This Personality Trait Can Tank Your Career, Study Says

Being the bad guy at work may seem like it'll get you ahead, but new research says otherwise.

Everyone's heard the phrase "nice guys finish last," but when it comes to succeeding at work, new research shows that being difficult could actually be holding you back. An Aug. 31 paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals that disagreeable people—those with selfish, combative, or manipulative personality traits—do not actually come out ahead when making their way up the career ladder.

To determine what effect, if any, those personality traits lumped under the umbrella of "disagreeableness" have on a person's career, researchers at the University of California Berkeley Haas School of Business examined the behavior of individuals in two studies, noting study subjects' disagreeableness levels before entering the workforce and 14 years later and how much power or status they'd gained in their workplaces in the intervening time period.

young indian woman looking angry on a phone call at work

One study found no relationship between disagreeable behavior and career achievement—meaning that those less-than-kind behaviors in the workplace won't pay dividends in the long run.

In the other study, researchers found that disagreeable people typically engaged in two distinct behavioral patterns that canceled each other out in terms of their career achievement. Though the disagreeable people studied displayed dominant-aggressive behavior, which is associated with achieving power or higher career status, they failed to display generosity or helpful, community-minded behavior, a lack of which is associated with achieving less career success.

Unfortunately, while people who display disagreeable behavior in the workplace aren't likely to grab that brass ring any quicker than their more likable counterparts, that doesn't mean they're out of the running for high-status positions, either.

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"[Organizations] allow jerks to gain power at the same rate as anyone else, even though jerks in power can do serious damage to the organization," explained the study's co-author Cameron Anderson, PhD, a professor at Berkeley Haas.

While an antagonistic nature may not get you ahead in your career, the paper's authors found that there was one trait particularly associated with career success: extroversion. Of course, meshing with your company culture—and not alienating your colleagues—goes a long way, too. "My advice to managers would be to pay attention to agreeableness as an important qualification for positions of power and leadership," said Anderson. And if you want to make the most of your career while you're WFH, check out these 7 Secret Zoom Tips to Help You Make the Most of Your Meetings.

Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more
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