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Why you might irrationally hate the ‘nice person’ in the office

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Susan Devaney
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Why do we irrationally dislike our ‘nice’ co-worker?

Sometimes we decide to keep our distance from a co-worker because they kill our good vibes or partake in office gossip, right? Other times, we struggle to explain our dislike towards someone.

Thankfully, a new study carried out by the University of Guelph, has tried to explain the psychology behind it all. And it could it simply be because they’re just a nice, hard-working person. 

The research, published in Psychological Science, found that highly co-operative and kind-hearted people can often attract hatred from others, especially in competitive circumstances like an office.

“Most of the time we like the co-operators, the good guys. We like it when the bad guys get their comeuppance, and when non-co-operators are punished,” said psychology professor Pat Barclay.

“But some of the time, co-operators are the ones that get punished. People will hate on the really good guys. This pattern has been found in every culture in which it has been looked at.”

As it turns out, some people like to bring down the office ‘nice person’ because they’re on top of their workload and therefore make others look bad. And in a very competitive environment, co-operative behaviour from a co-worker attracts punishment – even if it means the entire team will suffer. 

Interestingly, if competition between co-workers decreases then co-operation increases. 

“But some of the time, co-operators are the ones that get punished”

If we’re honest, we can all think of someone we’ve not seen eye-to-eye with in the office purely because they’re excellent at their job.

“At my previous job, my work wife kind of annoyed me when I first met her,” says Stylist’s digital writer, Megan Murray. “She was one of those people who just seemed very calm, very together. She would always come into work in a good mood and never seemed flustered. She just carried an air of pleasantness around her, always with a smile on her face and the first person at her desk in the morning - ready to do the tea round. It sounds terrible, but I definitely started off thinking it came across smug?

“At first, I refused to believe that someone would get out of the bed on the right side every morning and thought she must be trying really hard to keep up appearances which made me suspicious of her. But after I realised the problem was with me and that actually I was just jealous that she could be on top of things, good at her job and not threatened by anyone else.

She continued: “Now, she’s one of my best friends, and I even took her away to Amsterdam for her birthday, our first holiday together!”

However, other people have never gotten over their dislike toward the office do-gooder.

“It was from the get-go I disliked my co-worker,” says *Tanya, a UK-based lawyer. “She was too sickly-sweet nice, and I got the ‘I was the head girl of my school’ vibe from her. 

“I was so confused about why I found her so threatening, I would look for reassurance from colleagues - was I the only one? Turns out she had a Marmite effect on the entire floor - some didn’t mind her, while others felt she was way too gushy and upbeat.”

This is nothing new for us. Since millennia we’ve disliked the people around us who seem like do-gooders which is why a similar social phenomenon prevented excellent hunters from being the leader, as outlined in the study. 

“In a lot of these societies, they defend their equal status by bringing down somebody who could potentially lord things over everybody else,” Barclay said.

“You can imagine within an organisation today the attitude, ‘Hey, you’re working too hard and making the rest of us look bad.’ In some organisations people are known for policing how hard others work, to make sure no one is raising the bar from what is expected.”

However, it’s not all doom and gloom for the genuinely lovely, hard-working people of the office. Researchers believe that throwing light on this competitive social strategy means that it may fail to work in the future. Spread the word.

*Names have been changed in this article to protect identities.

Images: Unsplash

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Susan Devaney

Susan Devaney is a digital journalist for Stylist.co.uk, writing about fashion, beauty, travel, feminism, and everything else in-between.

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