Official: Balance between respect and arrogance necessary in workplace

College graduates seeking jobs will find opportunities if they seek a balance between being respected in the workplace and being well-liked by employers, a university career services official said.

John Thompson, executive director of Career Services, said the media has created an inaccurate image of a successful business person as someone who is materialistic. As a result of this perception, young entrepreneurs have approached their careers from a financial gains perspective, he said.

But the business world does not like arrogance, Thompson said.

“The concept is that (arrogant people) are the guys who are really successful because they get to the top,” he said. “In reality, that’s absolutely not so. It may happen occasionally, but we get hit by an asteroid occasionally, too.”

Arrogance is on one end of what he called a continuum for employees. The other end consists of those who constantly defer to others, those who some would call the “nice guys” of business and who Thompson said would struggle in business.

“(People who defer) will survive, but it won’t be a very happy existence for them,” he said.

According to a study on careerbuilder.com conducted by Christine M. Riordan, dean of the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver, being too nice in a business setting had a negative effect on salary increases and the number of promotions employees received.

That does not mean a business person has to be ruthless, Thompson said, but he or she must be tough.

“(If you’re tough), you’re able to take the slings and arrows that people throw at you and you won’t fold,” he said.

Good businesspeople are tough-minded in that once they set a direction, they stay on target, Thompson said.

Once respect is established, businesspeople also remain firm in their principles, Thompson said.

“(Good businesspeople) are strong in (their) convictions about being fair, about looking at both sides of an issue, about making a contribution to your organization, you can be a nice guy and do that,” Thompson said.

Furthermore, good businesspeople come from nice employers.

David Minor, the William M. Dickey Entrepreneur in Residence at the Neeley School of Business Entrepreneurship Center, said employers who encourage employees to be driven are more likely to conduct effective business strategies.

“Employers that create a culture in their workplace that is positive and that is caring of their people finish first,” he said. “Nice guys finish first in business.”

Minor used Southwest Airlines as an example of a company that has been recognized for its nice guys. The company’s slogan is “Southwest Cares,” and its Web site features one of the company’s central credos: “Above all, employees will be provided the same concern, respect, and caring attitude within the organization that they are expected to share externally with every Southwest customer.”

Thompson said having a perspective like Southwest’s can help new college graduates get jobs.

He said he has asked college graduates seeking jobs what surprises them the most about the business world. Based on their responses, he said, they are surprised by how difficult it is to get employers to like them. However, that should not be the goal, Thompson said.

“Your job is not to make people like you,” he said. “Your task is to make people respect you, and then they’ll come to like you.”