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Are You Too Pushy at Work? Most People Don't Know

Are You Too Pushy at Work? Most People Don't Know
Credit: Peshkova/Shutterstock

Despite how great a co-worker you think you are, there's a good chance your office peers don't hold you in such high regard, new research suggests.

Indeed, many employees have no clue if their co-workers view them as too pushy or a pushover, according to a study from Columbia Business School. In fact, people who have what their co-workers consider the "right" level of assertiveness often mistakenly think they've gotten it wrong.

Daniel Ames, professor of management at Columbia Business School and co-author of the study, said the research revealed that people often don't know how others see their aggressiveness. He compares the concept to the story of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" — many people are serving up porridge that others see as too hot or too cold, but they mistakenly think the temperature comes across as just right, or that their assertiveness is seen by co-workers as appropriate.

"To our surprise, we also found that many people whose porridge was actually seen as 'just right' mistakenly thought their porridge came off as too hot," Ames said in a statement. "That is, they were asserting themselves appropriately in the eyes of others, but they incorrectly thought they were pushing too hard."

As part of the study, the researchers conducted four experiments to test their hypotheses about the connection between assertiveness and self-awareness. Three of the four experiments involved MBA students enrolled in negotiation courses at Columbia Business School. The students were paired up for mock negotiations over issues like licensing rights. After each negotiation session, the students answered questions about their own assertiveness and that of their negotiation partner. They then guessed what their counterpart said about them.

The researchers discovered that, generally speaking, negotiators have a lot of work to do in the self-awareness department. Specifically, 57 percent of the people who were seen by their counterpart as too passive thought they had come across as appropriately assertive or even overly assertive, while 56 percent of people seen by their counterpart as overly assertive thought they had come across as appropriately assertive or even impassive.

"Most people can think of someone who is a jerk or a pushover and largely clueless about how they're seen," Ames said. "Sadly, our results suggest that, often enough, that clueless jerk or pushover is us."

Another pattern researchers were surprised to find was that many people who got assertiveness "right" mistakenly thought they were seen as pushing too hard. In multiple studies, there were people who believed that they came across as too pushy during negotiations when, in reality, their counterparts saw them as being appropriately assertive.

While this might seem like a harmless mistake, it can be costly, said Ames and co-author Abbie Wazlawek, a doctoral student at Columbia Business School. They said the negotiators who mistakenly thought they had overasserted themselves were more likely to try to repair relationships with their negotiation opponents, sometimes agreeing to a less valuable deal just to smooth things over.

The authors said these negotiators were attempting costly repairs for something that wasn't broken. As a result, both sides often lost out on what could have been a better deal.

The study is scheduled to be published this summer in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Originally published on Business News Daily.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.