Does it pay to be nice?

Published on January 9, 2012 by in Uncategorized


According to research reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, search agreeable men earn £4, check 500 a year less than their ruthless rivals. (usual healthwarning – US research). Managers are apparently more likely to fast track employees who ‘aggressively advocate for their position’. Women, sale nice or otherwise are all lumped together and earn 14% less than their successful male colleagues!
These findings appear to contradict my advice that you will be more likely to get promoted if you develop a positive reputation in the organisation, in other words my advice has always been that it does pay to be nice!
Of course the devil is in the definitions that we use. When I talk about developing positive relationships I don’t mean being a doormat. Or never disagreeing with anyone. Or not pursuing your objectives vigorously . I don’t mean toadying around the big bosses, brown nosing or being sycophantic. I mean being a grown up, remembering names, doing small goods and respecting others. I mean not being the office gossip, not undermining others, not telling distasteful jokes or making inappropriate personal remarks. I mean excelling in your role, doing what you say you will do, sharing information and working as part of a team.
There are several adages which apply here: be nice to people when you are on your way up, because you never know who you will meet on your way down. And in the same vein, you never who in business whose support you will need, one day. Leaders need followers. One volunteer is worth ten pressed men. I could go on.
Having said all that, we have all seen the aggressive and unpleasant make more progress in organisations than we might like. So is the research true? Their success is often about their ability and willingness to promote themselves; to ensure that their successes are known, their credit claimed and their vigorous promotion of their cause. And you can do all that and still be agreeable. If there are cultures where pure aggression (as in negative impacts on others) is rewarded then you need to ask if it is somewhere you want to work. Whether you are aggressive rather than agreeable is a personal choice about your value set and who you want to be, and finding a culture where you can be yourself is critical to your career and life success.

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