A new study reveals the financial implications of being too agreeable
There’s nothing nice about being broke.
Being too nice can negatively impact one’s finances. Indeed, agreeableness — one of the five major personality traits that denotes a person who is warm, empathetic, trusting and caring — is related to economic struggles, according a new study published this week in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
“We found that agreeableness was associated with indicators of financial hardship, including lower savings, higher debt and higher default rates,” said Dr. Joe Gladstone of University College London, who co-authored the study with Dr. Sandra Matz of the Columbia Business School. The study analyzed data collected from more than three million participants in online panels, a national survey, bank account data and publicly available geographic data.
The reason nice people face financial hardship? Agreeable people don’t value money as much those who are less agreeable, the researchers found. “The way I like to think of it is, if you imagine a bunch of friends going to lunch, the agreeable person offers to pick up the check. Agreeable people are nice because they don’t care as much, and that’s why they end up having less savings or default on their loans,” social worker and professor Dr. Michelle Martin shared.
Other studies have also suggested this idea. In 2011, researchers at the University of Notre Dame found that men who were nice, warm and cooperative earned 18% less than their disagreeable counterparts. For women however, the opposite proved true. Timothy Judge, co-author of the study, remarked on the double standard for women and the pay gap involved in being too nice. “The unfairness of it is that when women ask for more [money], they are more likely to have their motives questioned, which can neutralize some of the advantages. So, I think women must present their requests in a non-threatening, gentle but firm sort of way. In essence, the way women communicate their demands matters more than it does for men,” Judge wrote.
And being too nice can compromise more than just finances — it can also affect the way that people are perceived. Earlier this year, Business Insider reported that some of the most common traits people associate with folks who are too nice are that: they’re boring; they get taken advantage of; they look suspicious; they’re not respected and they give up too much of their time, based on answers from respondents in a Quora forum.
New York Times bestselling author Nicole Lapin, who wrote “Rich Bitch: A Simple 12-Step Plan for Getting Your Financial Life Together,” told Moneyish that she recommends that workers, “be kind to everyone, but also be fair. You can be kind during uncomfortable or hard conversations, but being sweet in business is like being a sweet parent — your coworkers, like your kid, will think you’re cool, but it won’t help them grow.”
Dr. Gladstone points out that it’s not just adults who endure the repercussions of being too nice. Using survey data from a cohort study that followed people for 25 years, he found that when agreeableness was measured in childhood, it still predicted greater financial hardships later in life.
Of course, there’s a fine line between being just plain nice and being too nice. “I’ve learned over the years that nice is good, but ‘too nice’ is not. ‘Too nice’ is the person who doesn’t like to ruffle feathers. ‘Too nice’ is the person who is afraid to set boundaries. Too nice is the person who is afraid to say no,” Dr. Martin wrote in the Huffington Post.
So what can we do about it? Dr. Matz says that you don’t want to tell someone to “Care more about money!” Instead, she recommends explaining that while money might not matter to that one individual, it matters to their families and loved ones. “If you go into debt, if you default on a loan, that impacts you and your family,” Dr. Matz said. And because agreeable people like to help others and care about the feelings of others, you can leverage the root of agreeableness in this context.
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