The Price of Being Nice

Robert M. Sapolsky, a Stanford professor and the author of “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers,” found that when people experience incivility for too long or too often, their immune systems suffer. Further, research is clear that incivility and workplace bullying causes damage to our health, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and ulcers. And, hormones called glucocorticoids are elevated during unpleasant interactions (and even when we replay those interactions later in our head) and this leads to increased appetite and obesity.

Christine Porath, a well known researcher in the “field” of incivility has asked hundreds of people via her research studies why they behave with incivility, and the answer was most often that they felt overloaded and therefore have no time to be nice.

It’s so interesting that people believe being nice takes time. Being nice doesn’t have to cost extra effort, it’s about changing the way you communicate in interactions that you will have anyway. You may as well make those interactions pleasant because if you don’t productivity goes down. According to Porath, most people tie disruptive behavior, such as abusive, condescending or insulting personal conduct, to errors. In the medical field, 27% of her research respondents percent tied incivility to the death of a patient. That’s some error.

Interestingly, there’s a perceived inverse relationship between warmth and competence. If a person is competent, he can’t be warm and nice. If he’s warm and nice, he can’t be competent. Think Steve Jobs. He was a well known asshole and clearly very competent. But Jobs likely succeeded in spite of being an asshole, not because he was an asshole.

So guess what? You can be both competent and nice. Competent leaders can certainly smile, say thank you, and demonstrate listening skills. Put your cell phone down when someone’s talking to you, and make eye contact with others when you pass them in the hallway. None of this takes extra time.

You can read more from Christine Porath in her article published in the New York Times.