In an age where most career-related tips focus on building a strong personal brand, standing out, and exuding confidence and self-belief, one could be forgiven for assuming that only charismatic individuals who excel at self-promotion stand a realistic chance of success. But the truth is that being boring isn’t so bad. Consider the following advantages of having a boring personality:
Popular writing on leadership emphasizes the role of charisma, yet charisma is just a politically correct term for narcissism, and its benefits are almost always short-lived, and benefit the individual rather than the organization. Yes, charismatic people can charm and inspire others, but in most cases they are too self-centered, entitled, and power driven to care about their teams and subordinates.
Conversely, the best managers in the world tend to be stable rather than excitable, consistent rather than erratic, as well as polite and considerate. They are a resource for employees who feel reassured by being able to read them, trust them, and rely on them, and as Jim Collins’s famous research showed, they are remarkably humble.
For all the talk about disruptive, creative, and curious employees, most firms still prefer to hire and promote people who follow rules and are well-behaved. That is, being rewarding to deal with, and particularly behaving in consistent and predictable ways, is a critical career weapon across the world.
The psychological reason for this is that most people—including employers—strive to make their environments as structured and predictable as possible. People who are eccentric, erratic, and flamboyant are too unpredictable and risky for their superiors, who also perceive them as a threat because of their higher and more explicit levels of ambition. What power-hungry leaders want is an army of yes men. In other words, people who are obedient, and happy to follow their boss.
This is more than just a career benefit—it is really a life-related advantage in general. Indeed, people who are boring tend to exercise higher self-control and are generally less tempted to engage in law-breaking, self-harming, or other-harming behavior. Examples for this would the majority of people in the world who rarely develop any addictions or get involved in any criminal activity.
Conformist people follow the rules and ascribe to the status quo by endorsing and following mainstream moral standards. These are the people who would be very cheap to insure, and who probably subsidize the adrenaline-junkies of the world with their health care bills. But as large-scale longitudinal studies have shown conventional, prudent, conscientious people who live standard and balanced lives tend to live longer and healthier lives.
People who behave in conventional and average ways tend to not stand out. Although this has disadvantages, such as being overlooked for promotions relative to people who brag and blow their own trumpet, there are also some benefits, such as being under less scrutiny, and getting away with errors or poor performance simply because they don’t attract as much attention from others.
In addition, if you are trying to conceal your intentions and would benefit from not communicating what you think to others, it is much more advantageous to be introverted and low-key. In fact loud, outgoing, and extraverted people tend to leak their emotions and thoughts to others via uncontrollable nonverbal communication cues.
The cool alternative to IQ, EQ has emerged to become the undisputed king of HR competencies. Yet scientific studies show that people with high EQ are actually quite boring: they are emotionally stable rather than neurotic; agreeable rather than argumentative; and prudent rather than reckless.
On top of that, they tend to be quite sociable. In essence, EQ encapsulates a bunch of dispositional qualities relating to high self-control that are also rewarding to deal with. The epitome of someone with high EQ is a person who never loses his/her temper—even when deliberately provoked—and maintains a calm and positive outlook in life. In short, high EQ is a psychological euphemism for being rather boring, and it’s not surprising that such people are generally happier than their more complex, intense, and excitable counterparts.
Thus, if you are blessed with the qualities that most people have and you are naturally inclined to fit in and be part of the non-glamorous middle range of the normal distribution, enjoy the aforementioned benefits, and remember that standing out isn’t as great as they claim.