Dale McFeatters: Nice guys finish last?
Three distinguished university professors probably were unaware of what they started when they published their study, ěDo Nice Guys ó and Gals ó Really Finish Last? The Joint Effects of Sex and Agreeableness on Income.î
The answer is maybe not last but not a close second either, especially for men. You may want to run out and get your copy of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. It may contain important career advice.
In a survey of 3,500 workers, men who described themselves as being nice, easy, cooperative and kind earned 18 percent less ó $9,770 a year ó than men who described themselves as disagreeable.
Filling out a test for your company generally entails trying to dope out what qualities the brass are looking for. Thereís generally a category where youíre asked to describe your worst quality. It should be one of the following: (a) I expect too much of myself and drive myself too hard. (b) I canít let go of a project until Iím sure itís perfect. (c) I care just too damn much about this company.
But co-author Timothy Judge of Notre Dame zeroes in on ěagreeableness,î one of psychologyís Big Five dimensions in describing the human personality. ěIt generally refers to someone who is warm, sympathetic, kind and cooperative (in short, a ëniceí person), and is the most valued characteristic cited when people are asked to identify with whom they want to spend time.î
I can see those qualities disqualifying someone from being a linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers or an enforcer for the Philadelphia Flyers. But arenít our workplaces supposed to be pleasant? Apparently not. Employers have decided that we canít have nice people cluttering up our cubicles, perhaps ruling out the entire state of Minnesota for employment on the grounds of excessive niceness.
The situation is not quite as bad for women but probably because they donít make that much in the first place. Disagreeable women make only 5 percent ó $1,828 a year ó more than their more pleasant sisters.
Judge and his colleagues, Beth Livingston of Cornell and Charlice Hurst of the University of Western Ontario, conclude, ěAgreeableness is negatively related to income and earnings.î
Some of the websites counsel insults like:
ěIíll try being nicer if youíll try being smarter.î
ěAre you always this stupid or are you making a special effort today.î
ěHe does the work of three men: Larry, Curly and Moe.î
I knew a copy editor who, when confronted with a particularly impenetrable piece of reporting, would console the reporter, ěMaybe it read better in the original Urdu.î
Where Judge and company come in is conducting seminars on the fine line between being forceful in presentations, willing to buck the consensus of a meeting and howling with laughter when management says the staff has to do more with less and being so annoying to your coworkers youíre afraid to get in the elevator with them.
Telltale signs you may have crossed the line: The sandwich you left in the office refrigerator for lunch smells faintly of cat urine. You are regularly misinformed about meeting times. On your day off the sweet young intern is given your computer to write her church dinner story and every icon she touches leads to a porn site.
Maybe one of the reasons the agreeable people arenít paid as well is that they spent so much company time plotting against the disagreeable people.
I used to work at an adjoining desk with another reporter. We would schmooze as our shift came to an end and precisely when it did, he would abruptly stand up and announce ěIíd stay and talk with you but Iím on my own time now.î
Iím on my own time.
Dale McFeatters writes for Scripps Howard News Service.