We are all familiar with the popular notion that in order to succeed professionally one must be ruthless and more concerned with personal needs than those of others. A study from Germany challenges this notion by presenting some quite compelling evidence that suggests the exact opposite: Selfless, altruistic people can actually be more successful due to their excellent information-sharing skills.

For all those nice guys who regularly go out of their way for others, today may be your day. Researchers from the University of Tübingen in Germany conducted a study to see how much one’s personality affected the ability to trade information, an important trait in the business world, according to a press release. The researchers divided participants into three groups: givers, takers, and matchers, based on their score in a personality test developed by University of Pennsylvania researcher Adam Grant. The participants were then asked to partake in mock situations to measure their altruistic nature.  

The mock activity involved giving participants fictional money and asking them to decide how much of the money they would give to a shared group pool. They were told that if they put the money in a pool it would be doubled and then divided evenly. Theoretically, if everyone contributed their share of money, it would prove beneficial to the entire group. However, if everyone else from the group contributed their money except for one, then it would prove most beneficial to the lone individual.  

Results from the fictional dilemma gave researchers a bit of insight into the participants' personalities and how that might translate on a professional level. Those identified as givers were found to share not only more money with the group but also found to share mainly the important information. On the other side of the spectrum, takers kept both money and all different types of information. Somewhere in the middle were the matchers, who operated in a more tick for tack manner.

It is hoped that this study’s results may prove useful in organizational knowledge management. Knowledge exchange is necessary to run an efficient business. The study suggests that to run the most efficient business, managers and leaders should take the personalities of their employees into context. While takers may appear good choices at first glance, based on their driven personality, it would be wise for employers to know they may be more inclined to keep important information to themselves.

They may be more concerned with the benefit of themselves than the group. The personality test’s developer, Grant, even wrote a book on the subject titled, Give and take: Why helping others drives our success. In it, he suggests that an altruistic personality, that is, those who give without expecting anything in return, can actually be more successful in professional settings.

Source: Utz S, Muscanell N, Goritz AS. Give, match, or take: A new personality construct predicts resource and information sharing. Personality and Individual Differences. 2014.