The popular saying that nice guys finish last appears to be wrong, according to a couple of recent studies. One was by the University of California, Berkeley. The college asked 450 students who were studying for an undergrad degree or an MBA at three universities questions about their personality traits. Fourteen years later, Berkeley researchers asked them questions again while also analyzing their career progress.

The study found that people who are selfish, deceitful, and aggressive did not advance further in their careers than those who are generous, trustworthy, and nice. Researchers concluded that disagreeable people who are combative and manipulative may be intimidating, but their lack of social skills is a disadvantage that holds them back.

“No matter the individual or the context, disagreeableness did not give people an advantage in the competition for power — even in more cutthroat, dog-eat-dog organizational cultures,” a Berkeley professor and co-author of the study said. “That’s not to say that jerks don’t reach positions of power. It’s just that they didn’t get ahead faster than others, and being a jerk simply didn’t help.”

According to the study, people who are hostile, abusive, and deceitful end up harming organizations when they’re put in positions of power. That’s not surprising to anyone who’s worked for this type of boss, but what is surprising and reassuring is that these people do not rise though the ranks faster than those who are nice and considerate of others.

The findings held true across gender, race, ethnicity, industry, and an organization’s culture. That’s why the study advises company decision makers to pay attention to “agreeableness” as an important qualification for being in a leadership position.

Another study, this one by the University of Hong Kong, found that performing a random act of kindness can improve a person’s wellbeing more than a pre-planned act of generosity or volunteering. The study analyzed more than 200 other studies about generosity that involved nearly 200,000 people.

Unplanned actions, such as seeing a neighbor who needs help and stepping up to lend a hand, was found to be more beneficial than a regular volunteering activity. The authors of the study concluded this may be because informal helping that’s casual and spontaneous can more easily lead to forming social connections.

The study found a “modest link” between doing good and mental health wellbeing. A link was also identified between kindness and eudaimonic wellbeing, which is a content state of happiness caused by having purpose and meaning in life.

I enjoy studies like these that tell me something I didn’t know or even better, change my perception. I believed the prevailing notion that people who are nice, courteous, and considerate are not as successful as those who are willing to be ruthless to get what they want. It’s nice to have confirmation that people can get ahead just as quickly by being nice than by being callous or conniving. It’s also reassuring to have a study validate that being authentically kind is personally rewarding by offering wellbeing and health benefits.

Brett Martin is a community columnist who’s been a Shakopee resident for over 15 years.


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