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Study finds that being 'selfish' does not help people get ahead

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According to the study, any career advantage that disagreeable people might receive by leaning toward dominant behavior is counterbalanced by their lack of collaboration with co-workers.

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SEPTEMBER 01, 2020

A recent study co-authored by three UC Berkeley experts found that people with disagreeable personalities do not have an advantage in pursuing power in the workplace.

By pulling data from a multitude of personality tests and long-term studies of individuals, the researchers were able to come to the conclusion that those with manipulative or overly selfish personality traits do not have a career advantage in the long run, according to the study. 

“We used personality data collected from students while they were in school, either an undergraduate or MBA program, and followed up with them about 14 years later,” said Cameron Anderson, a UC Berkeley Haas School of Business professor and one of the co-authors of the study, in an email. “We found very clearly that disagreeableness did not help people attain power.”

Whether harsh “Machiavellian” tactics in the workplace help people get ahead has been a question psychologists have studied for years, Anderson said in the email, and the study hoped to answer that question.

Those with disagreeable personalities in positions of power are abusive, self-interested and often ultimately cause damage to their organizations as a whole, according to the research paper. The paper states that these types of people create a harmful atmosphere and serve as toxic role models for society.

The researchers also found that, in contrast to those with disagreeable traits, extroverts have more successful careers in the long run due to their “sociability, energy, and assertiveness.”

“The consistency of the findings were surprising. We thought that maybe disagreeableness would help people attain power in more competitive, combative cultures wherein everyone is out for him or herself,” Anderson said in the email. “But disagreeableness did not lead to higher power, no matter the context, and no matter the kind of person.”

The study consisted of two main parts, the first of which studied 457 participants and ultimately found no correlation between power and disagreeableness.

The second part of the study took a closer look at the ways in which people attain power, which allowed researchers to better understand the reason why disagreeable people do not get ahead faster than others, according to the paper. The paper also states that although disagreeable people tend to lean more toward dominant behavior, any boost that comes from that is counterbalanced by their lack of collaboration with co-workers.

“It helps dispel the myth that ‘nice guys/gals finish last,’” Anderson said in the email. “They don’t. Hopefully the findings will dissuade power-seekers from behaving badly, because the findings indicate that bad behavior doesn’t help them achieve their goals.”

Audry Jeong is a research and ideas reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @audryjng_dc.
LAST UPDATED

SEPTEMBER 01, 2020


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