and consistently picked those with less abrasive personalities.)

9. Do you live in a warm climate?

a) Nope. It sometimes snows in May.
b) It’s hot during the summer, but nothing unusual.
c) We hit triple digits a few times.
d) It’s sweltering. I wear shorts to formal events. I sweat most of the time.

(Living in a climate with hotter than usual temperatures makes people up to 50 percent less interested in helping strangers, according to 2017 research published in the European Journal of Social Psychology.)

10. Are you rich?

a) I live paycheck to paycheck.
b) I do okay. I wish I had more in savings.
c) My stock portfolio is healthy.
d) I have enough in my wallet right now to buy a private plane.

(UC Berkeley psychologist Paul Piff has conducted dozens of studies on the connection between excessive wealth and moral behavior. “Wealth can lead to excessive self-focus and prioritizing oneself over others,” he says.)

11. How often do you text?

a) Never. Why not just call?
b) Only when absolutely necessary.
c) It’s become a bad habit.
d) I text more than a teenage girl to her BFF.

(A 2013 study from the University of Winnipeg found that people who send 100 or more text messages a day are “30 percent less likely to value living an ethical, principled life” and were also likely to exhibit “higher levels of ethnic prejudice.”)

12. How’s your credit score?

a) Um, well. . . I can explain.
b) Sketchy. I’m still paying off some college loans
c) Good enough to get a car loan without much trouble.
d) I’ve never been under 800.

(Researchers from LSU, Texas Tech University, and Northern Illinois University found in a 2011 study that assholes were more likely to have better credit scores than people with more agreeable personalities.)

ANSWER KEY

Give yourself 4 points for every D, three for every C, two for B, and one for A.

0-12 pts: Congratulations. You are only rarely an asshole.

13-24 pts: You’re not a complete asshole, but you’re no saint either.

25-36 pts: You’re more asshole than non-asshole. Proceed with caution.

37-48 pts: If Tucker Max and Ann Coulter had a baby, and it was raised by a drunk Mel Gibson after being pulled over by the cops, it would be you.

[This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in the April 2018 issue of Men’s Health.]