We all know the perils of being around people who aren't nice; mean people can annoy, irritate, and upset us, often destroying relationships in the process. However, other personality types can be socially detrimental, too: being too nice can backfire in many a situation. This may come as a surprise, as we're often told that being agreeable and assisting others helps us succeed in life. After all, agreeable people are said be conscientious and compassionate, finding it easy to maintain a a wide circle of friends with strong social ties. But as is often the case, you can have too much of a good thing — even when it comes to being nice.
There's also the old adage that because we "reap what we sow" being agreeable is somehow tied into the cosmic idea of karma: If we're nice to others, that niceness will be reflected back at us tenfold. But what happens when altruism actually holds you back? Chances are we probably all know someone whose niceness is a little over the top — so much so that it might give us the creeps — but it's possible that being agreeable (as in, the Big Five trait of agreeableness, which often translates to niceness) may lead to others taking advantage, too. And if you suspect this may be relevant to you? Well, maybe it'll make you reconsider saying "yes" to that friend or co-worker for fear of being perceived badly next time a favor is asked of you that you're not really able to do.
When it comes to your career, much has been written about whether niceness is needed in abundance in order to succeed. Nice people often fear confrontation and can prolong inevitable difficult situations at work (such as a firing) and they're more likely to be taken advantage of when it comes to running their own businesses, too. So it's no wonder that when it comes to money, agreeable people can earn less at work, according to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2012.
Researchers found that men who ranked highly in the personality trait of agreeableness made less than their counterparts who were less agreeable. Sometimes, these monetary difference in earnings was as high as a whopping $10,000 per year — but interestingly, when it came to women, there was only a small earnings difference between those who were high and low in agreeableness. Similar findings were echoed in a 2011 study which confirmed that agreeable men suffered more at work; they earned 18 percent less than their disagreeable co-workers. (Agreeable women, meanwhile, took home five percent less than those who were less agreeable. Of course, there's also the question of whether the gender pay gap and cultural expectations for men and women come into play here, but that's perhaps a question for another time.)
Proneness To Groupthink
Nice people are sometimes seen as pushovers when it comes to being taken advantage of personally, but interestingly, this can translate to being easily swayed in other ways, too. Take, for example, an experiment published the Journal of Personality in 2014 which examined how likely people with different personality types are to inflict pain on others. After studying participants' personal dispositions for eight months and arranging a pain-inflicting experiment, it was found that the agreeable and conscientious groups were are more likely to follow orders to deliver electric shocks to innocent people, whereas the less agreeable personalities were less willing to to hurt others based on instruction and often refused to do so.
That's what I mean when I say that very nice people might be prone to groupthink. As Kristin Wong notes at Lifehacker, nice people are simply more likely to go along with the status quo: "Being too agreeable can also make you more susceptible to something called 'groupthink,'"' she writes. "This is basically a group’s tendency to ditch independent thought in favor of collective agreement. Teams with too many highly agreeable people on them tend to fall into this trap more often. In group situations, being disagreeable can actually make you think more independently and look beyond the obvious for other solutions."
Agreeable people may be more judgmental than disagreeable people, according to a series of studies within one body of research. Published in 2011, this research found that although people with a lot of agreeableness judge prosocial behavior positively, they also passed more social judgment across the board. In particular, agreeable people judged antisocial behaviors more unfavorably — meaning they were extra harsh on people who displayed antisocial behaviors. They termed this penchant for judgment "the Pollyanna Myth" — that is, just because someone is agreeable doesn't mean that they judge everyone else in an agreeable way. And that's not always a good thing; there's a reason we always caution each other not to judge a book by its cover.
All things considered, being agreeable certainly has its merits; kindness and empathy are not traits anyone should ever be ashamed of having. But pleasing people for the sake of it often means agreeable people may forgo independent thought, be perceived as weaker and less intelligent (even if they're not), and even pay a literal, financial price for it.
If you think you may fall into this category, there are ways you can practice being more assertive without losing your rep as an overall nice person — but remember that being you is always the most important asset you have.