November 2, 2011
The fine line between being hard-nosed and a jerk at work
Maybe you heard about the recent study claiming that agreeable workers make less money than their more obstinate counterparts. Called "Do Nice Guys -- and Gals -- Really Finish Last?" the study makes a case for checking all pleasantries at the workplace door.
The Wall Street Journal summarized the research findings this way:
The 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 in their sample -- than nicer guys. Ruder women, meanwhile, earned about 5% or $1,828 more than their agreeable counterparts.
In a Daily Beast article called "Why Being a Jerk at Work Pays," Amy Reiter writes about her own experiment with being more hard-nosed at the office:
Although I could never pull off my boss's level of rudeness (nor would I have wanted to), I nevertheless decided to shed just a bit of my workaday warmth by making two seemingly small changes: to stop saying "thank you" or "I'm sorry."
As a result, colleagues starting showing Reiter more respect, and she gained the confidence to ask for what she felt she deserved without apology -- particularly when it came to pay.
In time, however, Reiter began to worry she was creeping into diva territory. After all, the aforementioned study did find that a woman could only take this "disagreeable" thing so far before colleagues started to view her as that word rhyming with "witch." (A disagreeable man, on the other hand, would just be seen as a strong-willed leader type.)
Reiter, who eventually settled on what she calls "a middle ground," writes:
I will now allow the occasional "thank you" to pass, and I will apologize if I feel it is justified, though I still try not to do either reflexively.
This is a strategy I, too, have employed this past year. Like Reiter, I've noticed a shift in my confidence as a result. I may be more abrupt in my professional conversations, and I may not giggle on the job as much as I used to or include emoticons in my emails. But I feel more self-assured during negotiations. And -- real or imagined -- I feel more respected by colleagues.
I'm not advocating being rigid or disagreeable just for the heck of it. No one respects the office contrarian who values their own opinions and ego more than making progress on key team projects.
But there's a fine line between being courteous and being cloying at work. Anyone who wants to be taken seriously as a professional should do their darnedest to steer clear of excessive sentimentality.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
- career profile (159)
- cool jobs (60)
- education and training (61)
- entry level (69)
- etiquette (102)
- events (71)
- featured (372)
- finding your passion (91)
- health care (72)
- interviewing (85)
- job fairs (55)
- management (82)
- market trends (91)
- networking (267)
- resumes (97)
- salary (82)
- social media (88)
- technology (108)
- unemployment (55)
- work/life balance (88)