It’s a familiar story. You’ve finally worked up the courage to approach the guy or girl you like. You take a deep breath and prepare to conquer your anxieties. Then, as you step forward, you see it: someone has beaten you to the punch. Even worse, this person is a jerk—he or she treats others without a shred of respect. This is a just another example of nice guys finish last, that sad inescapable truth. Except science says this is bogus.
According to research out of Harvard University, cooperative people are far more likely to achieve success than their unpleasant counterparts. In the study then post-doctoral fellow David Rand (now Assistant Professor of Psychology at Yale University) had subjects participate in an online game in which players were given a random group of friends. Players could pay to help one another or act selfishly and keep resources to themselves. After each round subjects updated their friend groups, creating new connections and cutting ties. The results? Generous players ended the game with large networks of cooperative teammates, while selfish players found themselves ostracized from the crowd. In other words, the mean guys finished last.
Though Rand’s experiment has been hailed as breakthrough for its experimental setup, these findings are hardly new. In fact, for years studies have shown that kindness and cooperation rank among the most important qualities of accomplished people. Those who treat friends or coworkers poorly end up isolated while their affable colleagues meet success. As Nobel Prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman has shown, people would rather do business with person they like and trust than a more skilled, unlikable competitor.
But why does it seem nice guys or girls finish last? Everyone can relate to the anecdote about a love interest falling for someone undeserving. Though many factors play a role, one of the biggest contributors is likely self-delusion. We envy those who have things we want, instinctively dislike them for possessing what we do not have. When someone receives that promotion we wanted or develops a relationship with a person we have a crush on, our minds accentuate his or her negative qualities while ignoring the positive ones. This allows us to avoid acknowledging our own shortcomings—instead of thinking about how we never show up to work on time or don’t brush our teeth, we accuse our competitor of being undeserving and assume we were perfect for the occasion.
It is important to note that kindness and cooperation do not guarantee success. Self-confidence and people skills are integral to achieving goals, especially in relationships and in the workplace. These qualities often rank higher than attractiveness and intelligence in surveys and studies. However, experiments show it is possible to have too much of a good thing—excessive self-confidence can alienate people, and being too agreeable can appear as a lack of personality or meekness. (While some studies claim to prove niceness hurts chances of success, they almost invariably define niceness as “agreeableness.” Most of these experiments find that extremely agreeable individuals—people who always say yes and go with the flow—fare poorly in business and relationships.)
So here’s to all you nice people out there—science is on your side. While it may often seem the mean and uncooperative people have it made in life, chances are those behaviors will catch up to them. Now go out and be nice!
So what do you guys think? I’m guessing some people will have already noticed nice people don’t always finish last. Share your thoughts in the comments section below! As always, please like, share, or reblog this post if you enjoy it. Be sure to check me out on Twitter and Facebook as well. Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to subscribe for new content every Wednesday! IT’S FREE!
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