“Nice guys don’t get ahead in salary negotiations, but they don’t finish last either, a new study finds. That position is left for women, whether or not they’re nice.
Men with disagreeable personalities outearn men with agreeable personalities by about 18 percent, according to research to be published this fall in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Disagreeable women, on the other hand, earn only about five percent more than their sweet and gentle counterparts.”
— from the Mother Nature Network website (August 16, 2011)
So there’s a major trade-off in life: If you are nice, someone who doesn’t like to hurt people’s feelings, who will go out of his way not to offend people, you may inherit the earth, but you are probably not going to rise up very far in your organization. And a recent study has added a new twist to that old adage, “Nice guys finished last,” which, by the way, is attributed to the late baseball manager Leo Durocher. It turns out that not only do nice guys not do as well financially as disagreeable guys, but the same holds for nice women, as compared to women who aren’t as nice — except women, in general, whether nice or not, don’t make as much as even nice guys. And while the average difference in salaries between the unpleasant guy and the sweetie guy is substantial, it is small for women.
Before going on with a discussion of these findings, I want to say a little bit about the origins of that now famous line. It was 1946 and Durocher was managing the Brooklyn Dodgers. Asked in July about his crosstown rivals, the New York Giants, he reportedly said, “Take a look at them. They’re all nice guys, but they’ll finish last. Nice guys. Finish last.” Turns out he was right.
I don’t know if every one of those Giants was indeed a nice guy, but they did have a catcher named Clyde Kluttz. Durocher could have said, “How can they win with that Kluttz on their team?”
On the other hand, one of their outfielders was named Goody Rosen, so I assume he was a nice guy.
But back to the study that made the news. There are all kinds of complexities here. No, it doesn’t seem fair that while disagreeableness works very well for men in the workplace, it makes less of a difference for women. But isn’t there a bigger picture here? Isn’t it sad that for both men and women, it literally pays not to be nice?
Of course when success is the goal (and is there anything more important in life than making lots of money and rising up in your firm?), there are always people out there trying to help you reach it. And sure enough, there is Lois Frankel, PhD, whose latest book is titled Nice Girls Just Don’t Get It (coauthored with attorney Carol Frohlinger).
In an interview about the book, discussing how so many women try to take on too much, Frankel said, “What happens with women in business is a little like Mother Teresa. Miracle workers get canonized; they don’t get recognized.” A good point, and, yes, so many women do try to make everyone happy. But in terms of the needs of others, shouldn’t we all — men and women — try to keep some of our inner Mother Teresa?
And then there is Clay Shirky, who teaches courses on interactive telecommunications at NYU. In a 2010 blog post, Shirky talks about how his courses are gender-balanced, but that the male graduates are much more likely to praise themselves to the skies. He refers to a letter he received from a male alum asking for a letter of recommendation; when Shirky asked what the former student would like him to say, the reply “described his fitness for the job in terms so superlative it would make an assistant brand manager blush.”
“I’ve grown increasingly worried,” Shirky adds, “that most of the women in the department, both past and present, couldn’t write a letter like that…I’m not concerned that women don’t engage in enough building of self-confidence or self-esteem. I’m worried about something much simpler: not enough women have what it takes to behave like arrogant self-aggrandizing jerks.”
Ah, yes, once was a time that there was a large group of people, called women, who really were nice and who tried to keep things together. But now they are being encouraged to be more like that other group — men — who have given us such great things as the electric chair, weapons of mass destruction, and climate change.