We are often fed the idea that being a selfish jerk at work often helps one’s career. New research says otherwise. Phrases like “nice guys finish last” reflect how selfish pricks succeed more often. Those of us who have worked in an abusive environment often thought it was the attitude of that rude manager that got him the position. But the study claims being selfish has no such impact in the corporate world.
University of California’s Prof. Cameron Anderson conducted personality tests of thousands of MBA and UG students from 3 American universities. After about 14 years later, 671 of those were followed up with a new round of interviews. The interview looked to understand how powerful the work positions of these participants are at the moment. A third of these participants went further with a more detailed study where they answered more intriguing questions and their answers were verified by interviews taken of their coworkers.
Anderson and his co-authors mention in Proceedings of the National Academy Of Sciences how there are indeed some personality traits that contribute to success. These indicate how people secure senior positions by their mid-thirties. But being a selfish jerk, being dishonest, or being aggressive are definitely not among those traits.
To Be Or Not To Be A Selfish Jerk?
Anderson himself was surprised by the consistent results. Irrespective of the person or their surroundings, negative traits like disagreeability did not give them any advantage. This was true even in the most competitive “dog-eat-dog organizational cultures”, Anderson stated. But these negative traits did not harm their growth either.
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The researchers involved in this study believe that this is true because, for every bully, there is someone who is being bullied. For every selfish jerk, there is someone who wants to work on interpersonal relationships. The researchers were hoping to find an inverted-U relationship where both the extremes of personality, the prick and the charmer, fail to scale the ladder. But that did not hold true either. Every person who scored brownie points for being decent had almost the same chance of obtaining a better position at work.
Some nice people do turn nasty after joining the mud race of corporates. But overall, the researchers concluded, “Disagreeableness is a relatively stable aspect of personality.”
These findings are important because selfish jerks with power can become toxic and create a deep impact on others. People who quickly rise to higher positions are often put up as antisocial role models. This then encourages similar behavior in others. Now that we have proof that being a selfish jerk is not a prerequisite for success, hopefully, workplaces will turn more pleasant.
The research found that traits like being assertive, extroverted, energetic, and social often contributed to success.
The study finally gives 2 important causes of why people of power are perceived as nasty. Firstly, their decisions often bring trouble to those down in the ladder which creates negative impressions. And secondly, once a person reaches a position of power, it is easy to abuse that power. People change when they go higher up, but often it might be a result of them being manipulated enough while they were working hard to rise.
IMAGE FEATURED: Roman Iegoshyn