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See Inside Scientific American Mind Volume 23, Issue 3

When Nice Guys Finish First

Pleasant people enjoy many advantages in life and, with some effort, can even make it to the top



GAIL SHUMWAY Getty Images (smiley face); MARTIN BARRAUD Getty Images (man)

When I was growing up, my mother used to say, “It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice.” Yet popular wisdom also tells us that “nice guys finish last” and that “nice girls don't get the corner office.” Like most sayings, these last two contain a grain of truth, but they overstate the challenges and overlook the considerable benefits of being nice.

Psychologists define nice people as those scoring high on a personality trait called agreeableness. This trait often goes along with generosity, consideration for others, a pleasant disposition and a strong desire for social harmony. If you are nice, your overriding concern is to maintain positive relationships with others. You feel happiest when those around you are in harmony, and you go out of your way to smooth ruffled feathers. One way of measuring niceness is to ask people how much they agree with statements such as “I take time out for others” and “I sympathize with others' feelings.”

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