Being Kind Makes You More Influential, Increases Productivity, and Builds Trust (According to Science)

We live in a rough, rude times. From anger in the oval office, to road rage, to pundits shouting on TV, to companies where a toxic culture is not only condoned but promoted, it seems that meanness has become the nasty norm.

That’s why I’d like to stop the madness and (politely) ask you to be nice.

Yes, you should work and play well with others because your mama raised you right. And because your faith/philosophy teaches kindness and compassion. And because you know in your heart that being nice is the ethical and honorable thing to do.

But here’s another compelling reason to be nice: Doing so has the power to make you more successful. In fact, there are an increasingly number of studies that prove that kindness is not just nice to do, it actually gives you a competitive advantage over your uncivil colleagues.

Need proof? Here are 3 compelling reasons, backed by research:

1. Exhibiting warmth–being enthusiastic, friendly and kind–makes you more influential. As Amy J.C. Cuddy and colleagues write in The Harvard Business Review, “A growing body of research suggests that the way to influence–and to lead–is to begin with warmth. Warmth is the conduit of influence: It facilitates trust and the communication and absorption of ideas. Even a few small nonverbal signals–a nod, a smile, an open gesture–can show people that you’re pleased to be in their company and attentive to their concerns.”

For example, Cuddy cites Princeton social psychologist Alex Todorov, who has studied the “cognitive and neural mechanisms that drive our ‘spontaneous trait inferences’–the snap judgments we make when briefly looking at faces. Their research shows that when making those judgments, people consistently pick up on warmth faster than on competence.”

2. Generosity--being a sharing, giving person–not only increases your productivity, it also helps your colleagues work more effectively. In another HBR article, Adam Grant describes a meta-analysis led by Nathan Podsakoff, of the University of Arizona. Podsakoff “examined 38 studies of organizational behavior, representing more than 3,500 business units and many different industries, and found that the link between employee giving and desirable business outcomes was surprisingly robust. Higher rates of giving were predictive of higher unit profitability, productivity, efficiency, and customer satisfaction, along with lower costs and turnover rates. When employees act like givers, they facilitate efficient problem solving and coordination and build cohesive, supportive cultures that appeal to customers, suppliers, and top talent alike.”

3. Niceness builds trust. Here’s Amy Cuddy again, writing about a study by Mascha van’t Wout, of Brown University, and Alan Sanfey, of the University of Arizona. The researchers asked subjects to determine how an endowment should be allocated. Players invested more money, with no guarantee of return, in partners whom they perceived to be more trustworthy on the basis of a glance at their faces.

Writes Cuddy: In an organization, “trust increases information sharing, openness, fluidity, and cooperation. If coworkers can be trusted to do the right thing and live up to their commitments, planning, coordination, and execution are much easier. Trust also facilitates the exchange and acceptance of ideas–it allows people to hear others’ message–and boosts the quantity and quality of the ideas that are produced within an organization.”

If that’s not enough for you, there are many studies that demonstrate how rudeness makes people stressed out and sullen. For example, read this Wall Street Journal article.

I was going to end with some advice on being nice, but you know what to do. Smile. Ask questions. Listen. And most important, be your wonderful self.