Do Nice Guys Finish Last in Business?

The first article in a two-part series on civility.

You’ve heard people say, “you’re too nice” or “nice guys finish last” and you wonder, is that true? It appears that many people have bought into this concept, chipping away at the art of civility in all areas of society. There no longer seems to be a concern about how others are treated in the community, workplace or at home. When did rudeness and hostility take the place of respect and dignity? And what is the cost to society and the workplace?

These are all questions about which I’ve also wondered. Many of the answers I was searching for were provided in a TEDx talk I listened to given by Christine Porath. In graduate school Porath collaborated with Christine Pearson, another student, to study how uncivil actions can lead to much bigger problems such as aggression and violence. The two gathered information on workplace experiences that involved rude, disrespectful or insensitive language and the results of it.

Not too surprisingly they discovered that incivility was affecting companies’ finances. Approximately 66% of the workforce surveyed reduced their work efforts and 80% lost valuable work time worrying about the “abuse,” lowering overall productivity. And about 12% left their jobs, resulting in additional costs to train new hires. Corporations such as Cisco calculated loses at $12 million a year—all because of lack of respect for others’ ideas, accomplishments or inherent value to the company.

Porath and Pearson also found that the mere inference of rudeness could affect productivity and decision-making skills. Individuals were given one of two lists—one with words that would trigger rudeness and the other with more generic terms. Just seeing the negative words influenced how those individuals performed their jobs. It took them longer to make and record decisions and made them more prone to making errors.

After hearing Porath’s talk, I felt an immediate kinship with her. As a Marriage and Family Therapist, one of the basic principles I hold dear is that we have to be considerate of others—of their feelings, how they perceive situations, and creating thoughtful and respectful communication with one another.

How You Can Make a Difference

Sometimes it only takes one person to change the culture of an organization. Be that person. Here are some tips on how to improve the civility quotient at your workplace

•    Leave hostility and judgment at the door. If people feel they are being judged, they will shut down and not listen to another word you say. However, if you approach it from a position of being of assistance to them, you have a better chance of gaining their attention.

•    Include others. Office cliques are turnoffs, especially to those who may be new on the job. Invite someone into the conversation so that they can feel as if they are part of the team.

•    Ask about your co-workers. Focusing the conversation solely on yourself can become tiresome and is disrespectful of others’ time. Say “good morning,” ask how someone is or pay them a genuine compliment about their appearance or quality of work.

•    Make your remarks constructive. Criticism is a necessary part of learning but instead of saying it in a caustic manner, be constructive in your comments by offering a solution. By doing this, you turn it into a learning opportunity.

•    Smile. Smiling communicates openness and approachability to others in the office environment.

•    Be on time. If you say, you are going to be at a meeting at noon, show up at 11:45 a.m. It’s common courtesy. When you are late, you are telling people that the meeting is not a priority for you.

•    Find solutions that are mutually beneficial for all involved. Fairness is a core value many people hold dear.

•    Think before you speak. Take a moment to mull over what you are about to say. Is it constructive? Or is it insensitive or rude? Be careful with your words.

I believe that if we each took a few moments to think about what we say to others and to ourselves, we would all have stronger self-images. Being civil to others matters. There are so many things in the world that we cannot control, but how we treat others is not one of them. A few kind words will make all the difference. Be kinder starting today.

Admitting you need to make changes to how you approach situations or treat others is not easy, but taking the steps toward fixing it is a step toward personal growth and awareness. Together, we can make a difference. If you have questions or would like to make an appointment, I can be reached at (818) 998-3205, via email at or through my website

Part Two of this series will address “What You Say to Your Child Matters.” If spiteful, harmful speech and actions distress and upset adults, what does it do to a child’s psyche and well-being, especially when it comes from a parent? Find out in the next blog.