Choose Wisely: Pick People Who Feel Guilty

Who we surround ourselves with matters. That goes as much for colleagues as it does for friends. If you were looking for a shortcut to figuring out who's best to keep around, social science may have an answer.

Researchers at some of America's most prominent business schools have just released a study examining trustworthiness. The most solid trait predictor — more than any of the factors that go into personality assessments — turns out to be whether one is prone to guilt. This is slightly different from people who actually feel guilt: Those who are guilt-prone are more likely to worry about whether they have transgressed or are about to do so.

"People who rank high in guilt-proneness feel a greater sense of interpersonal responsibility when they are entrusted," according to a press release, "and as such, are less likely to exploit the trust others place in them."

This is good news for hiring managers, although it may be a sensitive topic to seek out in candidate screening. It's a useful rubric in other arenas too. Research released last year showed that financial analysts and hedge fund managers who exhibit empathy, rather than sociopathy, got their clients the best return on investment. Less intuitively, employers can use this data to signal the strength of company culture. Holding all workers accountable for their behavior shows the guilt-prone that they are, in fact, worthy of institutional trust. The ones to hold onto will probably act accordingly.