Being Nice: The Key to Career Success

Published: Jun 22, 2015

 Consulting       CSR       MBA       Workplace Issues       
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Whether you're a 20-year veteran or halfway through your first ever internship, chances are that you've got a story to tell about a boss or colleague who's rubbed you up the wrong way. Someone who's ignored you, been rude to you, or demeaned you in front of your peers. And, given the law of averages, there's every chance that someone else has a similar story to tell about you.

As your brusque boss might say, "Who cares? It's business. Deal with it.'"

According to a recent article in the NY Times, the answer to the previous question should be: Everyone. Especially your boss. The reason: employees who are slighted are less likely to draw attention to themselves to avoid becoming the targets for future abuse. Or as the article puts it (emphasis added):

"Bosses produce demoralized employees through a string of actions: walking away from a conversation because they lose interest; answering calls in the middle of meetings without leaving the room; openly mocking people by pointing out their flaws or personality quirks in front of others; reminding their subordinates of their 'role' in the organization and 'title'; taking credit for wins, but pointing the finger at others when problems arise. Employees who are harmed by this behavior, instead of sharing ideas or asking for help, hold back."

For an idea of how much they hold back, check out the results of a couple of studies conducted by the article's author, an associate professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.:

"In one study, the experimenter belittled the peer group of the participants, who then performed 33 percent worse on anagram word puzzles and came up with 39 percent fewer creative ideas during a brainstorming task focused on how they might use a brick. In our second study, a stranger — a “busy professor” encountered en route to the experiment — was rude to participants by admonishing them for bothering her. Their performance was 61 percent worse on word puzzles, and they produced 58 percent fewer ideas in the brick task than those who had not been treated rudely. We found the same pattern for those who merely witnessed incivility: They performed 22 percent worse on word puzzles and produced 28 percent fewer ideas in the brainstorming task."

The bottom line: rudeness is bad for your career, your colleagues, your subordinates, and your company.

Note that rudeness isn't always intentional. That time that you pulled out your phone in a meeting because you remembered something vitally important? While your intentions were good, it probably came off to whoever was speaking (assuming they noticed) that you were bored or uninterested in what they were talking about.

Fortunately, there is a solution for all of this—and it's something that you probably had drilled into you starting back around the same time you were learning to walk: be nice. While there's a long list of suggested behavior changes in the Times article, they pretty much all boil down to that 2-word construction. Which is both encouraging (because it's so simple), and depressing (because we've forgotten something so simple).

What's your take on rudeness in the workplace? Have any stories you want to share of horrible bosses, or of when you offended someone in the workplace? Let us know in the comments.

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