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Is It Bad to Be Too Nice?

By: Danielle Bertini, LPC

“Nice guys finish last.” You’ve probably heard that expression before, but have you ever given thought to what that really means? Why would nice people be less likely to win? It would seem that a nice person would actually have an advantage over nasty people in the social hierarchy. They’re more enjoyable to be around, they radiate positive energy, so why would they then “finish last?” Is there any truth to this cliché saying?

According to Filip Connolly and Ingemar Seva (Whitbourne, 2021), there are actually solid theoretical reasons for the lack of advancement shown by people who are too nice. Corresponding to the Five-Factor personality trait of agreeableness, the quality of niceness is one that can block an individual’s potential rise to the top. Although other people may like people who are chronically agreeable, they don’t necessarily choose them to be leaders. One explanation could be that people high in the trait of agreeableness are more motivated to be liked than to be admired (Whitbourne, 2021). 

Connolly and Seva point out that when it comes to life satisfaction, there are two potentially key influences that are related to an individual’s position in the “local ladder” or social group. People move to the higher steps of this ladder when they have strength in two basic qualities, those being the degree to which each individual is perceived as having instrumental social value (status, respect) and relational value (acceptance, liking) (Whitbourne, 2021). They then refer to instrumental value as “status” and relational value as “inclusion.” 

To get an understanding of the instruments they used in their study to measure status and inclusion, try rating yourself on the following items:

Status (1 to 5 scale):

  1. I have a high level of respect in others’ eyes.
  2. I have a high social standing.
  3. Others look up to me.

Inclusion (0 to 6 scale):

  1. I feel close to my family.
  2. There is no one in my family I can depend on for support and encouragement (reversed).
  3. I am able to depend on my friends for help.
  4. I do not have any friends who understand me, but I wish I did (reversed).

As Connolly and Seva predicted in their study, participants higher in agreeableness who also were high in the quality of inclusion had higher life satisfaction scores. Status played no role in predicting satisfaction for the highly agreeable. However, setting aside the role of inclusion, people high in agreeableness, in general, had lower levels of life satisfaction. In contrast, people high in extraversion had higher inclusion and status scores, both of which contributed to their higher life satisfaction (Whitbourne, 2021). 

So, what does this all mean? The cost of being agreeable, then, is that your chances of receiving both contributors to social status are reduced, leaving you with fewer resources to contribute to your overall sense of well-being. Nice people, as Connolly and Seva note,
“risk being exploited in social situations, leading them to be less able to fulfill their individual goals (Whitbourne, 2021).”

Translating these findings to your everyday life, it might be worthwhile to consider the value of shaking things up every once and a while. In your close relationships, this doesn’t mean that you suddenly lash out at your partner with no provocation. However, it does suggest that you don’t need to feel the pressure to always go along with what your partner wants, especially if there is something important at stake. At work, you might similarly consider the value that less-agreeable colleagues might actually add to the overall effectiveness of your company. 

If you find yourself struggling with being too agreeable, you may find it helpful to talk with one of our Chicago counselors at Symmetry Counseling. Explore our therapy services online, and call us today at (312) 578-9990, or connect with us online to get matched with one of our licensed therapists. 

References

Whitbourne, S. (2021, July 10). Is It Really Possible to Be Too Nice? Psychology Today. Retrieved March 10, 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/fulfillment-any-age/202107/is-it-really-possible-be-too-nice 

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