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The Meanie Advantage

Vivia Chen

August 22, 2011

WomanMad I just got back from nine days in Italy, and I'm in no mood to write about your brilliant career. It's not just because I'm stuck in front of a computer instead of wandering in some hilltown in Tuscany. Or that I have to make do with Mr. Softee instead of my favorite gelateria. No, what makes going back to the work mode tough is that after a vacation I tend to be a bit too relaxed and nice to do my job effectively.

I've always felt that you need to be a bit pissed off to do a job well. In other words, you need to be a bit edgy and perhaps a tad disagreeable to assert your ground and make your mark. I think that's true for certain jobs, at least, and I'd put writing and lawyering in that bag.

Beside making you more productive, there's now an even better reason for not being so nice and sweet at work: Mean people earn more money. That's the finding based on research by Beth Livingston of Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations, Timothy Judge of the University of Notre Dame, and Charlice Hurst of the University of Western Ontario. Reports Rachel Emma Silverman in The Wall Street Journal:

A new study finds that agreeable workers earn significantly lower incomes than less agreeable ones. The gap is especially wide for men.

The researchers examined "agreeableness" using self-reported survey data and found that men who measured below average on agreeableness earned about 18 percent more—or $9,772 more annually in their sample—than nicer guys. Ruder women, meanwhile, earned about 5 percent or $1,828 more than their agreeable counterparts.

But why is there so much more of a wage premium for disagreeable men than disagreeable women? The WSJ doesn't go into it, except to note that the researchers find that agreeable men might fail to meet the "expectations of 'masculine behavior.'" Is the corollary, then, that disagreeable women don't conform to expectations of feminine behavior? (I guess that means that women have to be meaner than the guys to close that wage gap. Or will that backfire?)

In any case, it's become popular for businesses (including law firms) to declare zero tolerance for jerks. But the reality is that meanies still get rewarded. "The problem is, many managers often don't realize they reward disagreeableness," one of the researchers tells the WSJ. "You can say this is what you value as a company, but your compensation system may not really reflect that, especially if you leave compensation decisions to individual managers."

Should anyone be surprised that those who espouse "what's mine is mine, and what's yours is mine" get ahead--way ahead--of the fair-minded ones? I mean, haven't those with sharp elbows gotten more money, bread, sex, and real estate ever since the cavemen days?

 Related post: Rude Enough to Succeed?


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And what would be the feminine behavior women will be rewarded for? Looking good. Staying quiet? Being a cheerleader or a good girl? When I'm disagreeable at work I become more isolated - not rewarded for bringing up the challenges in that project.


That's a wonderful article.

That said, if I may, I might add that, it's a balancing-act.

You need to be aggressive--to a point. Firm; not threatening. Steadfast; not unsure. And, most-of-all; confident; not meek.

For those of us who make our work in the courtroom, or negotiating with adversaries (let's be honest), it's an enterprise akin to gladiatorial combat at times... and high-court diplomacy at others.

So, it is a balancing act.

And, I suggest that, those interested in an similar perspective, check out this article (from the author of the Rich Dad books):

That was the dumbest column I ever read. (Not really -- I thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm just practicing.)

Well, getting results is generally pretty rewarded on the job. And many managers don't really care HOW results are attained, just that they are, unfortunately.

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The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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