How important is 'being nice' to a family business's success?

How important is 'being nice' - Family business

While it may sound odd at first, is there perhaps something that people, and family businesses in specific, can learn from the dynamics of baboon society?

Partner, Global Head of Family Business

KPMG in France


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A 17-year-long University of Pennsylvania study of baboons living in the Moremi Game Reserve in Botswana shows that female baboons – who inherit their social ranking or dominance from their mothers – fare better in terms of reproductive ability, stress levels and longevity not based on their social position but rather on their sociability.

What factors determine a female baboon's 'life success'?

The study monitored the reproductive success of the female baboons in their study, as well as their stress levels (which they gauged by assessing certain hormone levels as contained in their droppings), and their lifespans. The researchers correlated these findings with the behaviour of the females, whom they divided into three groups accordingly: "nice" (those who were friendly to other females of all social rankings and had fairly consistent partner preferences), "aloof" (more aggressive, friendly only to some, but very consistent partner preferences), and "loner" (pretty unfriendly, mostly alone, and weak bonds with changing partners).

The team saw that loners have the highest stress levels, have fewer offspring, and live shorter lives. Importantly, all three of the subgroups were diverse in terms of their social rankings – a 'highborn' female could become a loner (though one might expect her position to set her up for social success), and vice versa. So they saw that personality plays a more influential role in a female baboon’s reproductive success and longevity.

The wisdom of being nice

Speaking of the study results, psychology professor Robert Seyfarth, one of the research's leaders, says, "These results have allowed us to, for the first time in a wild primate, link personality characteristics, social skill and reproductive success. By being a nice baboon, you increase the likelihood of having strong social bonds, which in turn translates to a better chance of passing on your genes."

What can this tell us about family business and the business practices and dynamics that allow for success and longevity, since the study disproves the idea that competitiveness and 'aggression' are the keys? If we take the principle established by Seyfarth and his colleagues and apply it to family business, one could argue that softer, more sociable and more collaborative natures lead to better results. Simply put, it would seem that being 'nice' to others allows you to fare better in business life.

What do you think?

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