Nice people don't finish last, rather may score over selfish jerks to boost work productivity, suggest studies
Disagreeable people tend to be hostile and abusive toward others, and they ignore others' concerns or welfare, deceive and manipulate others for their gain, according to the researchers
Nice people finish last, so the saying goes — but two new studies have challenged that. At workplaces, disagreeable "selfish jerks" are unlikely to have a better shot at success than their compassionate colleagues. The finding could help organizations weed out toxic work culture.
Disagreeable "selfish jerks" tend to be hostile and abusive toward others, according to the researchers. They ignore others' concerns or welfare, deceive and manipulate others for their gain. Agreeable people, on the other hand, engage in a more "communal" behavior by helping their coworkers and colleagues. "That behavior seemed to have strengthened their relationships with others, which in turn boosted their power," Prof Cameron Anderson from Berkely Haas School of Business and the co-author of the study, tells MEA WorldWide (MEAWW). In their studies, Dr Anderson and his colleagues followed disagreeable people for 14 years. First, they conducted personality assessments of undergraduates or MBA students at three universities. Then, the team studied how these participants fared in their organizations. Co-workers ranked the participants on their behavior and rank.
Being disagreeable won't give you leg up
The results from the first study, which involved 457 participants, showed that disagreeableness had no connection with power. That was true regardless of gender, race or ethnicity, industry, or the cultural norms in the organization. "I was surprised by the consistency of the findings," Dr Anderson notes. The second study offered more insights by looking at four ways through which people achieve success. These include dominance using fear and intimidation, political alliances with influential people, communal, and competitive behavior.
Their research suggests that jerks did not get ahead than others, Dr Anderson says. He, however, adds that their findings in no way indicate that these people don't taste success. So what works in their favor? The lead author thinks there could be many likely reasons, but intimidation could be more likely. "People fear disagreeable individuals, which seems to keep them from losing power entirely," he explains. "Many power-seekers mistakenly believe that being a jerk gives them a leg up in the competition for power. Our findings suggest this is simply not the case," Dr Anderson explains. "Behaving badly doesn't help you gain power."
The findings could offer lessons to organizations as well. "We found that organizations tend to place disagreeable individuals in power just as much as they place agreeable individuals in power - even though disagreeable individuals do great damage when they hold positions of authority," he says. "My advice to managers would be to pay attention to agreeableness as an important qualification for positions of power and leadership," Dr Anderson says. "Prior research is clear: agreeable people in power produce better outcomes."
The researchers almost studied people in the US — which means they do not know if the findings will differ in other countries with different cultures. Nevertheless, Dr Anderson and his team are hoping to understand why so many people believe that "good guys finish last", including investigating "why are nice people assumed to lose when they don't?"
The findings are published in PNAS.