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Think being a jerk will get you further? Here’s what science says

Lucy Dean
·2-min read
a bossy person/boss/co-worker isolated on white.
Will a dog-eat-dog approach help you succeed? Image: Getty

Famous politician Niccolo Machiavelli once wrote that it is better to be feared than it is to be loved, in a sentiment still echoed in offices around the world hundreds of years later.

But was the author of The Prince and Renaissance diplomat and philosopher actually right? According to the University of California - Berkeley Haas School of Business, not exactly.

Research tracking “disagreeable people” for 14 years found that being selfish doesn’t get you any further ahead. The researchers defined “jerk” behaviour as being manipulative, hostile, deceitful, quarrelsome, cold, callous and selfish.

“I was surprised by the consistency of the findings. No matter the individual or the context, disagreeableness did not give people an advantage in the competition for power - even in more cutthroat, 'dog-eat-dog' organisational cultures," said Berkeley Haas Professor Cameron Anderson.

The study, co-authored by Berkeley Psychology Prof. Oliver P. John, doctoral student Daron L. Sharps, and Assoc. Prof. Christopher J. Soto of Colby College tracked people who had completed personality assessments as undergraduates or MBA students across three universities, then asked them a decade later where they were at in their careers and about their workplace culture.

Colleagues were also asked to weigh in on the participants’ rank and behaviour. And across the board, there was no indication that selfish and rude people were more likely to have gotten further ahead than more amiable people.

And while selfish jerks could still achieve positions of power, they didn’t get there any faster as any boost gained from their cut-throat mentality was offset by generally poor interpersonal relationships at work.

"The bad news here is that organisations do place disagreeable individuals in charge just as often as agreeable people," Anderson said.

"In other words, they allow jerks to gain power at the same rate as anyone else, even though jerks in power can do serious damage to the organisation."

But when it came to those who did get ahead, it was the extroverts. That’s due to their energy, assertiveness and social nature, the researchers said.

‘No brilliant jerks’: Arianna Huffington’s policy

Speaking at the Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit on Thursday, Huffington Post and Thrive Global founder Arianna Huffington described her “no brilliant jerks policy”.

She said the policy comes down to the fact that no matter how fantastic one person’s results may be, if they’re a terrible team player they’re a problem.

“The truth is they end up affecting the whole culture. Even if they may individually create results, they end up having a negative impact on the business,” she said.

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