“Rude People Earn More” was a grabbing headline in the Wall Street Journal, August 15, 2011 among many articles referring to a new study actually titled “Do Nice Guys – and Gals – Really Finish Last? "by professors from Cornell University, University of Notre Dame and the University of Western Ontario.
The big news, (or is it confirming what we suspected?) is that men who self-report that they are below average in agreeableness earned about 18% more than nicer ones in the research sample of over 10,000 people in a wide range of professions from 3 surveys over nearly 20 years plus a separate study by the three professors of 400 business students. “Disagreeable” women earned on average 5% more than “agreeable” ones.
The several articles I saw about the study didn’t define “agreeableness,” so I asked Assistant Professor at the Cornell Industrial & Labor Relations School Beth Livingston, who has been widely quoted in the articles, for the definitions. The study team defined agreeableness as “trust, straightforwardness, altruism, compliance, modesty, and tender-mindedness. Disagreeableness is seen as the opposite, though variance suggests that it's rarely that straightforward,” said Dr. Livingston.
Previous findings by other researchers cited by the study authors concluded that:
- Agreeable people place greater value on their interpersonal relationships.
- Those individuals are more motivated to maintain relationships.
- They are more “prosocial.”
- They are more helpful and cooperative.
- As a result of all of the above, they are better liked by their peers than are disagreeable people.
Take-aways from the research:
- Agreeable people may be reluctant to be assertive in salary negotiations and leave money on the table.
- Males may think agreeableness doesn’t conform to societal and workplace expectations of masculine behavior.
- An organization’s compensation system may reward disagreeableness though managers may not realize it or the downside of doing so.
Distinctions to consider made by other professors and executives are between disagreeableness, incivility and disrespect. They may overlap on occasions but are not the same things. All of these may be perceived as unprofessional behavior.
I hope that the findings in this new study are considered beyond the catchy headlines, and that unprofessional and disagreeable behaviors are perceived as unacceptable and no longer rewarded. However, too much compliant behavior and modesty could be a detriment to the organization as well as an individual's positive leadership. It will be interesting to see if the younger generations make this culture change.
(This is my blog, so I can say I am especially pleased to see all the attention Beth Livingston, the youngest faculty member, teacher, scholar and collaborator, is getting. I recruited her a year ago to work with me on my consulting for the Cornell “generations initiative” for faculty and staff recruitment and retention, a project of the University’s Human Resources Department, and am thrilled with her contributions and commitment.)
Phyllis Weiss Haserot www.pdcounsel.com