A Disagreeable Personality Does Not Give People Power

The idea that people with aggressive, selfish and disagreeable personalities are more likely to get promotions and acquire power is false.

The idea that people with aggressive, selfish and disagreeable personalities are more likely to get promotions and acquire power is false.

Jerks do not get ahead, research finds.

The idea that aggressive, selfish, disagreeable people are more likely to get promotions and acquire power is false.

While intimidating people get some advantage from their selfish behaviour, this is offset by their poor relationships.

In other words, what jerks gain by being nasty, they lose by being hated.

Extraverts get ahead

In fact, it is extraversion that predicts people getting ahead in their jobs and obtaining more power.

People who are outgoing, energetic and assertive — all hallmarks of the extravert — are more likely to advance.

Professor Cameron Anderson, the study’s first author, said:

“I was surprised by the consistency of the findings.

No matter the individual or the context, disagreeableness did not give people an advantage in the competition for power — even in more cutthroat, ‘dog-eat-dog’ organizational cultures.”

Disagreeable traits

The study tracked people from college or graduate school to 14 years into their careers.

They were asked about their power and rank in their workplaces.

Those with deceitful, aggressive personalities were no more likely to have gained power than those who were generous and trustworthy, the results showed.

Jerks still obtained positions of power, though, Professor Anderson explained:

“The bad news here is that organizations do place disagreeable individuals in charge just as often as agreeable people.

In other words, they allow jerks to gain power at the same rate as anyone else, even though jerks in power can do serious damage to the organization.”

Agreeable people produce the best results, Professor Anderson said:

“My advice to managers would be to pay attention to agreeableness as an important qualification for positions of power and leadership.

Prior research is clear: agreeable people in power produce better outcomes.”

Signs of a disagreeable personality

‘Disagreeableness’ is one of the five major personality traits.

It roughly translates to ‘being a jerk’, the study’s authors write:

“Disagreeableness is a relatively stable aspect of personality that involves the tendency to behave in quarrelsome, cold, callous, and selfish ways.

Disagreeable people tend to be hostile and abusive to others, deceive and manipulate others for their own gain, and ignore others’ concerns or welfare.”

One of difficulties for disagreeable people is creating alliances.

However, what applies in the workplace may not apply in politics, Professor Anderson said:

“Having a strong set of alliances is generally important to power in all areas of life.

Disagreeable politicians might have more difficulty maintaining necessary alliances because of their toxic behavior.”

→ Read on: How to change your personality

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Anderson et al., 2020).

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This site is all about scientific research into how the mind works.

It’s mostly written by psychologist and author, Dr Jeremy Dean.

I try to dig up fascinating studies that tell us something about what it means to be human.

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Author: Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book "Making Habits, Breaking Habits" (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks.