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10 Ways It Pays Off To Be A Jerk

by Patrick W. Dunne
fact checked by Jamie Frater

In today’s world, we are often taught that being kind and respectful is the right way to get what we want. After all, the Golden Rule does state to treat others how you’d like to be treated yourself. However, being too nice could have a downside or two. Sometimes you need to make the tough decisions, blow off some steam on an innocent person, or act like a cocky know-it-all. In other words, sometimes you just need to act like a jerk. Believe it or not, acting like a jerk can sometimes pay off.

10 Refusing To Apologize Makes You Feel Better


When we apologize, we acknowledge that we have done wrong and that we want to move forward on a better path. While this is a generally good rule to follow, it turns out that not apologizing might make you feel even better.

A study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology had researcher Tyler Okimoto ask 228 participants to recall a time they had committed a wrongdoing. He then asked whether or not they apologized. The offenses ranged from cutting someone off in traffic to serious crimes like theft. The participants were divided into random groups and asked to compose an email explaining either why they were sorry or why they were not sorry. He found that those who didn’t apologize ended up feeling better about themselves.

One explanation is that an apology is an admission of guilt that gives the other party the upper hand. It gives the other person power over the apologizer as they can decide whether they want to accept or reject the apology. It also allows them to feel like they are morally justified in casting judgment upon the apologizer.

9 Snooty Salespeople Sell More


The customer is always right—unless you’re selling a high-end luxury item. In that case, the customer probably has terrible taste in fashion and is likely an awful person who isn’t even good enough to polish your shoes.

You might think that acting like a pretentious snob would be enough to drive any customer away from your business forever, but you would be wrong. A study from the University of British Columbia found that snobby salespeople who sell luxury brands are more likely to sell more. The researchers found that participants who interacted with rude salespeople were more likely to express a desire to own the brand that was being sold because they wanted to feel like they were part of an exclusive “in-group.” In other words, being rejected made them want to conform and fit in.

It is important to note that this only works for high-end brands like Gucci and Neiman Marcus, not for mass-market brands. The salesperson also had to embody the brand that they were selling; the effect wouldn’t work if the salespeople were sloppy or unkempt. Rudeness is also a tactic that only seems to work in the short run. It may convince someone to buy something on impulse, but the effect will diminish over time.

8 Swearing Increases Pain Tolerance


A lot of us have sworn after hitting our head, accidentally walking into a glass door, or screwing up big time even though we know that curse words are often looked down upon by society at large. Four-letter words often carry negative connotations that nobody ever wants to hear, so these words are supposed to be reserved for great moments of frustration and anger. They might make others uncomfortable, but there is scientific evidence that curse words might make the user more comfortable when faced with pain or discomfort.

Richard Stephens and his colleagues at the Keele University School of Psychology conducted a study to demonstrate how swearing might help affect someone’s pain tolerance. The researchers gathered 67 participants and asked them to make two lists of five words. The first list contained words one might say after accidentally smashing his or her thumb with a hammer. The second list was composed of words that could be used to describe a table.

The participants were then instructed to hold their hand in a bucket of room temperature water for three minutes in order to allow their hand adjust to the temperature before then submerging it into icy cold water. Half of the participants were asked to repeat the set of words that they might say if they hit their thumbs with a hammer, and the other half were asked to repeat the set of words that describe a table.

The participants who repeated the curse words were not only able to keep their hand underwater for longer periods of time, but they also reported experiencing less pain. Swearing also apparently increased the participants’ heart rates. The researchers believe that swearing helps increase pain tolerance because it, much like pain, helps invoke negative emotions, which sends the body into a fight-or-flight response that increases heart rate and decreases pain.

7 Complaining Is Good For You


People usually don’t enjoy listening to somebody else needlessly complain. The situation quickly becomes miserable. However, there is a silver lining. There are actually quite a few benefits to complaining, including the fact that doing so can actually make you happier.

Professor Robin Kowalski from Clemson University studied over 400 men and women who listed their complaints about a current or former partner before being asked to fill out a questionnaire regarding their happiness, mindfulness, and relationship satisfaction. Kowalski found that those who complained were indeed happier, but only if they complained with the intent of achieving a certain goal rather than just mindlessly complaining. In other words, Kowalski found that the most productive complaints are ones that serve a purpose.

Complaining, when done the right way, can actually help us accomplish great things. You can use complaints to your advantage in order to analyze all the problems in your life and sort out which are truly worth worrying about and which can be fixed.

Try organizing all of your complaints and decide which you have no control over (and therefore can’t fix) and which you actually can fix so that you can then proceed to develop a solution. Just don’t make your solution too difficult to accomplish, or you might wind up complaining even more.

6 Mean People Get Paid More


Have you ever heard that “nice guys finish last” or that “it pays to be a jerk”? It turns out that both those phrases might be somewhat true—jerks literally get paid more money at work. Researchers from Cornell University, University of Western Ontario, and University of Notre Dame looked at the salaries of various men and women and found that those who were more “agreeable” also had a significantly lower salary.

Younger and agreeable men suffer the pay disparity as they earn almost $7,000 less than their meaner counterparts. In a follow-up study that included older men, the gap widened to over $10,000.

That’s not to say that women don’t suffer as well. The first study found that agreeable women make $1,100 less than disagreeable women. The follow-up study found that agreeable women make about $3,000 less than their disagreeable counterparts.

There could be several reasons for this. Less agreeable people are probably a lot better at negotiating salaries and able to make more tough decisions. The gap could be widest for men because men who are more passive are often seen as less masculine and less competent for leadership roles.

5 Being Cocky Can Be A Good Thing


There are some situations where overconfidence can make you feel better and improve your performance. Being cocky, pretentious, and boastful can actually stave off negative and harmful feelings that might otherwise adversely affect us such as depression, doubt, and self-depreciation.

Overconfidence also helps change what other people think of you. A study published by the American Psychological Association found that people who overestimated their own abilities were also perceived as more competent by their peers. One such experiment had participants test their knowledge of geography, first alone and then in pairs. Each person secretly rated his or her own abilities along with his or her partner’s abilities. The researchers found that those who overrated their own abilities were also more likely to receive higher ratings from their partners.

A little cockiness helps us keep our head and remain confident, therefore helping us out when it comes to meeting new people or talking our way through job interviews. Just be careful not to fall into the trap of getting into something that you aren’t yet equipped to handle!

4 Controversy Sells

The Interview Official Trailer #2 (2014) – James Franco, Seth Rogen Comedy HD

A risky but well-established marketing tactic is to create controversy in order to gain attention and sell more products. Even bad press is still press, and such fervor over a company or product is essentially free marketing that provides intense (but short-lived) boosts in sales.

In 2014, scientist Matt Taylor was interviewed about how he landed a spacecraft on a comet thousands of miles away, a landmark scientific achievement by anyone’s standards. Unfortunately, controversy over his bowling shirt led to what became known as “Shirtstorm” or “Shirtgate.” The Verge led the charge with one of the most ridiculous article titles ever written: “I don’t care if you landed a spacecraft on a comet, your shirt is sexist and ostracizing.” Taylor finally apologized to those he had offended, but Elly Prizeman, Taylor’s friend who designed the shirt, was the true victor. She was inundated with orders for the now infamous shirt.

This incident was not very different than that of the Protein World fiasco. Their “Are You Beach Body Ready?” advertisements managed to prompt outrage from countless people, including outlets such as BuzzFeed and The Guardian. The ad’s detractors slammed it as sexist and body-shaming, and some went so far as to start protests, begin a petition to get the ads removed, and even publicly deface the posters. Some of them later posted their vandalism on social media, which obviously wasn’t the smartest decision. The brand ended up gaining plenty of new fans, and their £250,000 campaign turned into over £1 million in direct sales revenue.

Perhaps the most famous scandal in recent years was the controversy surrounding The Interview. A rather mediocre comedy caught the attention of moviegoers across America because of the furor that erupted simply because the film dared to parody Kim Jong Un. Movie theaters were threatened with violence if they showed the film, and many major movie chains retracted their showing of the film in response. However, Sony eventually decided to release the film, and it instantly became a hit across the nation with over $40 million in digital sales alone. The controversy ended up making everyone talk about the film, and those who originally had little interest in it ended up wanting to see it.

This isn’t to say that all of the above people are jerks, but rather that being a jerk and offending people can result in sales.

3 Anger Can Be Positive


Have you ever felt enraged at a perceived injustice, be it something that happened in your personal life or something that you witnessed online? Perhaps you received a ticket for not stopping at a stop sign, or someone chewed you out on social media for no good reason. You might be angry about it, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Nobody enjoys being angry, but there may actually be some surprising benefits to an otherwise negative emotion.

Believe it or not, anger makes people less stressed, according to neuroscientists. Heart rate, testosterone, and blood pressure all momentarily rise, but the stress hormone cortisol decreases, suggesting that anger helps people relax before they try to solve a problem. The left frontal cortex also increases in activity if the anger is used to find a solution for the source of the anger. In fact, anger can serve as a powerful motivator to get people to negotiate and work things out.

Research from the University of Amsterdam shows that anger is a good way to get what you want from other people. Two experiments had participants try to negotiate with someone else after receiving information about that person’s emotions. As predicted, those with angry opponents made larger concessions and lower demands.

2 Being A Jerk Inspires Commitment


Jerks know how to put their feet down and demand that something get done. Jerks know how to effectively let everyone know what they want. Jerks know how to tell people not to step out of line. You might be thinking that this all sounds rather Machiavellian, and you’d be right. Being too much of an extreme dictator certainly has its consequences, but just the right amount of jerkiness could pay off.

Take Steve Blank from LaunchPad. He had sent out a reminder to all the students that anyone who missed the first class wouldn’t be able to register for the course. Once the course began, the students formed teams. Unfortunately, about a quarter of all the teams had at least one member who planned on missing the first day with some sort of excuse. Blank decided to put his foot down and clarify that if they missed the first day, regardless of any excuses, they would not be able to participate. About half the students who originally planned on skipping actually did find a way to make it to the first day. Blank also said that the usual 20 percent dropout rate of the course was reduced to zero.

That’s not to say that you should rule by fear and dictatorship, as those tactics are proven to reduce employee engagement. But good leaders should be at least a little bit of a jerk to make sure that their employees aren’t slacking off or putting in half the effort.

1 Jerks Are More Likely To Be Leaders


Any well-known and well-established leader usually doesn’t keep his or her own ego in check. Plenty of the world’s leaders can easily be described as narcissists, and rightly so. Anyone with that much fame and power is likely to develop an inflated ego. Science proves this, too. A study from the University of Surrey found that more high-level executives had traits of narcissistic personality disorder than criminals at the Broadmoor Hospital. Researchers Board and Fritzon described the executives as “successful psychopaths,” while the criminals were labeled “unsuccessful psychopaths.”

In fact, many people with dark personality traits tend to have certain advantages when it comes to climbing the corporate ladder. Manipulators excel in convincing others of their ideas. This should come as no surprise considering that manipulators are, by the very definition, excellent at getting others to do what they want. Those with antisocial personality disorder tend to be good at thinking outside the box and pushing boundaries.

Narcissists are great at making a good first impression, according to a 2014 study of 140 people cited in the Wall Street Journal. Narcissists also seem to make better CEOs according to a study led by researchers from Stanford, UC Berkeley, and Santa Clara University. It turns out that narcissistic CEOs tend to keep their jobs longer and make more money than their more selfless counterparts.

It should also come as no surprise that those in power—or those who at least feel like they’re in power—are the most likely to be corrupt. Dr. Lammers from Tilburg University and Dr. Galinsky at Northwestern University tested this hypothesis for themselves. The researchers asked their 61 participants to remember a time in their life when they were either in high power or low power. Those two groups were then divided by high power and low power and asked to roll two 10-sided dice—one for tens and one for ones—in a private cube and then report their scores. The higher the score, the more tickets they got for a lottery they would participate in after the study.

Both groups were asked to evaluate the morality of other people taking the test, and the high power people were far more likely to hold higher moral standards for other people. However, the average self-reported score from the high power group was 72 while the average score from the low power group was 59. It can be inferred that the high power group cheated more, as the average score should have been 50 for each group.

That’s not to say that there haven’t been virtuous or selfless leaders, but the ugly truth still remains. Plenty of today’s leaders are narcissists with self-inflated egos, and some of the most reprehensible people we can think of have made their way up the corporate and political ladders.

Patrick W. Dunne studied Business and Psychology at Chaminade University of Honolulu. He currently works as a full-time marketer and part-time freelance writer. You can follow him on LinkedIn or Twitter.

fact checked by Jamie Frater