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Being Selfish, Combative & Manipulative Will NOT Help You Get Ahead at Work

Being Selfish, Combative & Manipulative Will NOT Help You Get Ahead at Work

There’s a certain stereotype of professional success — a cartoonishly selfish figure that has no qualms stepping on other people to climb the corporate ladder.

But is being Machiavellian really an effective method of getting ahead at work? People have been arguing about this for ages. (Literal ages, because ancient philosophers argued about this, too.)

A recent study finally gives some empirical insight into this question.

Today’s study is longitudinal, which means that participants were studied over an extended period of time. Participants were assessed both at the start of their careers, when they were just entering the labor market, and then also 14 years later, once their professional careers had had some time to develop.

Here’s what the study found:

  • Disagreeable individuals who behaved in aggressive, selfish, and manipulative ways did not gain higher power in their organizations than those who were pleasant, trustworthy, and kind.
  • Extraverted people, however, did gain higher power in their organizations than more introverted people.

The researchers explain the lack of increased power by disagreeable folks to be related to two things each canceling the other out:

  • Being more dominant typically does produce a gain in power.
  • However, communal and generous behavior also produces a gain in power.

Disagreeable folks would get a boost from behaving dominantly but also participate in far less communal, generous behavior.

All of these effects persisted after accounting for individual differences known to cause workplace effects like gender and ethnicity, as well as differences in organizational culture.

Anyway, going by this study, it would seem that if you’re looking to get ahead at work, the best tactic to take is not to be a jerk. Instead, it seems best — when speaking long term– to be very extraverted but also kind and trustworthy.


This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.


Featured Image: CC 0 – Pexels