Are You Too Nice at the Office?
Men’s Health – menshealth.com/health/are-you-too-nice-at-the-office
by Markham Heid October 4, 2012, 10:00 pm EDT
This week in unfortunately true clichés: Nice guys really do finish last, according to a new study from Princeton University.
Researchers recruited 133 people and asked each to craft an email that included words from a predetermined list. For some participants, the goal of the email was to appear warm and friendly. For others, the goal was to appear competent. Many of the words from the list—such as exquisite and commendable—projected both competence and warmth, according to the study. Other words, like inept and happy, were associated only with competence or warmth, respectively.
The researchers then examined the words the participants chose and rated each in terms of warmth and competence. Here’s what they found out: Those aiming to seem friendly chose words that lowered their competence score roughly 11 percent. On the flip side, among those attempting to seem skilled, warmth scores fell almost 7 percent.
“There’s a trade-off between warmth and competence,” says study author Deborah Son Holoien, who researches social psychology at Princeton. Put simply, appearing friendly can make people believe you’re less smart and savvy than if you toned down your positive vibes, Holoien explains, citing additional studies. (Watch THIS video to learn How to Get People to Like You.)
Why? The character traits associated with warmth—such as friendliness, morality, and selflessness—are very different than those associated with competence, which include intelligence, self-confidence, and skill, Holoien explains. Also, we may regard those who seem cold as more capable because they represent a potential threat or enemy, she adds.
But if you think this news gives you free reign to start acting like a total dick at the office, think again. “Ideally, someone who wants to give the impression of professional competence should only slightly tone down how warm they appear,” Holoien says.
So how do you straddle that line between Mel Gibson and Ned Flanders? Strike the right balance with these tips from Mickey Parsons, MCC, founder of The Workplace Coach, an executive coaching firm in Atlanta.
No Crazy Emails
The problem with office email is that it’s highly subjective, Parsons explains. “Different personality types may interpret the exact same sentence differently.” For that reason, you’ll want to stay polite and to the point. Always include a meaningful subject line—an explicit, concise subject like, “Thursday Afternoon Meeting about Ad Sales” has a better chance of getting opened than “Meeting”—and a friendly greeting (such as “Dear” or “Hi”). Don’t ramble, give the email a good once-over before you click send, and try to keep the exclamation points and thank-yous to a minimum to avoid seeming effusive, Parsons adds. (Discover 7 More Ways to Write the Perfect Office Email.)
Keep Tabs on Your Colleagues
Are you leading your teammates on an important project and want to check how their work’s coming along? First, understand that asking in person will apply more pressure than asking via email, which may be better if you’re worried the job isn’t getting done, Parsons says. In either case, he recommends asking for a “status update” well before the assignment is due. This gives the person time to self-correct and still meet the deadline. If your colleague says he’s fallen behind, or hasn’t gotten the ball rolling, ask how you can help him get on track. “A comment like this is direct and supportive without letting the individual off the hook,” Parsons says.
Wow Them with Words
Stuck in a testosterone-packed group meeting? Find the right time to speak up. “Men tend to be more assertive in meetings, so timing can be an important factor,” Parsons says. He recommends preparing key talking points ahead of time, and jumping into the conversation with a “yes and” comment such as, “That’s a good point. And to build on that, I think . . .” You’ll take control without pissing anyone off, Parsons adds. And once you start talking, remember: “Two or three well-thought-out comments can pack more punch than a dozen babbling ones.”