Do Nice People Finish Last or Best?
Written by Melissa Kessler, MA, PCC
In the business world, does it pay to lift people up or hold people down? Christine Porath presented a TED talk on this topic, which I will summarize in this newsletter. I have witnessed managers being rewarded for holding people down by being promoted or given greater responsibility. However, research from the Center for Creative Leadership has shown that the number one reason for executive failure is an abrasive or bullying style. There will always be people who succeed in spite of incivility, but most end up sabotaging their success. This often happens during a time of crisis when they need something and others won’t help them.
Incivility is defined as rudeness and disrespect (examples: mocking, belittling, texting while someone is talking, etc.) and is extremely costly to organizations. When people feel disrespected, it causes a lot of stress and negative emotions. Their motivation, performance, and commitment begin to decline. One study found that of those treated badly on the job, 66% cut back their efforts, 80% missed work, and 12% left their job. Another study showed that of those who observed others being treated badly, 25% performed worse and 45% had fewer ideas. In one example, a medical team administered an incorrect dosage of medication to their patient right after a doctor shouted at them. This resulted in that patient’s death because the team lacked the attention to read what was right in front of them on the chart. Studies have shown that medical teams exposed to rudeness perform worse in all procedures because they stop sharing information and stop seeking help from team mates. This is true in all industries, not just in medicine.
If the costs are so high, then why do we see so much incivility in the workplace? Two reasons: 1) stress – people feel overwhelmed; and therefore, have a shorter fuse and 2) people believe that nice guys finish last, which is a myth. In reality, those viewed as civil are twice as likely to be viewed as leaders, and they perform significantly better (13% higher performance). When you are civil and lift people up, you are viewed as warm/friendly and competent/smart. In addition, what employees want most from their leaders is RESPECT. Being treated with respect is more important than useful feedback, recognition and appreciation, and opportunities for learning. This doesn’t mean that you can’t disagree or give constructive feedback, but it does mean doing it respectfully. People who feel respected are healthier, more focused, more likely to stay with their organization, and more engaged in their work.
Bottom line: incivility hurts everyone. While civility, makes you and others more effective and more successful. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to choose kindness over incivility. Small things make a big impact. Smiling at others, saying thank you, sharing credit, listening attentively (putting the Smart phone away), asking sincere questions, and acknowledging others are great ways to demonstrate respect and lift people up.
“I’m a true believer in karma. You get what you give, whether it’s bad or good.” – Sandra Bullock
“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” – Mark Twain