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Nice but not dim

Stephen White
© Greg Brave

It has taken me a month to catch up with the interview of Jordan Peterson by Cathy Newman of Channel 4 News. You can see it here. If you are entertained by intellectual enthusiasm and combative journalism, it will be well worth half an hour of your time.

Jordan Peterson is the controversial Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto. After the Channel 4 interview which has now had over 7 million hits his latest book ’12 Rules for Life’ achieved the number 1 sales spot around the world. Much of the interview is about gender inequality, and particularly the gender pay gap so much discussed over the last few weeks in relation to the BBC. Peterson doesn’t deny that the pay gap exists, but his opinion is that the cause is not simply gender, but rather that it is a mélange of many different influences of which gender is one.  Another, for example, is ‘Agreeableness’ which includes the traits of being empathic, socially aware, cooperative, un-pushy, relatively selfless and generally ‘nice’. People who score high on Agreeableness tend to do less well for themselves in corporations; they are promoted more slowly and paid less well than others who display less Agreeableness and more ‘Extraversion’, which includes traits of assertiveness and attention seeking. Peterson claims that women have a greater tendency to be Agreeable than men and that is a (non-gender) contributor to what appears to be a gender pay gap.

Which resurrects the evergreen subject - do nice people make less good negotiators, particularly when negotiating for themselves? It is a question the Scotwork team are frequently asked by course participants – mainly those same nice people who are genuinely worried that they have less competence when dealing with bosses who by virtue of their seniority already have the balance of power. Sadly, the answer is probably Yes, because if they don’t put themselves first then nobody else will. And that is where legislation comes in to level the playing field. Pay gaps should be eliminated when the nice people don’t have to negotiate their pay rates because pay equality for all is enshrined in law

So, I was struck by an article in this week’s Sunday Times which revealed that female MPs earn 10.4% less than their male counterparts. Hang on. Surely all MPs earn the same under Equal Pay legislation.

Yes, they do as MPs. But the survey showed that male MPs are more likely to earn more money outside Parliament than women MPs. I suspect this is another manifestation of Agreeableness; MPs who do not take extracurricular work believe that morally their parliamentary job should and does occupy all their working time, whilst those who do outside work claim that they can be a successful MP and still have a few hours spare each week, and that the experience of working in the real world can be useful in their political life as well as earning a few thousand extra pounds.

People who score highly on Agreeableness need some defense mechanisms if they are not to turn into negotiation dimwits. Here are three suggestions:

  1. Learn how to tell a good story. Assertiveness is not about being noisy, it is about weaving a credible narrative which interests and influences the listener. The best storytellers are the world class stand-up comedians – watch a few on YouTube and you will learn and enjoy at the same time.
  2. Tell them what you want. If you don’t have pay equality and you want it, say so. Don’t assume the bosses know you know that inequality exists. Tell them. If pay inequality is embarrassing for the boss, then articulate the demand and force the embarrassment factor up.
  3. Find allies, group together and go public. The power balance in the current dispute about whether the BBC bullied presenters into choosing Personal Trading Companies as their vehicle for contracting with the Corporation (and are now facing huge tax demands from HMRC) is significantly changed because 170 of them have come together to mount the challenge.

And if you want to practice these skills (and more) in a safe environment before you use them on your boss, come on a Scotwork course.


Stephen White, with thanks to David Bannister and Debbie Spurgeon.


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