Do nice guys finish last?

Yes they do.

So who finishes first? The surprising answer is nice guys finish first as well!

Is there a clear difference between the nice guys who finish first, and the nice guys who finish last? You bet there is.

The nice guys who finish last are really nice, they are totally selfless souls. They help others even at the cost of hurting their own progress. They are afraid to say no. They suffer in silence, feel used, and struggle to make progress on their own priorities. They become doormats who get taken for granted.

Jerks – people who are very reluctant to help others – do a little better, and generally end up in the middle. They guard their time better, and are able to focus on their priorities. They win in the short term, however since they are seen as selfish, others are reluctant to contribute to their success willingly. In the long term jerks are on their own which limits their progress.

In his wonderful book “Barking Up the Wrong Tree”, Eric Barker talks about how and why the successful nice guys finish first. Barker quotes research done by the social scientist Robert Axelrod based on game theory, using simulations of the “Prisoner’s Dilemma” game. To quote from his paper:

“Being “nice” can be beneficial, but it can also lead to being suckered. To obtain the benefit – or avoid exploitation – it is necessary to be provocable to both retaliation and forgiveness. When the other player defects, a nice strategy must immediately be provoked into retaliatory defection. The same goes for forgiveness: return to cooperation as soon as the other player does. Overdoing the punishment risks escalation, and can lead to an “unending echo of alternating defections” that depresses the scores of both players.”

If you want to be a nice guy who finishes first, follow 3 simple rules.

Co-operate first
Offer to help where you can, go first, take the initiative. Don’t wait for the other person to be nice, before offering support. Be seen as a proactive collaborator and team player. What happens if you wait till the other person takes the initiative? You lose opportunities.

Reciprocate both good and bad
Play Tit-For-Tat (TFT) – the strategy that Axelrod found to be the clear winner in all situations. Co-operate first and then respond in kind. Always. This ensures that you are looked at as a no-nonsense collaborator, not a doormat.

This is hard. When someone does not help us, or worse, betrays us, it is tough to change our attitude toward them when they do help us. If the other collaborates, you collaborate, if the other betrays, you betray. Do not get into clever if-then-maybe type strategies. Keep it simple – tit for tat. Forgive implies that you keep a short memory, do not hold on to grudges.

Such behaviour establishes you as very predictable, dependable, no-nonsense collaborator – a nice guy who finishes first!

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