Case Study

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  • Topic: Employment, Agreeableness
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  • Published : November 3, 2012
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Case Incident 1
Is There a Price for Being Too Nice?

Agreeable people tend to be kinder and more accommodating in social situations, which you might think could add to their success in life. However, we’ve already noted that one downside of agreeableness is potentially lower earnings. We’re not sure why this is so, but agreeable individuals may be less aggressive in negotiating starting salaries and pay raises.

Yet there is clear evidence that agreeableness is something employers value. Several recent books argue in favor of “leading with kindness” (Baker & O’Malley, 2008) and “capitalizing on kindness” (Tillquist, 2008). Other articles in the business press have argued that the sensitive, agreeable CEO—such as GE’s Jeffrey Immelt and Boeing’s James McNerney—signals a shift in business culture (Brady, 2007). In many circles, individuals desiring success in their careers are exhorted to be “complimentary,” “kind,” and “good” (for example, Schillinger, 2007).

Take the example of 500-employee Lindblad Expeditions. It emphasizes agreeableness in its hiring decisions. The VP of HR commented, “You can teach people any technical skill, but you can’t teach them how to be a kindhearted, generous-minded person with an open spirit.”

So, while employers want agreeable employees, agreeable employees are not better job performers, and they are less successful in their careers. We might explain this apparent contradiction by noting that employers value agreeable employees for other reasons: They are more pleasant to be around, and they may help others in ways that aren’t reflected in their job performance. Most evidence suggests that agreeable people like agreeable people, which you might expect because people like those who are similar to themselves. However, even disagreeable people like agreeable people, perhaps because they are easier to manipulate than individuals who are lower in agreeableness. Perhaps everyone wants to hire agreeable people just...
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