There’s a misconception in the business world that being too nice will make you appear as a pushover, but as far as cliches go, “Nice guys finish last” doesn’t have much supporting evidence in favor of it.
You Don’t Have to Be a Jerk to Make Progress
Even if the stereotype of the office jerk is all over the place, research shows that being unpleasant in the workplace doesn’t really get you anywhere. If anything, it is actually detrimental to your professional development.
Introducing Cameron Anderson, Professor of Organizational Behavior at UC Berkeley
Following the 2016 election, Anderson sought to study the impact that being unpleasant can have on outcomes. To gauge these results, Anderson chose to examine the correlation between a personality test administered decades ago with where the participants were professionally in the present day.
The end result makes for a great title: People with disagreeable personalities (selfish, combative, and manipulative) do not have an advantage in pursuing power at work. His research shows that people who are unpleasant in their day-to-day duties are no more likely to make upward progress than those who aren’t, no matter how toxic the workplace is.
The study also showed, however, that pleasantness and generosity were not a factor, either. The research shows that either individual, pleasant or unpleasant, is no more likely to succeed in an isolated environment, but when they are allowed to meld together (as they do in a realistic workplace), they tend to cancel each other out. Another study from the University of Hong Kong, the University of Iowa, and Purdue University showcases an interesting correlation based on the results of a metastudy of 200 other pieces of research. They found that people who are supportive and proactive, not just agreeable, are more likely to reach the top compared to those who aren’t.
Changing the Office Dynamic Takes Effort
Being a jerk isn’t necessarily the determining factor in someone’s success, but it’s also not going to help anyone around you, either. If anything, you should want to remedy this behavior so you can help others around you achieve their best results, too.
Some academics, like Bob Sutton, a professor of management science at Stanford, believe that a zero-tolerance approach toward unpleasant behavior can get the job done. The idea behind this policy is that when someone starts throwing their weight around, you throw it right back at them. Businesses can also make more efforts to reward not just those who are productive from a personal standpoint, but also uplift and encourage their coworkers to be their best selves.
With things like the Great Resignation, quiet quitting, and rage applying all over the place, you really don’t need to give your employees more reasons to seek employment elsewhere. After all, it costs more to replace an employee than to hold on to a good one. If you can foster an encouraging and collaborative environment, you might be surprised by how much you find your workplace can change in a short period of time. It might even help you draw in and retain top talent.
One of the big ways you can make sure your team feels seen, appreciated, and understood is by respecting them enough to give them the tools they need to do their jobs effectively.