In America, we have a certain dissonance when it comes to the idea of nice. While schools teach our children that they must be nice (or be punished) even kindergarteners can see that being nice can get you tripped on the playground. Our government doesn’t exactly run on niceness, and our laws aren’t always enforced in a nice way, either. By the time our kids are teens, they have basically learned that being nice is good… and stupid. But is that really true?
Does it pay to be nice?
First, the depressing news. It does seem that being rude or mean can, quite literally, pay. Numerous studies have shown that the traits we rate negatively, like immodesty and selfishness, are also the best predictors of higher salaries. Domineering behavior will cause people to defer to you, even if it’s only subconsciously, which equals more perceived and actual power.
But before you brush up on your Machiavelli, consider this! Other studies have shown that people who are generous with their time, contacts, and know-how dominate the tops of their fields (Adam Grant, Wharton). For every 2% increase in the service climate of an organization, i.e., happiness and helpfulness, there is a 1% increase in revenue (Daniel Goleman, author of Primal Leadership). Even the almighty Google, in a 2012 study, found that the most productive teams were not the ones with astronomical IQs, but the teams in which everyone felt psychologically safe with their peers. And if that doesn’t convince you niceness can pay, get this: nice people are less likely to end up in court (Vanderbilt School of Medicine). They also have one half the divorce rate of the general population, are healthier, and live longer. So yes, there are definite benefits to nice. It feels good, too.
So why does nice have such a meh reputation?
Maybe it’s because nice can be just a little bit… fake. It can be manipulative, self-serving. Maybe when people try to evaluate nice, they are really trying to measure something else. Something they can’t quite put their finger on. Something more real.
Kindness, maybe. Like niceness, but for its own sake. Kindness just is. It cares, regardless of any kind of “pay.” Maybe that’s why there’s so much conflict about the idea of nice. Nice itself is just OK.
Kindness, though. Kindness is great. America, let’s forget about nice and try on some kindness. It’s flexible, one size fits all.
Article by Molly Fuscher
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