There have been studies, articles and social media blitzes on the subject of the effectiveness of either being nice or being a jerk. The labels are narcissist, selfish a$$hole, altruist, transformative leader etc etc etc. Then the offshoot questions start; which gender exhibits which trait more often and why, or is it a cultural thing? Learned or innate? And what is success anyway? There has been more money and brainpower thrown at this than I can claim to have. The prevailing question seems to be, is it better to be nice or a jerk in terms of your career success? There is almost as much evidence for one as for the other so I thought I’d weigh in as a bystander, HR Practitioner and Coach.
My opinion is…please just be nice. Even if you don’t get selected for promotion as quickly, or your obnoxious peer/rival gets the kudos you deserve or you end up doing more than your share of the work for not as much credit. Please be nice. Why? Well, I’ll skip the moral argument that it’s just the right thing to do because I know many people can/will argue that. Here are some practical HR reasons to Just. Be. Nice (Especially if you’re the boss):
1) Your office will be more efficient
If you are rude, abrasive or inconsistent, your staff will spend an inordinate amount of time talking about you, trying to figure you out or trying to placate you. This is not what you are paying them to do, presumably. Their job is to produce a product, serve a customer or design something. Your bad or mean behavior is a distraction to the purpose of your organization.
2) You will spend less on recruiting and training
Yes, this is self-evident but bears repeating. If you are mean to people they will leave and then you have to replace them (unless you are mean to your customers, too, and then you really won’t need to replace the employees who are leaving).
3) You will retain better and more confident employees for less money
If you are rude and abrasive, only people who feel they deserve that kind of treatment will stay, or else you will have to pay far above market value to keep the confident and productive ones. There are people out there who are wonderfully talented AND insecure but statistically speaking, you won’t be able to hire enough of them.
4) You will achieve commitment instead of just compliance
If you are a jerk, people will probably give you what you ask for because they will be afraid of you. But they won’t give you an ounce more. You won’t get innovation or creativity because people who are resentful and fearful don’t take the risk or effort required to be innovative.
5) You will not have to worry about bloodless (or bloody) coups all the time
Even the most ruthless tyrants can get deposed. If you are a big enough jerk, even if you own the company people will be plotting your demise. A distraction at best.