Read This From the Atlantic |Why it Pays to Be a Jerk

I think of myself as a pretty nice guy. I was reared to be respectful and courteous. I genuinely like people, and there are very few people I’ve met that I can’t get along with. I don’t enjoy conflict, and I can usually find a way around friction. My wife thinks I could have been a good diplomat.

In many ways, I’ve felt that being a nice guy has served me well in the art business. As a gallery owner, I have the opportunity to interact with people from a wide range of backgrounds. I work with uber successful business people from big cities as well as struggling artists from isolated rural areas. I’ve always found that by being genuine and helpful I’ve been able to build great relationships.

At the back of my mind, however, I’ve sometimes wondered if being a nice guy has also somehow been a handicap. I say this because, as a student of business and history, I can’t help but notice that some of the greatest figures in both history and business haven’t exactly been nice people. Think Steve Jobs, Elon Musk or General George Patton. These figures ignore(d) many social niceties in order to realize their visions.

Recent business literature has picked up on this idea. If you read Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs you learned that he was obsessive, rude, and demanding. You can find any number of articles with titles like “Why nice guys finish last” or “The Upside of Your Dark Side.”

More importantly, as a gallery owner, I’ve noticed that some galleries cultivate an air of unapproachability. Okay, that was my nice side again – the truth is that some galleries try to be snobs. These galleries won’t acknowledge your existence, or, if they do, the salespeople look down their noses at you. Their approach seems to be the polar opposite of the Xanadu Gallery approach.

It was with some interest, therefore, that I read the article Why It Pays to Be a Jerk in the June 2015 issue of the Atlantic.

The article’s author explores the concept of whether it pays to be nice, and interviews experts in business and psychology to find out if there is a scientific base to this idea that jerks come out on top. The article begins

Smile at the customer. Bake cookies for your colleagues. Sing your subordinates’ praises. Share credit. Listen. Empathize. Don’t drive the last dollar out of a deal. Leave the last doughnut for someone else.

Sneer at the customer. Keep your colleagues on edge. Claim credit. Speak first. Put your feet on the table. Withhold approval. Instill fear. Interrupt. Ask for more. And by all means, take that last doughnut. You deserve it.

Follow one of those paths, the success literature tells us, and you’ll go far. Follow the other, and you’ll die powerless and broke. The only question is, which is which?

Of all the issues that preoccupy the modern mind—Nature or nurture? Is there life in outer space? Why can’t America field a decent soccer team?—it’s hard to think of one that has attracted so much water-cooler philosophizing yet so little scientific inquiry. Does it pay to be nice? Or is there an advantage to being a jerk?

I found the entire article fascinating, but of particular interest to those of us in the art business was the author’s exploration of whether or not retail businesses do better when they cultivate an image of snobbishness, and even more, do snobby salespeople sell more?

You should read the article, but the short answer is that in high-end retail settings (think Gucci or Lous Vitton) there actually are increased sales when the salesperson makes the customer feel somewhat rejected or looked down upon.

When it came to “aspirational” brands like Gucci, Burberry, and Louis Vuitton, participants were willing to pay more in a scenario in which they felt rejected.

However, these results were limited:

Finally, the effect seemed to be limited to a single encounter. When Dahl and his colleagues followed up with the buyers, he found evidence of a boomerang effect much like the one he had felt a few minutes after his purchase: the buyers were less favorably disposed toward the brand than they had been at the outset.

My takeaways from the article:

  • Being a jerk, in and of itself won’t lead to success
  • Jerks can succeed if they bend and break the rules to the benefit of their team
  • Taking the initiative and acting with the confidence isn’t the same thing as being a jerk


Whether it’s to my benefit or detriment, I’m stuck being a nice guy. I’ve found that being friendly is the only way that feels natural to me. Fortunately, I’ve also found that if you can be nice and competent, you can succeed in the art business.

Read the article (free) on

What Do You Think?

Do you feel that sometimes being a jerk is called for? Have you observed artists or gallery staff acting rudely? Do you feel that sometimes being a jerk is the only option to make things happen? Have you felt handicapped because you’re not a jerk? Share your thoughts, experiences and stories in the comments below.

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.


  1. Perhaps the word “Jerk” is too strong, too graphic for me. I do feel like “confident in myself and my product” and letting a potential or current collector know that they have an exclusive product in the art they just bought from me is a good thing. I can do this without making people cry, undermining them or making them mad. I do believe my collectors belong to an exclusive club! I take this work of being an artist seriously and I expect them to do the same. I want them to come back again, send their family and friends and feel comfortable in my presence. In the end, I have to live with myself and it is not in my nature to want to be a jerk or buy from a jerk.

    1. And yet, “jerk” is perfect. Why? The “successful” people in my husband’so world are jerks. They think only of themselves, and tweak the rules to get what they want. They nod their head at ideas, while shrugging them off when out of sight. They lie, cheat, and steal to get what they want, and they tromp on every person on their way up the ladder. So, yes, I would use the word jerk…..

      1. … they “lie, cheat, and steal…” ? I don’t suppose “reputable” is on your list.. There’s a difference between “jerk” and “criminal”.

  2. This is very interesting, Jason. I always think it’s better to be nice to people and treat them respectfully. That doesn’t mean you have to let yourself be stepped on, but it costs nothing to be friendly and open, and make people feel welcome, whether in your store or art fair tent, or in your own home. If they feel welcome, they’ll probably come back.

  3. I don’t think you have to be a jerk, but you do have to get pushy or firm sometimes to make things happen. I think there’s a way to be nice but a jerk at the same time. I do this when I’m at a festival and you get that annoying person or artist that just wants to hang around your booth, but has no interest in buying. I have to find a nice way to tell them to go away, as their taking my time away from potential buyers. I do believe if your too nice, you will get ran over and taken advantage of.

    1. Ouch! That was probably me hanging around your tent at the art festival. I guess you were just being polite but I mistook it for a genuine interest in our art conversation. I promise to be more aloof next time and not keep you from potential buyers.

    2. Oh Brian, I get it! Sometimes I am genuinely interested in the conversation, but it causes me to miss potential buyers. I am practicing saying, “Excuse me, there is someone I need to greet.” Or, if it is a friend, “Excuse me, I need to go make a sale.”

      There is a huge lack of understanding among artists and friends about the short time we have to make sales at a festival. It is often assumed that we are just there to pass the time, when it is is a very limited opportunity to connect with customers.

      Tact is required, along with self-discipline to not say something like, “Do you mind moving along? I have WORK to do!!”

    3. I agree wholeheartedly. There are sometimes though you have to be a b****. Like at art fairs when someone watches their dog lift its leg on your booth. Ohhhh you see another side of me then!
      I think the original article intends that we learn the un-value of being a ‘yes-man’. Too much yes and you end up as a doormat; just the right amount of no and you end up being respected.

  4. I find that your reputation either precedes you or lingers after you. If that is based on being a jerk and that is where you lay your foundation, then you are the one that has to live with it for better or worse. Simply be true to yourself. People will accept or reject you with all of your faults and attributes. Personally, I favor treating others as I want to be treated. False pedestals are riddled with cracks. As this conversation is focused on artists, I prefer to simply let work speak for itself. My accomplishments, accolades, CV are just crap to hide behind. Stay the way you are Jason as will I…leave the bullshit to others.

  5. To my way of thinking, there is never any need to be nasty.

    I’m like you, Jason. A nice person who tries always to be polite and to leave the people with whom I interact feeling better for the encounter, not worse.

    So I’ll never ascribe to the Steve Jobs method of management.

    But in his defense, I don’t think that was an entirely deliberate choice.

    What I understand of people like Steve Jobs is that they see the world from an entirely different point of view than most other people. My husband is that way. I suggest an idea and he immediately sees an ever-expanding series of possibilities. It scares the living daylights out of me most of the time! Fortunately, he’s also patient with those who don’t have the vision, myself included.

    I think Steve Jobs and others are like that. So far-seeing and so narrowly focused that they have little patience with those who cannot see that far or be that narrowly focused.

    Their success (according to the standards of the world) has more to do with these two things than the way they treated people. I’d posit the idea that they succeeded in spite of being jerks rather than because of it.

    1. I think you are on the money with your comments.
      As George Bernard Shaw said ‘The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.’
      However, I think this comes with a caveat with selling art. I’ve only recently started to sell my work at local artisan markets, and am quickly beginning to realise that whilst being relaxed and just this side of friendly will make the customer relaxed and help build a (temporary) relationship. The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
      You have got to be a bit of an ruthless streak to bring home the sale

  6. My second solo show. A middle aged woman asks me to reserve a painting for her. For 3 weeks she comes to the gallery asking questions about the painting-when, where how. A couple of days before the show ends, she asks me if the said work would fit with her new green curtains. My reply was to hand her back her deposit and tell her that it was not for sale. It sold twenty minutes later.

  7. I’m sunk then if you have to be a jerk. The whole reason nobody that knows my situation wants me selling my dad’s work is because I have a hard time separating people from their money and lack that “thing” necessary to ask for what he was able to get for his work. I’m trying to learn – I’ve got one shot at it and I don’t want to mess it up. Thanks for your articles – they are very helpful.

  8. I don’t think there’s any aspect of life where you can go wrong following the Golden Rule. How would I want to be treated? If I were a new, possibly insecure, art buyer entering a gallery, would I like to feel beneath consideration? Personally, I’d be forever grateful for a gallery that let me look around and made me feel comfortable even if they knew I wasn’t in a position to buy. And if I were annoying an artist at his booth or taking up too much of her time, I’d like to know what, in a polite way. I think it’s possible to be assertive when necessary, and still do it firmly but politely. Rudeness is rarely called for. As for successful people who are rude, perhaps they are just born that way and don’t believe in the Golden Rule. I don’t think its a strategy that a naturally empathetic person can adopt for success.

  9. I read that article a few days ago, sighed, and thought, “Oh, well.” As an artist, I think it’s most important to be authentic. At least I hope so, because otherwise I’m screwed. 😀

    I can’t affect jerkitude or snobbery any more than I can cram my wide-with sneaker feet into a pair of Prada stilettos. Well, okay, I could do it. But the pain and lack of practice would be obvious to any observer.

    Rather than trying to be a bigger rat in the race, I’m working on my confidence, so I can be a nice, friendly person who also is really good at self-promotion.

  10. It may depend upon what you consider success. I have not set the world on fire financially, but have always had enough business to raise a large family and stay fairly free from debt. I believe in the fallen estate of man, however I don’t treat people as though they are going to cheat me or mistreat me just because I am too soft. I have found that people respond to a friendly expression and, most often, a smile.
    Looking to come out a winner and letting the other person feel as though they have come out the same does not necessitate being a jerk. As a teenager, knowing all the answers, I tended to be obnoxious at times, but fortunately I did not have to be overbearing as some of my classmates were. Many years later, I find those same people telling me how they were jealous of me for my ease in learning and getting along with just about anyone.
    All in all, I would vote for the choices I have made and the feeling of having been blessed with enough materially, socially, and spiritually.

  11. Maybe it’s being a Libra, but I’ve been just as turned off by smiling salesfolk that jump on me as soon as I walk in the door as I have by snob-nosed aloofness. Good salesmanship comes from reading the customer and reacting to the signals they’re giving.

    “God gave us a mouth that closes and ears that don’t. Which should tell us something.”

  12. And one more thought on the Steve Jobs example: he was (reportedly, by Isaacson) being rude to people who worked for him, and who wanted to work for him and for that company so badly that they tolerated his rudeness. He wan’t being rude to the people buying his product! Every time I’ve gone into an Apple store or called Apple for help, I’ve been impressed by the friendliness, courtesy, and genuine desire to assist. So maybe there is a distinction between how “successful, rude” people treat subordinates versus buyers. Jobs might not have lasted a day working in his own Apple stores.

  13. When I was younger I was too nice. Always making sure that everyone else was satisfied and never touted my own intelligence over anyone else’s. Didn’t want anyone to feel bad or abused. That was just part of my personality until years later I realized that I was the one always walking away bruised and unappreciated. I just let people take advantage of me.

    No more the very nice guy. I am still nice but I have learned that not everyone is nice and some people have ulterior motives. And I’ve learned to recognize the people who are trying to take advantage of me and my nice spirit. So I speak up now and sometimes call out those who aren’t so nice. Speaking up is important. You can be nice and still speak up or speak your own mind. Confidence plays a big part in that. If you act confident (and nice) it makes everything so much better for you in your life. I noticed that the artist personality tends to be too NICE. And I think that is why so many of us get taken advantage of on a regular basis.

    You definitely are a nice person Jason and that is why I have followed you for so many years. There were (are) a lot of jerks in the art gallery business! But your confidence comes through also so you aren’t a jerk when you give criticism to an artist. That is so much appreciated. Because as an artist I want criticism but I don’t want someone to destroy me in the process.

    1. I’ve experienced this as well Joyce – as others have said, there’s a real difference between being attentive and bending over backwards to the point of breaking.

  14. A few years ago I went to an upscale mall and two of the many places I hit were: Louis Vuitton and Mont Blanc. Louis Vuitton were superbly polite and welcoming. I didn’t buy anything that day, but I knew that I would someday based on that experience. Mont Blanc, however, were snobby and completely uninterested in any kind of interaction with me. Until this point I had long desired a Mont Blanc fountain pen. Afterwards, I was so put off by the store’s behavior that I decided that I could find another brand of fountain pen.

    So, no, I don’t believe that behaving like a jerk will get you further.

  15. I prefer being nice but strong. When you have high standards for yourself, when you project confidence and self-respect, you tend to get good results from others. And after all, being a jerk doesn’t mean you’re smart.
    One of my favorite old movie quotes is this one from Jimmy Stewart in “Harvey.” “In this world you must be oh-so-clever or oh-so-pleasant. For years I was clever, but I’d recommend pleasant. You may quote me on that.”

  16. I belive that galleries should know by now that the” hush-hush, this is sacred and expensive” approach is dated. Art should be for everyone, and even if the prices are high, everyone should be able to enjoy looking and appreciating without feeling belittled. Everyone visiting a gallery needs to feel welcome. Also, all artists approching a gallery with work, whether or not it is appropriate for that gallery, deserve a courteous response. I have to say that, in general (not always but in general) I have meant with courtesy whether or not a gallery was interested in my work. Courtesy is possibly the foundation of civilization–at least, civilized behavior can lead to the real thing. And art and civilization always go hand in hand!
    Good luck to all of us!

  17. Being from the South, I was always taught to be polite even when others are not. I have learned to just smile, bat my eyes and say in my longest southern drawl possible to those who might be a bit snobby ” Well, Bless your heart.” I figure if someone can’t treat me with the respect that I afford them, I don’t need what they have and they definitely don’t represent who I want as a customer. I exhibit confidence, and always have a smile on my face, it is just my nature. I think that is why in just over 2 years I have gone from beginning to paint (after not picking up a brush in 26 years) and learn photography to being in juried exhibits and shows to now looking at my own gallery space and have a list of artists who want to show in it- one asked me to be a manager… I told him I would help him, but I was just a beginner, too. This blog series and your course have taught me so much and helped me come so much further than I ever thought possible! I don’t know how I can thank you, Mr. Horejs!

  18. I was the gallery director in a high end gallery, one where one might anticipate being treated less than favorably. However my (our) approach was as you described yourself in the first paragraph, Jason, because that is who I am. I can’t tell you how many times people told me it was so refreshing that I took the time to have a friendly conversation with them, and they liked our gallery (and became clients) because of it. Also the gallery owner of said gallery only represents artists that are easy to get along with, and that she has a friendly relationship with. (Once the “diva” raises her ugly head, it is only a matter of time before she is dropped from the roster of artists.) It pays to be kind and friendly on both sides of the counter (artist/owner/sales personnel). However being “politely persistent” is another thing altogether and that definitely is an asset worth cultivating.

  19. When I think of our clients at home with their new painting, I want their overall impression of the buying experience to be a pleasant one. It would be a shame if the piece of art that caught their eye carried with it an unsettling or demeaning encounter with the gallery’s sales people.
    I have also learned that it is a huge mistake to make an assumption about who will buy and who won’t. Like you, Jason, I can only be myself, welcoming, approachable and enthusiastic about the art.

  20. I was just in a gallery where the two owners completely ignored me and made it VERY clear that I was not worthy of their attention. This was a gallery I had read about on one of my favorite blogs and was really excited to visit, buy some local art and maybe have a conversation about the regional artists. I left with my $100 cash, my credit card, empty hands and a bad taste in my mouth. I will never go there again. Maybe there’s an audience for rude and jerky salespeople but it’s not me. Being a visionary is different from being a shop owner. And being in the wake of a visionary and helping them on their path is a very different role than being a customer parting with hard-earned cash.

    1. Nancy, don’t you wish there was a good method of letting the jerks know that they lost a customer due to their attitudes? Sigh.

      1. I was wondering if Yelp has reviews for galleries like they do for restaurants. I will look into that. It will make me feel better to politely tell them in a roundabout way how rude they were. Maybe they don’t realize it??

  21. As a painter, I have found that being as kind and nice as possible to other artists and collectors has paid off in more ways than I can express. There are a lot of snobby artists around but I don’t see that they are more successful for their rudeness.

  22. I was raised to be a ‘people pleaser’. A person who tries (too hard) to make everyone happy at the expense of their own personal well being. I think this has been a detriment to me as an artist because that kind of personality rarely has a great deal of confidence. Being around nasty, jerky people is soul killing to me. Artists must have some level of confidence in order to succeed, but when you are around an artist or gallery owner that is a egotistical jerk, it tends to make you feel defeated and less than.
    I know a local artist (here in the northwest) who is originally from New York City. She believes (truly believes) that every canvas she produces is worth a minimum of $10,000.00. She is not even regionally known, has sold very few pieces, so where this comes from is absolutely beyond me. But she will tell you that because she is an artist and she painted it, it is worth whatever she feels it’s worth. She tells anyone who will listen that they are just uneducated and unsophisticated and don’t know anything about art. Why, her work would sell for WAY more than $10-15,000.00 in NYC! (I sometimes wonder if she is insane. ) I think she acts this way to belittle me or any other artists in the area. It is tiresome beyond belief. She must believe she going to become a success with this kind of pseudo confidence. Do art buyers want to hear an artist brag and boast in such an unrealistic, unsupportable way? By the way, most of the work she HAS sold was to her doctor, who purchased “commissioned” pieces from her (at astronomical prices). The rest sit in a rented storage facility, gathering dust.

  23. I think it is a little of both. You can treat people with kindness without carrying them home and leaving a mint on their pillow. Human tendency is to wipe your feet on those that present themselves as such. I had a peer ask me for details on how I complete a certain technique in my work. The question was overstepping and I answered in a way very vague and mis-leading. Answering was kindness as I did not ignore them. What I shared was sort of on the jerk side. You can have it both ways

    Perfect article Jason!!! Many thanks for sharing.

  24. “…Follow one of those paths, the success literature tells us, and you’ll go far. Follow the other, and you’ll die powerless and broke…”

    No matter which path you follow, you will still die powerless. Nothing you can do about that. And as for broke – can you really use all that money after you are dead? The argument seems skewed. To me it sounds more along the lines of “… Follow one of those paths, the success literature tells us, and you’ll go far in amassing money and possessions, while, potentially, alienating every person who gives a damn about you and irrevocably severing your human connections to the world. Follow the other, and, BEFORE you’ll die powerless and broke, you will enjoy a life enriched with trusted and meaningful relationships, full of possibilities for making incredible things with people who respect and love you and who you respect and love back. And then, in either case, you will die.”

    Carrie L. Lewis nailed it in her comment – it is a question of focus and the goal. If your focus and goal is not about connections to other people, you may find it easier to become “successful” by being a jerk. Whether it will give your life meaning and value though is a different question entirely.

  25. I was once sent on a job interview to a company looking for a draftsman. The person sending me said, Whatever you do, you’ve got to act arrogant to get this job.” The company had a culture of arrogance and wanted like minded hires. I didn’t get the position and I was relived not to because they were ALL a bunch of jerks. I wouldn’t have been happy there. I found a job where I could be myself and contribute to a forward moving team.

  26. I owned a photography studio next to your parent’s gallery in Burley. They were two of the kindest people I’d ever met, and I’m sure still are. They obviously raised you right!
    Great article! I think I’ll continue to be nice as well.

    1. Critchfield is a good Burley name…. I grew up here in Burley and returned 20+ years ago to care for my parents who have since died. They built a great studio for me. I love painting here again…. It is possible to do everything here except, of course, sell paintings…. And now I am just another old lady painter.
      It would be fun to have an “Artists of Burley” reunion.
      Are you old enough to have had art classes from Irene Buckley?

  27. Being a bigger a..hole than Steve Jobs will, however equal out to being just as successful as he. Mr. Jobs was presented a unique set of circumstances, timing and opportunity that may be a mix for someone else. We should all read Outliers, Tipping Point and Blink for a great view of over the top successes.

  28. The people that are now wealthy because they were jerks in their profession, I would never want to be them even if I earned big bucks because of it. My self-esteem is better than that . . . and all the money in the world is not worth that title. In fact, this column in my opinion, this subject should not even be addressed.

    1. Interestingly, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some people who are very aggressive in their business life, but when they come into the gallery, I get to see a different side of them. Art can have an amazing tempering effect on people!

  29. Jason, I listen to your webcasts, would love to visit your Gallery, read your book, and value what you say because you embody values that are important to me: family, relationship, hard work, giving in order to get, credit where it is due, sharing, compassion…………… So be who you are. You have the following you do because of it. Your Mom and Dad did a good job!

  30. This is a very interesting question that I have wondered about too, since my inclination is to be nice. I have seen the success of the jerks though, and it has made me wonder why. Thanks Jason for the article and the insights.

  31. I don’t think there’s ever a need to be nasty just for the sake of putting yourself above others. There is sometimes a need to respond with anger when someone has behaved inappropriately and if you’re too engrained with “being nice”, it can be hard to let anger show even when it’s called for. I’ve always said that tactfulness is my besetting sin. Overbearing, pushy people are simply incapable of understanding hints. When someone proves to you that they won’t respect appropriate boundaries, you have to show anger in return or they’ll never get it.

  32. rambling article i thought you might be making a point or if you did i didn’t get it. I’m a nice guy personally and the obvious thing is just be yourself. Why be fake?

  33. I try to follow the philosophy that there is “strength in humility”. Being nice doesn’t mean you can’t be strong, confident, even firm in holding to your values. It’s more a matter of how a person chooses to interact.

  34. Thanks, Jason. I always enjoy reading your thoughts, and (despite the teaser) this post was well-written and insightful. Keep doing you.

  35. I don’t believe anyone needs to be a jerk. I will not give a store my money if I am treated poorly. That said, I tend toward the nice side to the point I have been stepped on. I have learned to be assertive when necessary, without resorting to jerk tactics. Sometimes a sweet smile and a kind word can disarm a jerk more than responding in kind.

  36. There will always be, I suppose, until our species hits a higher level of evolution, people who have been so badly treated that they end up having to be badly treated in order to validate their perceived lack of self worth.

  37. I walked into two such snobby galleries, both in the same town, a small informal beach community. The putting on airs was not only ludicrous in that setting, but I swore I’d never set foot in either again. In case anyone thinks I was hasty in my decision, I gave each of them several tries before saying never again. There’s never a valid reason for putting people down.

  38. I feel there is a difference between being a “jerk” and having firm boundaries. Oftentimes, those with firm boundaries, those that can say “No”, are said to be jerks by people who had ran into those boundaries and were denied.
    “Nice” gets a negative connotation because oftentimes nice people don’t have boundaries and get taken advantage of. Nice does not have to mean being a pushover.
    I strongly believe that there are nice people who have firm boundaries, and they are the ones who, to me, appear to succeed.

  39. Just my 2 cents. I was forced into selling in order to survive after my husband and his friend opened a flooring store years ago. I knew nothing about flooring or how to manage a business but our lives depended on me figuring out how to sell fast. I tried just being nice and helpful. I tried listening and basically got beat up. Customers dont want nice people. They want competence, they want good service, and I discovered I had to “drive the deal” in order to get consistent sales week after week month after month year after year. I wasnt a total jerk but I had to commit to the selling and either close the deals or waste my time. If there were a few people in the store shopping I had to spend my time on the customer most likely to buy which meant not spending time with tire kickers. I would like to think im a nice person and maybe I can be when im not engaged in making a living. Im sorry but when I shop nice is not what I want in a salesperson. I want the oerson who knows what is going on has the answers and helps me find what im looking for. Nice smiley people irritate me because thats not helpful and I am a jerk when they try to make me “be nice” and wait around while they try to figure things out. Give me rude and competent every time.

    1. Great counterpoint Marty, and I agree, there are definitely times when I want to get in and out quickly and appreciate the salesperson’s professionalism. That said, I will point out that I qualified nice with competent in my last paragraph. There’s something to be said for that balance, and there’s also something to be said for reading your clients. I definitely have had clients with whom it was clear they wanted no small talk and wanted to transact and get out.

      It takes all kinds!

  40. Jason I believe your approach is the best one and would agree with the majority who practice being nice to customers. I think if you find an artist to be rude, ignore your calls or insult your intelligence, then you will find buyers will go somewhere else . How many of these perturbed people will tell others about you being a jerk.

    I go with the Golden Rule on this one, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s always worked for me and at 72 I’m not about to change!

  41. Jason, I believe there is a distinction between being “nice” and being genuine, helpful, and honestly liking people, which is how you described yourself. Not everyone can be a George C. Patton, although, if Ike had let him, many believe we may not have had the Berlin Wall and decades of the cold war. A film “The Miracle” highlights how an American ice hockey team won gold at the Olympics over the professional Russians. The coach was not a jerk; neither was he “nice”. He was demanding, disciplined, but fair. The same could be said of the coach in a new film, “McFarland” which is a true story. This coach turned a group of Latino “pickers” into a champion track team. Your management style reflects you as a human being. To take a harder tack, to be a “jerk”, would be disastrous. I believe more potentially great artists are discovered by your methods and thus have a chance to be collected. Consequently, more fledgling buyers become true art collectors when the gallery owner genuinely likes people.

  42. I add my voice to the chorus singing the praises of being a nice guy. A rich, successful jerk is a jerk for all that. I can’t stand people who are rude and treat others badly. I’d rather struggle all my life and know I’ve treated others well, than achieve success on the hurt feelings of others. That said, I’m still hoping to achieve a certain level of success with my feet firmly placed in the nice guy camp.

    You’re definitely one of the nice guys Jason. Don’t ever change!

  43. Back at least twenty years ago I was visiting family in NY. As usual, I was tromping around eyeballing galleries. On a cold , snowy afternoon in the upper East side I some how stumbled into a what turned out to be a temporary gallery on a third floor you had to ring bell to get in. I was dressed for the weather definitely not for GQ.

    It was obviously an exhibit of ancient artifacts. As i was standing mesmerized with my nose four inches away from a very small 2500 year old Greek marble bas relief ( no protective casing) priced $18,000, an impeccably tailored man in his mid years walks up to me. Introduces himself, a dealer in antiquities from Zurich on his yearly trips. We chatted for a few though it was obvious I was not a likely client. He exuded warmth, confidence and genuine respect. He realized instantly that i was in love with what i was looking at and of no threat. to the sculpture. That was certainly one of my best experiences in a gallery setting.

    1. Great experience Ivan – and a great example. Some people are so excited about art that they want to talk to anybody and everyone about it, whether they can buy today or not. Sounds like this dealer had that kind of passion.

  44. Being a nice person is different to being a people pleaser. Nice person does not imply that everyone can step on you. A nice person can still hold his or her own and be successful. I think you, Jason, are proof of that.
    When “scouting” out galleries I have occasionally come across the snobby kind. When you think 10 pounds of frozen beef are warmer than that salesperson… I am always out of there, not ready to return. They did not know that I am an artist. I am a potential customer. If they treat me like that, they treat everyone like that. They will not sell as well as they could what they have on their walls.
    Even your point with brands. Treat me badly, I am out of there, not buying, no matter how much I like an item.
    I read your books. You are so right.
    Should I decide to enter a shop or a gallery before we go hiking, I still expect to be treated right. My money has exactly the same value as when I am dressed up.

  45. Your blog about being a jerk brought back many bad memories of having to deal with very difficult people. Now I find that I will decide to not invite them back into my life. In that way I can eliminate some of the stomach-turning feelings that come with people like that. It is sad that they think that I deserve such treatment.

    In terms of salespeople, If people are rude, obnoxious or make me feel unfit to share their world, then I have the option to walk out the door and never return.

    I think the word “jerk” is far better used as a verb rather than an adjective.
    ~Hazel Stone

  46. I agree with your outlook and, in fact, believe in being as nice as possible in all situations…..but one…..when you are faced with a true a..hole! Frankly, at my age, I no longer tolerate crappy behavior and usually find a short, but to-the-point comment to make about someone’s unacceptable behavior.

  47. For me it matters more to be a kind and good person than it does to be a huge success.
    I want to be able to look myself in the mirror and like the person I am, way more important than money.

  48. I pick nice over nasty everyday and I’m happier everyday because of it… for me that’s real success. Sure glad you’re sticking with nice Jason — can’t imagine you any other way 🙂

  49. I was in Santa Fe before the recession, in a major gallery. I was staring at a beautiful western painting which was about $50,000. It was incredible. In front of me was the gallery person, sitting down at a table, rudely reading his newspaper without speaking to me. No one else was in the gallery. When I came back through town during the recession, that gallery was closed, and they were just doing auctions. Why anyone would act that way when they are trying to sell things is beyond me. I’ve learned from selling art that you can’t pre-judge people. I sold a painting to a young man in his early 30’s. He turned out to be from Italy and had 8 houses.

    In a local art show, I went into a booth three times to look at a pretty little painting that I wanted to buy. The artist was there but refused to look at or talk to me. I even looked at the side of the painting for the price. Still, I was ignored, so I walked away. Why even bother coming to do a show if you refuse to talk to people? Stay home and save your $300! Another artist at the same show just stared at me without speaking when I went into her booth. It was creepy. When I heard that it was a bad show, I considered the terrible sales effort of the artists displaying their work there. They are probably the ones spreading that around.

    I recently bought a painting because the young gallery owner was terrific, striking up a pleasant conversation, displaying the painting that I liked in better light. Of course I had to have it with that treatment, and she presented a payment plan that worked for me. I thanked her for being such a great salesperson and a genuinely nice person. I will buy from her again. It wasn’t a top gallery, but she did her job well and had some nice pieces.

    A note on Steve Jobs – he died young. Maybe being a jerk didn’t work out so great for him. I saw the movie and he reminded me of someone that I worked for who was very similar – brilliant, but not too nice to the employees and later, customers. He threw many tantrums. He lost his business and died young also.

    1. CJ – great experiences, and all too common I’m afraid.

      The article mentions that Jobs mellowed over time, and one wonders the effect further time would have had.

  50. This one is for Marty, as I just read some of the comments. You can be nice and competent! There are plenty of rude people out there who are also stupid. Give me nice and knowledgeable.

  51. This is quite an interesting conundrum, Jason. I’m a “corporate refuge.” I’ve worn the mask and fought the battles. I’ve kept my cool and been cool to others because corporate “decorum” dictated it. I left corporate and began a full-time art career. I’ve been a flag carrying warrior for living an authentic, honest life since…and I’m happier.. I have to say, I like the person I am today more than the person I “twisted myself” to be.
    I think, perhaps, people in the study documented by the Atlantic reacted to the snobbishness because they strove for acceptance. I wonder if, in retrospect, they changed the way they felt, when they realized they groveled to the nasty store-keepers. Maybe even, a little resentment festered.
    Nowadays, I write a weekly blog, bringing my perspective of living with integrity to creative people and the comparison to my “old life” often tones the topic. We don’t have to be doormats to be nice. We can be firm and fair and still be approachable and polite. Me? I’d rather be a chicken than a snake. Congratulations to you! You’re a chicken, too, and I like and respect you even more because of it. Cluck…cluck.

  52. How about when you’re at an art fair trying to make a sale and someone says out of the blue “do you have a card?”. You know you’re never supposed to give them the card because that means they’ll go away and you’ll never make the sale. Chances are they will never go to your website and follow up buying. So I ignore their question for the card, keep talking and trying to make the sale. Even if they ask me again and I won’t give it to them. Sometimes they asked me three or four times for the card and I still won’t give it to them. This is rude. And I know it. But I do it because if I can get them to pick out a painting before they walk away then I can write down the title of the painting on the card there’s that much more chance they’ll buy it. AND, I still don’t give them a card until they write down their email on my mailing list. Then I can do a follow-up email and send them a JPEG of the image they picked out with a nice note about where it’s going to go in there home, all information learned because I didn’t give them my card. Is this rude or good sales tactics?

    1. Wow, Rachel, you are tough! When I am in that situation, I usually just cave and hand them a business card, knowing I have lost a sale. You are doing sales the right way, and if I had your backbone, perhaps I could sell more. Maybe Jason could find information for us on how to toughen up. I don’t think you are rude – they are in YOUR space: your space equals your rules! You go, Girl! (And I’ll just quiver in the background in awe, handing out business cards and wishing I was braver.)

    2. I hear you absolutely. I guess people pleasing has become so ingrained in our minds that we are afraid to have those boundaries that are respect me respect my job as the artist and salesperson. Im glad you send that message to potential clients. I believe in customer service very very much and I agree that if a gallery person doesn’t engage walkins they are making a big mistake because that silent criticism makes sure the person will not come back. I do still think that what sets a good salesman apart from others is they are determined to close the deal. If I thought baking cookies and hugging and smiling would make several thousand dollars a week in sales I would make myself do it without fail so as to keep my numbers up. I guess that statement alone qualifies me to be a jerk. Selling a piece here or there is like not selling at all to me. I have to see solid sales to believe im making a difference as a salesperson. I went above and beyond for my buyers but I was not as nice to time wasters. I was never rude and I would not hide behind a newspaper thats foolish. That guy should have asked your name where you were from or if you liked any of the art at the very least. Most people will then tell they are just looking after the initial contact. Then its fine to let them be on their own.

  53. I don’t think oversimplified words like “nice” or “jerk” really tell the whole story. You can be a pushy opportunistic shark and come off on the surface as friendly and enthusiastic. I know plenty of talented people with integrity and authenticity. They have yet to find lucrative careers. I have worked for years to get a few great relationships with galleries and consultants(that I would love to clone!) that are successful, communicative, honest. I pared my business partnerships down to those, but they are outnumbered by their opposites. See a documentary called “Ubermensch” to see what the good guys look like and why we wish they were all like that.

  54. A few years ago I decided not to patronize stores that made me feel small. It is hard not to buy when people use that trick on me since I want to prove I can afford the product. But I don’t want to make purchases only because I want to prove I am good enough for some stranger. I usually regret the purchase also.

  55. I think in general if someone’s idea of success is solely just having a lot of money in the bank and need to be a jerk to get it, they are living a sad, shallow life and in my eyes are not successful in a holistic way. Money is a good thing to have for sure, but relationships, character and genuine respect from clients and others are the most valuable things that bring great happiness! Why not have both? I don’t like going into a gallery or any store where they make the “just lookers” feel bad. Lookers can easily turn into buyers, but not if they feel disrespected. I love buying from nice, happy people! And it makes me want to recommend others and go back again and again!

  56. I have learned over the years that no, it definitely does not pay to be a jerk but you have to show a strong backbone too. I think people recognize and appreciate someone who is sincere and genuine. That does not mean you have to cater to them or bend over backwards. If anything, you do the opposite. Stand your ground and be yourself. There are those in my past who have mistaken my kindness for some kind of weakness only for them to be proven very wrong. I even found people taken back in surprise when I stood my ground and even told them to take their business elsewhere when they were rude. I think the days of The customer is always right is no more. Nowadays, good businesses will tell people, we are not a match, you need to take your business elsewhere and I think that is just as true in the art world too. If people string you along for any reason, it is time to part ways. You want people who appreciate your talents, your creative skills and most of all, yourself. After all when someone buys a painting from you, they are investing in you. I have learned over the years that if people like you, they will want to buy from you. No, I will never be a jerk, no matter what the magazines say. That article may cater to some but in the end, all they are doing is trying to sell you their magazine. Be sincere, be yourself and treat people the way you would want them to treat you.

  57. I used to lead teams of engineers to design computing systems. I always found a sense of humor to be the best thing to do. If I could make them laugh, I could get them to do anything : ) Plus I’m a programmer so I could understand what needed to be done and help out with ideas. So when all the guys on the team refused to work together, I decided to wear a bicycle helmet to the office. They laughed and we never had another problem. How does this apply to selling art? If you can make people laugh, and feel confident in themselves they like you and listen. They associate the painting with that “wonderful” artist. Focus on the buyer and not yourself. I always let the guys have the credit. Boeing decided I should be employee of the month : ) Art buyers are the same. Get to know what they are looking for, listen to their thoughts and be encouraging.

  58. Dear Jason,
    Thanks for opening the discussion on this topic. As far as I remember, every single sale that I ever made in person, was after a friendly, comfortable conversation. Snobby attitudes totally put me off and I have a hard time liking people who prefer acting as if they were something better than the rest.
    I feel sorry for shoppers, who have so little self esteem, that they need to prove to a snobby sales clerk that they are “worthy” of their attention, by purchasing one of the store’s expensive articles. Jerky behaviour, natural or learned, are better ignored.
    So glad that you stick to being your friendly self!

  59. There are four different personality types mentioned in the comments.
    a. Unfeeling, rude person
    b. Assertive, going after the sale person
    c. Friendly, but competent sales person
    d. Unassertive, people pleasing person
    The types b & c can make a living in the sales. The type a person can succeed in the short term, but rarely reaches the top of their profession – because of their rudeness and mistreatment of others.

    The rudeness works (according to the article) when it is being done to serve the group. In this case, the group is you AND the customer.

    1. Very good summary, David Randolph. Sounds like Jason is a “C”. That is a good skill set to work toward. “Nice” isn’t a synonym for weak; “jerk” isn’t a synonym for successful. Making immediate sales isn’t always possible, but being nice is a better path to building relationships that results in return customers.

    2. I think you nailed it David. I don’t have a personality that would successfully threaten people anyway. High pitched voice, tall, a joker, and what not. We always do our best work when we are ourselves.

  60. Loved all the comments in addition to the article. Thank you, Jason!

    A final thought: confidence is a smile, arrogance is a sneer.

  61. Sometimes the best defense is success!! After years in the corporate world and years in higher education I’ve seen my share of awful behavior. A lot matched the article’s descriptions. On the rare occasion I’ve witnessed ‘justice’ for some of those unsavory types and have certainly seen them in the art world as well. In the end, when all that’s left but the shouting, I prefer retaining the right to be able to live with myself. I listen politely (some might say ‘just taking it on the chin’), but then move on and succeed. This may not help me sell any art, but I’ll be able to live with myself in the process. I’m still moving on and often wonder what happened to those who bullied their way to the top.

  62. Are jerks more successful than nice “guys”? It depends on your definition of success. To me, success is defined by happiness, and you’ll be happier when you allow yourself to be you. Oh, and for the record, I prefer dealing with nice people. It makes me happier.

  63. Look, it’s a skill set. A tool. A manipulation. WE ALL manipulate/negotiate to get what we want. Am I a jerk? YES. Yes I am. When necessary, it is a great skill to have. Am I always a jerk, or worse, and ass? No. I tend to like to be nice, attempt to negotiate the win-win. Path of least resistance is generally the rule.

    It should be said that I spent most of my working life solving problems and contending with jerks, assholes and other forms of life. I was the go to gal when something became a problem.

    So, when met with another ass or jerk and they are getting in MY way or their own way which affects MY way, then it’s time to put on the asshole hat.

    In nicer corners, we call this “boundaries.”

    As for people who shop at Barneys and other uber high end stores, perhaps they actually like being treated this way. I often wonder about the psycho-sexual component of this phenomena, but don’t have the stomach right not to dig deeper into it.

  64. Anyone who believes that being a jerk is the secret to success is not taking into account The Law of Cause and Effect, aka Karma. While short-term benefits may sometimes accrue from be snobbish and arrogant in business transactions, that approach will invariably — eventually — backfire and result in the exact opposite outcome. But we should not be nice just because we want success. Sincerity is the secret; it comes from the heart and is impossible to fake — while insincerity is impossible to hide!

  65. I don’t think it pays to be a jerk. I do, however, think even nice guys have to be able to stand firms at points and graciously, kindly, firmly draw lines that they will not cross or allow others to do so, in their business dealings. Don’t take credit when it belongs to someone else; but don’t be shy about credit that does belong to you. There are sometimes very rare situations when it may be wiser to shut your mouth and take a back seat- use caution and weigh wisely! Respect others and respect yourself. Balance in all things is good. Integrity is good. Fairness is good. Making money is a good thing in this life, but a godly character will serve better here and in the next one.

  66. My dilemma is perception. I am not an outwardly friendly person. Some people perceive by my social awkwardness that I’m, grumpy, aloof, a jerk, whatever. Take a moment have a substantive conversation, you’ll find that I’m really none of those things. When it comes to my work, I’m very serious. I don’t tell other photographers “how” I create my work. From that reluctance to share everything, some people come away with a negative attitude. I’m working to steer the conversation less about technique and more towards what I’m working on at the moment and the joy I take away from having my work enjoyed by others.

  67. Jerks die alone and even when they are alive all the money in the world can’t get them a real friend. Look at Johnny Carson.
    Be in the world but not of the world. We are so much better than that! I’ve never seen a poison hemlock seed produce a rose.

  68. I don’t like dealing with jerks. I don’t consider myself a jerk. But after dealing with tons of idiots on the net I’ve developed a certain amount of chutzpah. When I first started with online photography, I was very modest. But, after a short time online I could see that was not going to work.

    My earlier post on this subject sums up my thoughts…


  69. Jason,
    I love your response of that article and I probably wouldn’t have read it because of it’s title…but I was a bit curious of why you would mention it and was happy to hear your thoughts on it and I totally agree with you. In my early adulthood I was very naïve, innocent of how mean people could be and through the last couple of decades I’ve developed ‘thicker’ skin. BUT, I never will purposefully be a ‘jerk’ – there are times though that I have had to stick to my grounds no matter how hard the situation is. I’ve had to let people know that my ‘no’ meant ‘no’ and that is hard because of my in my mind I don’t want to disappoint.

    As for my artwork, because I’m pretty much an ‘unknown’ artist when I’ve discussed potential commissions I’ve actually had to turn down work because they didn’t value my time and talent…and I’ve been told by others that I undervalue my work by others who do value my talent…lol! Now if there’s a worthy cause and I feel it in my heart then I don’t mind donating my work…but that’s where I definitely stand my ground.

    Thanks for sharing this article…I feel like I’m on the right track…Friendly, courteous, caring but tough (not a jerk) when I need to be! 🙂

  70. I think most of this article & ensuing discussion in the comments is off target in it’s comparison of jerk to nice. That’s not really the axis that makes the difference. It’s about positioning within the pack. Are you taking an obsequious position or the alpha dog position in your interaction. You can be nice in either position, but it’s important you take the position that the buyer is asking for something from you rather than you trying to ask something from them. If your attitude is that you’re the expert & you’re willing to allow them to enjoy your art in their own home, you’re better off. That doesn’t mean being either a snob or a jerk & doesn’t preclude being a nice person. It’s a matter of attitude & confidence that you portray through the whole of your interactions. I learned this from a great book on sales technique called, “Pitch anything” that a friend recommended to me after I told him I was the world’s worst closer. I said that because someone walked up to me next to one of my photographic prints & said, “I must have that.” Yet, I was unable to close that sale. I realized I must be doing something wrong & tried to learn how to improve that.

  71. The old golden rule is a good place to start. How would you like to be treated? You are right. Gallery people are aloof and snobbish. When I worked in a gallery I always spoke to a customer and tried to make him or her feel comfortable just as I would like to be greeted. Not so in most galleries. I don’t understand it. Your goal is to present a pleasant atmosphere and create warmth so the would-be buyer is not put down. You can’t tell by appearance whether a person has a nickel or big bucks. One of the richest men I know wears overalls when he goes to the post office or grocery store. It’s a jerk and a fool who would throw out old moneybags in rags.

  72. I don’t care if being a jerk would make me an instant millionaire. It’s not worth it. The point isn’t how much money you can make, for you can never take it with you when you leave this world. But being “nice” to be liked by others is just as wrong.

    Rather, the point is to positively affect as many lives as you can before you reach eternity’s shore. Yes, we can be confident, assertive, and even bold at times if necessary. The question is, what is my motive? Am I doing it so I can have a bigger piece of the pie, or am I doing because I want to benefit others? Look at Jesus in the Bible. He is often thought of as being the very poster boy of “nice.” But was He? On one occasion, He yelled and chased money-hungry thieves out of the Jewish temple with a whip! Some would call that being a jerk, but it’s not. His motive was pure: He wanted the people that came there to worship to have a good experience with God, and not be hassled and distracted.

    In the art world, and in all of life, we will have to make bold choices that may be interpreted as being a jerk, but if our motives are right, eventually our actions, although misunderstood at the time, will reap a harvest of good things for us and for others. Doing the right thing for the right reasons wins every time.

  73. There are so many comments here, it would appear you’ve struck a nerve, Jason! So…rather than add anything more on the matter, I’ll simply ask this question: at the end of the day, how do you FEEL about what you’ve done during your day? Because in the end, all that matters is whether or not you can sleep at night, yes?

  74. Growing up in the South, I was taught to be kind and respectful and to obey the Golden Rule. Sometime along our working our way through life, we have lost many of those virtues. I never want to be a jerk nor a snob. I don’t like either of them and I won’t bo business with them. My natural persona serves me well. However there are many of my peers who are total jerks and even appear rude to clients and the clients seem to flock to them. What works for some doesn’t work for all. For me honesty, integrity and treating my clients and everyone else is how I want to be successful. I don’t want to be a Thomas Kinkade, ever. Many galleries have been wonderful and we have lasting relationships for ever. However, there are the galleries that are from Hell. They are remembered as well, but those are short lived and they always do themselves in and meet a bad end. Remember Thomas Kinkade?

    My goal is to produce origional art at my very best and continue to improve on my God given ability. I may never get rich by some people’s standards, but I live a far richer life and sleep well at night. Rich is nice, but I am careful how I get rich.

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