Egomaniac Who Doesn't Care About Others? Study Finds You're Going Nowhere Fast

It turns out that being the office jerk doesn't necessarily lead to greater career success.

Researchers at the University of California Berkeley tracked a group of more than 450 students following their graduation from college or graduate school to determine whether those with disagreeable personalities—or rather, those who displayed more selfish, combative and manipulative behavior—actually did get farther ahead in life compared to those were not so disagreeable. What they found was surprising: regardless of the career path—whether former students worked in an aggressive industry or not—those with predominately disagreeable traits did not earn more power in their profession.

The study included personality assessments of students who attended three different universities 14 years ago. The same students were surveyed more recently about their occupation, ranking in the workplace hierarchy, the amount of power that came with their position and the cultural environment of the workplace. Researchers also surveyed the colleagues of participants about their demeanor and behavior in the office and determined there was no significant difference of power attained between those who had higher disagreeable traits compared to those who were deemed nice, trustworthy and generous. If anything, both groups moved ahead at similar rates.

Researchers also found that people who were more extroverted were more likely to move up the ladder in their careers due to their energy, assertiveness and sociability compared to those who relied on intimidation.

"The findings tell us that organizations do not prize and value agreeableness as much as they should. Disagreeable individuals achieve higher power and rank at the same rate as agreeable individuals, even though organizations benefit from putting more agreeable individuals in charge," Cameron Anderson, a Berkeley Haas profession who co-authored the study, told Newsweek in an email.

Simply put, the study found that being selfish, combative and manipulative didn't generate more workplace power than being nice.

Study Finds Being Disagreeable Doesn't Mean Success
Businesswoman being gossiped about by colleagues in office. iStock / Getty Images Plus

The findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Tuesday, could help break down the toxic views some workers have regarding getting ahead in their careers.

"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' organizational cultures," Anderson said in the paper. "My advice to managers would be to pay attention to agreeableness as an important qualification for positions of power and leadership. Prior research is clear: Agreeable people in power produce better outcomes."

In a separate study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology in 2011, researchers found that the more power people get, the more likely they are to be their authentic selves and operate under their true morals and values—meaning, that the more power people inherit, the more likely their true character will be revealed.

This article was updated to include comment from Anderson.

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