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It’s Nice to Be Nice, Also Expensive

I hate to tell you, but you have a big problem. You’re too nice.

It’s true! You’re so darn charming, considerate and agreeable, that you’ve been branded with one of the worst qualities possible in the workplace.

You’re nice — undeniably, reliably, terminally nice. So, what’s so bad about being nice, you ask. (And it’s very nice of you to ask.) To answer, I refer you to a recent careers column by Rachel Emma Silverman in The Wall Street Journal. The headline for the column says it all, “Hey, You! Mean People Earn More, Study Finds.”


The study in question, “Do Nice Guys — and Gals — Really Finish Last?” was conducted by three professional professors from Cornell, Notre Dame and the University of Western Ontario. I think we can safely discount the Canadian contribution to the research — everyone knows Canadians are way too nice for their own good — but the researchers on our side of the border may actually have stumbled onto something.

As Ms. Silverman reports, “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 — than nicer guys. The women, meanwhile, earned about 5% or $1,828 more than their agreeable counterparts.”

Now that ain’t so nice. Who knew that the smile you put on your face every morning means thousands of dollars pulled from your wallet every payday?

The researchers do posit theories about the discrepancy between being pleasant and being underpaid. For men, they suggest that a man who is agreeable may not conform “to expectations of masculine behavior.” This could be true. Being an incredibly macho fellow myself, I know I completely fulfill the expectations of masculine behavior as represented by Hulk Hogan, Triple H and other manly stars of the World Wrestling Foundation.

Still, I do say, “excuse me,” when I smash through the conference room door during status meetings to snatch up all the creme-filled crullers. I definitely will have to toughen-up if I expect a decent raise this year. No more doors for me. Starting next week, I’m smashing through the wall.

Another theory proposed by the research team is that less aggressive men, and women, too, may “be less willing to assert themselves in salary negotiations.” You know this is true. While you have managed to eek out infinitesimal paycheck enhancements by breaking into heartfelt sobbing at the sight of your projected increases, think of what kind of boost you would receive if you pounded the table and, just maybe, pounded your boss, as well.

If you don’t feel up to a pounding, do let your feelings fly while the boss is sitting across the table from you, rather than when you are back in your cube. You may not only get a bigger raise, but your obvious emotional imbalance, combined with your inability to control yourself, could put you on the management track.

Of course, it is not the best strategy to wait until your annual review to reveal your nasty nature. To be fully recognized as an unstable, explosive employee, you will have to work hard at making trouble all through the year. One of the best ways to insure that you are not considered a wimp is to pick a beloved co-worker to regularly and randomly go off on. It’s important to choose your victims from the people who are at your level on the organization chart, or lower — if that is possible. And make sure that, before you start verbally lacerating your co-workers, your victims have done absolutely nothing wrong.

Remember — attacking the innocent is a fundamental technique if you want to become known as a not-nice person. If you doubt me, consider the behavior of your boss.

Before you totally devote yourself to moving from nice to nasty, you should take into consideration that there are some firms that have made being a troublesome person a hiring no-no. “No jerks and no diva” policies are becoming more common in the workplace, and if you find yourself hired by a company committed to having happy, cooperative employees who demonstrate mutual respect at the office, you may need to hide your evil nature behind a smiley face.

But don’t worry. If you can’t expose your toxic personality at work, you can always change to a career where being an absolutely awful person is expected, and rewarded.

That’s right — politics.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at


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