Note: I’m replacing “kind” with “nice.” There’s a clear difference between them. However, Santa doesn’t recognize the difference, and I choose to speak his language.
I think of myself as a pretty nice gal. I genuinely like people. I was raised to be courteous and respectful to everyone. I’m a generous friend and a loyal partner. Most people I meet seem to like having me around.
In many ways, being nice has served me well in my career. As a counselor and corporate trainer, I’ve had opportunities to interact with people from a wide range of backgrounds. I’ve been fortunate to have traveled the world and lived abroad. I’ve found that being genuine and considerate has allowed me to build great relationships, and these relationships are what have propelled my career forward.
All the way in the back of my mind, however, I’ve wondered if being nice has also been a liability. I say this because I read a lot of literature about Emotional Intelligence, leadership best practices, and career growth. Inevitably, they all talk about the need for people to be “nicer” to their employees, their customers, and each other. Yet I see very little evidence of this in practice today.
The fact is that we don’t live in a very nice world. Governments don’t exactly run on niceness. Our laws aren’t enforced in a nice way. People aren’t very nice when they’re stuck in rush-hour traffic. We live in an age where rude, malicious, and “naughty” comments amass in an instant online. Yelling and criticizing has become the norm. Especially in the workplace.
Yes, we’re becoming more aware of the effects of a hostile (err “naughty”) workplace, but that doesn’t stop the bad behavior. The fact is that jerks continue to be rewarded. “Nice” guys or gals might find it a challenge to move up the career ladder. Work – and life – seems to reinforce that being naughty is what gets us ahead and being nice is stupid. But is that really true?
First, the discouraging news: it appears that being naughty can, quite literally, pay. A study by the University of Western Ontario, “Do Nice Guys – and Gals – Really Finish Last?” that men who measured below average on “agreeableness” earned 18% more than their nicer counterparts. “Naughtier” women, meanwhile, earned 5% more than nicer women.
Well, for starters, according to the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, “nice” people just don’t value money as much as other people do. In short, “naughty” behavior, such as immodesty, selfishness, and manipulation will cause people to defer to you, even if they do so subconsciously. The result is more perceived – and real – power. So why does being nice continue to have such a negative reputation in the corporate world? Because historically, humans have been the biggest predators of other humans (as well as their greatest source of support). Stories of treachery capture our attention. And because as much as it pains me to admit it, there’s a lot of research that concludes it does pay to be a jerk. Nice people are thought to be wimpy, naïve, and not necessarily successful.
But before you put yourself on Santa’s naughty list, consider this! Other studies have shown that “nice” people – such as people who are generous with their time and their compliments – rise to the top of their fields. Kindness really does create a positive ripple that affects the whole workplace culture. Acts of kindness have a huge impact on overall positivity at work, as well as the well-being of employees.
Still, many of us were raised – and rewarded – for being ruthless. For humans, being nice is as innate as being naughty. The question becomes “which do we endorse?” And I guess that depends on how we define success.
I don’t have an ulterior motive. I’m nice because it’s in my nature to be. It may not lead to a million dollar paycheck, but so what? Being nice for the sake of a paycheck is self-serving at best, contradicting the very essence of niceness. The way I see it, being nice is a beautiful, complex quality that’s not easy to achieve. But knowing the scope of its power and benefits, why wouldn’t you want to choose nice over naughty?
Naughty or Nice: Which will Pay off in your Career?