More Mr Nice Guys

I read an interesting article last week asking the question – do nice guys and gals really finish last? Now I am a big fan of being nice so I don’t want to believe this to be true. However this paper did present evidence that people who score lower on the personality trait of ‘agreeableness’ do actually end up earning more than people who have high levels of agreeableness – nice people to you and me. In fact they reckoned that nice men earned about $7,000 less than their not-so-nice colleagues (or in reality bosses!). For women it was lower ($2,000) and the relationship was slightly less clear not least because the gender gap in pay is an even bigger factor – in other words whether a woman scored low or high on nice-ness was less significant than her being a woman in the first place. Of course this gender pay gap is well known but it means that the two groups of people I like best – women and nice men are both less successful financially than the group I can’t stand – not-nice men! (I don’t like not-nice women too but I seem to come across fewer of them!)
But is this evidence of nice people not succeeding or instead is it evidence that organisations have it all wrong who they promote and pay more? I am inclined to think it is the latter and for two reasons.
Firstly it is well known that men tend to be more assertive than women (and indeed not-so-nice men even more so) and thereby they self-promote more. Maybe business leaders will argue that being nice is all well and good but they have to deliver profits for shareholders and being nice to each other isn’t going to do it so forget it. But here I think the second reason is critical. In following this model of promoting mainly assertive not-so-nice people organisations are suffering from what psychologists call a ‘focusing error’. They are focusing on the achievements of the individual rather than the group. There are very likely to be ‘negative externalities’ exuding from the not-so-nice assertive types – basically they alienate those around them and undermine other people’s performances. So if instead of the ‘unit of measurement’ for performance being the individual, it was the team then suddenly the nicer qualities of co-operation, helpfulness and simply caring about others would become more valued. If these nice qualities were promoted more within organisations then organisations themselves would have stronger social bonds, not only making them nicer places to work but also making them more resilient and adaptive to external changes. So I think that organisations should promote people for not only WHAT they achieve but also HOW they achieve it. Are they living the organization’s values? Do their behaviours at work really demonstrate this?

At the moment nice guys and gals do seem to come in second but that in my opinion is due to a short-sightedness. This short-sightedness is probably resulting in sub-optimal organisational performances and I would suggest a whole culture of business that is insensitive to the pressing societal issues.  So let’s systematically promote more nice-ness and bring on more Mr Nice Guys (and Ms Nice Gals).

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2 Responses to More Mr Nice Guys

  1. Rob says:

    Agreed: our societies need to focus more on collective wellness than individual status and accumulation. This will become particularly important in the post-carbon future laying nearly immediately before us.

    In our hunter-gatherer past thousands of years ago an ability to compete and show dominance was a matter of survival. Some of the traits we now interpret as meanness may be vestiges of humanity’s past. The psychological drive for competition and domination can be helpful, pushing us now to address situations in our lives and even to further our compassion.

    Imagine for a moment if we were to remove the profit motive from competition and domination. What if all these efforts were placed instead into our various communities’ collective wellness? Imagine the impact if on even just one day, the billions in profits earned by multi-national corporations were channeled into local community projects. Consumers already show a tendency to support businesses that “give back;” if all businesses truly did this regularly, our economy might not be in such a slump. Businesses and consumers would also be better prepared mentally to transition to the new economy ahead.

    • Don’t smile at my homespun theorys, but I am a great believer in ‘What goes around, comes around’ And in the idea, that all the ‘nastiness’ and ‘bad’ a person has, well it grows inside a person, and manifests into Cancers, ‘Stones’ and Ulcers and such like?

      So maybe, if my Community Inclusive Cycling Group was profitable, it wouldn’t have wasted time (£) on training me to Cycle my children to School. Which in the bigger scheme of things, has led to Publicity at Buckingham Palace, Pride Of Britain and the Olympic Torch. My voluntary work helping train folk with disabilities to cycle, every week, the place has been open since October 2009.

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