Are you high cost?

Are you high cost?

We don’t usually think of cost when applied to people, but it does.  Cost is not just a monetary concept, it describes the time and effort spent, the degree of unpleasantness or even pain and suffering incurred when dealing with … people.

You know high cost people because you describe them as a

Pain in the ass

…the bain of my existence, a thorn in my side, my cross etc.   These are all cultural expressions that describe the friction that builds up during our interaction with high cost people.

This is more than a life curiosity about people, or an interesting observation about character.  It’s about people’s willingness to work with others, their willingness to pick who they want on their team.  It affects your career and social life.

If you want to get hired, get selected to work on the great projects, get promoted etc. then pay attention to not only your output, but the cost people incur to deal with you.

Just like they are with money, people prefer low-cost people.

A key indicator of a high cost person, is they don’t often get selected, invited or picked.

Where do people produce cost?

People produce cost in the following areas:


A person’s incompetence is a major factor in the cost they generate.  If you’ve ever worked with incompetent people you’ve experienced the extra time you must spend correcting their work, and training them.  This cost can go away or magnify depending on how they are in these other areas:


Mood affects how people feel and what they can accomplish.  Moods like happiness, peacefulness, joy, inspiration, joy, helpfulness open us up to possibility and work effectively as teams.  These moods are benefits.   People want to work with people who travel in these moods.

Moods like cynicism, resignation, despair, resentment, anger, and mistrust close us to possibility and make it difficult to act effectively.  These moods incur high cost.  (Attitude is the visible expression of the mood someone is in.)


Willingness is a major cost reducer. People who are willing to learn, change, accept feedback and work well together are pleasant to work with, while unwilling people occur like a blister that gets worse with every step you take.

In short, people prefer not to work with above average expressions of incompetence, or unwillingness, or bad attitudes.  These people produce high cost for others.

Along the margins

Another way to think of the cost you produce for others is the cost you produce along the margins of what you do.  The electrician or plumber who fixes your problem or installs something you need produces cost around the margins if he leaves dust, chipping, parts etc. for you to clean up.  In doing his job, he produces extra work for you.

A temp who substitute for someone on paternity leave, but who then gossips and destroys relationships while he’s there, produces cost on the margins of what they do that someone else has to clean up.

The tradeoff

It’s not all about cost of course.  Like the decisions we make when choosing to buy a product, people will weigh the cost of working with you, with the benefit you produce.

Steve Jobs was notably high cost in his personal interactions, but his vision and brilliance more than compensated. For most people the benefit they produce at their job is average—which is why they earn industry norms.  As long as this applies to you, be clear that people will choose to stop dealing with you if your output is average but your cost is high.  They’ll get rid of you the moment they get a lower cost person producing the same benefit.  Wouldn’t you?

Reduce your cost

So think of yourself as a product that you produce.  Who would buy it.  Why?  What does this product do and how does it help people?

And what do you cost?  You can use this exercise also as a way to challenge your salary, but for now think of the intangible cost that affect people’s willingness to work with you.

  1. Are you pleasant to be around?
  2. Are you funny and optimistic?
  3. Do you anticipate problems and act without anyone asking?
  4. Do you only spread good gossip?
  5. Are you willing to change?
  6. Do you seek feedback and not take it personally?
  7. Do you actively seek to train and educate yourself?

Yes answers are from low-cost people.  If you answered no, bravo for honesty and you have an area to improve … for everyone’s sake.

Any thoughts? Contributions/acknowledgments welcome.