The nasty truth: It pays to be disagreeable
According to the Wall Street Journal, the study, titled “Do Nice Guys – and Gals – Really Finish Last? The Joint Effects of Sex and Agreeableness on Income,” finds that agreeable people earn significantly lower incomes than “disagreeable” ones. This was particularly true for men.
Researchers examined “agreeableness” using self-reported survey data and found that men who measured below average on agreeableness earned about 18% (!!) more — or $9,772 more annually — than nicer guys. Disagreeable women, meanwhile, earned about 5% or $1,828 more than their agreeable counterparts.
The analyzed data was collected over nearly 20 years from three different surveys sampling about 10,000 workers in a wide range of professions, salaries and ages. Meanwhile, researchers conducted a separate study with 460 business students asked to act as human-resource managers for a fictional company. The students were presented with short descriptions of candidates for a consultant position. Men described as highly agreeable were less likely to get the job.
Among the words used to describe a disagreeable personality were “stubborn,” “quarrelsome,” “difficult” and “outspoken.”
The study authors write, “Overall, our research provides strong evidence that men earn a substantial premium for being disagreeable while the same behavior has little effect on women’s income.”
They also note that, “Given the positive contributions made by agreeable people, demonstrated in prior research, it seems that the income penalty for agreeableness is out of proportion with its performance effects.”
Managers, says Livingston, might not necessarily know what’s going on.
While the WSJ points out that other research shows “incivility” is bad for organizations as a whole, Livingston says, “The problem is, many managers often don’t realize they reward disagreeableness.”
She adds, “You can say this is what you value as a company, but your compensation system may not really reflect that, especially if you leave compensation decisions to individual managers.”
I think we have to be just a wee bit careful about how we read this data, before we start storming around the office telling people to fark off.
First, because I know a few men who recently have lost really good jobs they otherwise might have kept, because they are quarrelsome individuals, and I assume you do as well. Second, don’t we all know very nice people, both men and women, who have worked their way up to very cushy positions?
Then, it’s worth noting that your success as a disagreeable person might be dependent on to whom you are disagreeable — that media cliché of the mail boy challenging the boss, who responds with “I like the cut of your jib, son!” and makes him CEO, being more fantasy than reality. Bosses often hate to be challenged, and people who are intolerable to their co-workers can behave very differently around the boss. We’ve all seen it.
Also, this sort of self reporting might also be more of an indicator of self awareness rather than actual disagreeableness. A lot of disagreeable people have no idea they’re difficult, whereas agreeable people might think themselves more disagreeable than they actually are.
Finally, there’s a clear difference between being opinionated and being rude. So, even though one of the self identifiers was “is sometimes rude to others,” (and, come on, aren’t we all?), I wouldn’t place the same weight on that as on outspokenness, which was used as a separate identifier and can be a positive trait at times, whereas rudeness never can.
Not to say maybe you don’t need to be more outspoken. Obviously, wallflowers and doormats don’t make it to the executive office.
Do you see this in action? Have you seen a rude co-worker climb the corporate ladder while more accommodating people get left in the dust?