PLAY NICE or Get Fat

By Ian Glickman Ph.D


Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, who’s had some success in his little California book store, recently said that if you double the amount of experiments you do each year you’re going to double your inventiveness. How often do we think of experimenting with our own thoughts, feelings and behaviors? Take, for example, the following questions about our interpersonal interactions.

Does rudeness in the workplace cause occupational stress? Does rudeness impede productivity? Do uncivil behaviors make one unhappy, fat and less productive?

The answer is yes, yes, yes, yes and yes. Let’s be clear here, rudeness leads to stress, decreased efficiency and obesity. There’s a triple threat if I’ve ever heard one!

In a recent New York Times article, Christine Porath, explained the science behind these statements. Professor Porath found that women who experience job rudeness or even witness it, have a 38% increase of having a cardio vascular event or obesity. Obesity? OK, now you got my attention. Also, 71% of doctors and nurses reported that occupational rudeness directly related to medical errors and 27% said rudeness correlated with patient death! Death by insult?!

The news regarding creativity and information processing is not any better. People exposed to derisive comments are 31% less creative. Additionally, workers in hostile environments are less likely to be group contributors, which might be a good thing seeing as they are now 31% less creative. So, Mr. or Mrs. insulting boss, looks like you’ve not only annoyed everyone beyond their limits of endurance but you’ve also made them fat, less creative and stressed out. This will be great for business (add slow sarcastic clapping here). More research here; customers patronize business less if they have to interact with a rude person. Why is being civil so important to us? And, why does it affect us so negatively when others are so discourteous. Psychology tells us that we are constantly redefining who we are and how we fit in. We evaluate and continuously modify our self-image by judging how others interact with us. When our boss puts us down, we begin to feel unsure about how we fit within the organization and we feel uncertain about our capabilities. This uncertainty, over time, is stressful and apparently fattening. It is exactly for these reasons that sumo wrestlers seek out these types of stressful occupational relationships. Just kidding, I really don’t know too much about the sumo wrestling culture. Perhaps someone could comment as to the veracity of this point.

So, let’s say, for conversation sake, that you are a young Turk manager wanting to climb the corporate ladder or the corporate climbing wall, if you work at a tech firm. You might maintain the mindset that in order to be respected and thought of as competent, you must never be viewed as a “nice guy”. After all, nice guys always finish dead last, right behind those polite sensitive types, and that large cadre of helpful and approachable losers. Well, I was just looking at the data again and I’m pretty sure my advice here would be “aah… not so much”. In fact, recent research out of Europe clearly states that nice guys and nice gals were twice as likely to be seen by others as leaders. Mean dictators of the world take note here, that’s a one hundred percent increase in your appeal just by being nice.

What do the social science folks at Princeton and Harvard think about all this nice guy stuff? Well, they report that your impressions of others and their impression of you are almost entirely dependent on the two personal traits of warmth and confidence. Nasty business associates reflect neither warm nor confidence. Some nasty people think that by being arrogant and rude they come off as confident. But, usually they just come of as narcissistic and offensive.

The following behaviors were found to be top ten shiniest stars in that vast galaxy of offensive behaviors.

At number 10: Puts people down

Number 9: Swears

Number 8: Takes all the credit

Number 7: Talks down to people.

Number 6: Does not say please and thank you.

Number 5: Withholds information.

Number 4: Is selfish in his/her assignments taking the plumb assignment for themselves.

Number 3: Ignores other’s opinions.

Number 2: Judgmental of diversity.

And the number one reason earning you the obnoxious boss of the month award…

: Interrupts people.

Take a look at this list and if you see some of yourself in these, as most of us will. Don’t worry, (too much). All of these behaviors are correctable. For example, if your think you interrupt people too much, stop it. This probably is not the most complexly convoluted psychological intervention of all time. But, we are all neurologically, cognitively and effectively capable of shutting up until the other person is finished. So that makes it a pretty doable intervention. There! That should solve the problem in short order and everyone in the office will become trim and fit. Oh, and one more piece of research… it doesn’t hurt to smile. In one study just the simple act of smiling and saying thank you, increased one’s perception of being competent by 13% and as if that wasn’t enough, the two combined behaviors of smiling and saying thank you also made you appear 27% more competent! I don’t know of anything that can increase the appearance of competence 27% literally overnight. If the Ford Edsel could have said thank you and smiled it would have been the best selling car in America.

OK you say, but I hate being nice, it’s just not me. Being nice won’t help me progress in my career. I’m so competent and indispensable I don’t need to be civil. A Center for Creative Leadership study found that the number one personal attribute that is correlated with executive failure is insensitive, abrasive or bullying acts. Although, isn’t that three attributes? Well, as they say, there are three types of people in the world, those who can count and those who cannot. The point is, insensitive, uncivil people “sabotage their own success and limit their potential”. According to the study’s author, Professor McCall, being as polite and civil as Andy of Mayberry, pays off big time. Jurors liked attorneys who are nice and respectful, potential employers and potential team members liked job candidates who were polite and civil.

So bosses and potential bosses, don’t cause stress, be nice, smile, say thank you, don’t interrupt and at the same time keep your people happy, productive and trim.

And remember what Jeff Bezos of Amazon says, experiment!



Ian Glickman, Ph.D.

Learn more about leadership, occupational stress, conflict management and change management at PDR, Inc. Visit our web site at


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