The Double-Edged Sword of Agreeability

agreeable people

Agreeableness is a “Big Five” personality trait. It is characterized by kindness, warmth, consideration, and sympathy.

In general, it is a personality trait that helps us work together in a civil society. Agreeableness is essential because it helps us avoid conflict and escalated situations.

People who score high on agreeability tend to be altruistic, trustworthy and empathetic. People who score low, lack empathy, are less reliable and are often thought of as selfish.

It seems to make sense that most people are agreeable because in a social sense it makes everyone safer. But, with any trait, some people score low. With agreeableness, scoring low is often negative, but it isn’t always bad when it comes to success.

Agreeable Children Turn Into Agreeable Adults

It is hard to say where personality traits come from, but it is some combination of genes and environment. That said, children who are agreeable, tend to grow up and become agreeable adults.

Children with high agreeability externalize emotions, meaning they talk about them more often. Expressing feelings leads to better outcomes, by dealing with problems more efficiently.

At least in part because of this, they are also more likely to avoid confrontations and conflict. Avoidance, in turn, creates a more healthy sense of self and self-esteem.

Studies show that people with low agreeability are more likely to experience depression. Later in life, they are more likely to get divorced or have bad personal relationships.

Holding A Grudge or Getting Over It

Agreeable people are less likely to hold a grudge and more likely to avoid conflict. Not tending to engage in dispute, explains why they are more likely to be happy and have healthy relationships.

Holding a grudge is stressful and leads to adverse outcomes in relationships. Imagine being in a relationship with someone who never lets anything go. Resentment between the two of you would keep building over time.

Resentment could explain why divorce is common amongst people with low agreeability. It is hard to keep friends and have positive social interactions if you can’t get over the mistakes of the past.

One unexpected outcome happens during arguments. People who score high for agreeability would rather de-escalate and avoid the conflict. They will see this as a positive outcome because it avoided adverse effects.

But, people who score low, will see this outcome as a win for them. The same result will mean different things based on your score for this trait.

Agreeableness Leads To Longevity

Agreeable people, who are more likely to have healthy relationships also live longer. There is little doubt that healthy relationships are essential. Strong human connections are a basic necessity of life and a feature of blue zone people.

Poor relationships relate to the stress and depression found in people with lower agreeability. If you don’t trust people and they don’t trust you, you are always going to feel left out. As a result, you will dedicate more resources to stress than living well.

Stress has adverse effects on health. So anything that creates tension creates health problems and poor long-term outcomes.

People who experience a lot of stress or depression are more likely to abuse substances. Depression could explain the correlation between low agreeableness and substance abuse. Also, this demonstrates why people are more likely to have health issues.

Where You Live Matters

Studies have found that in the US, people on the coasts tend to score lower on agreeableness. While people in the middle of the country score higher, this is the idea of southern hospitality.

In smaller towns, it is easier to know the people you interact with on a regular basis. Knowing the people around you encourages camaraderie and a willingness to care.

But the cause of a lower score could relate to living in a city. The city is jam-packed, and there are always many people around, but you most likely do not know them.

In the city, it is more difficult as you are less likely to know your neighbours. At the same time, they are less likely to see you or care about your wellbeing. This lack of connection with neighbours leads to lower connectedness in general.

We could make a compelling argument for environmental causes causing agreeableness scores. Though, people low in agreeability may come to cities or places with lots of people. Reason being, the lack of community may be what attracts them.

What Happens At Work

Now, this is where it gets interesting.

People with low agreeability tend not to do well at work. Often because they are not great at relationships, leading to less stability. Part of the reason is that they aren’t seen as trustworthy and don’t trust their coworkers.

Interestingly, people with low agreeability sometimes do better in competitive environments. Notably, they are more successful in management. Success happens because people are unafraid of conflict and are willing to ‘win’ at the expense of being liked.

Put another way, people high in agreeability are liked at the office, but may not be respected. It is easy to approve someone who is kind and friendly. But it is also easy to take advantage of them because they will not do anything about it.

In these cases, disruption isn’t always harmful. If everyone in a meeting is agreeable, the problematic person gets to lead. In a sense, disagreeable people are more likely to make a fuss about problems. So in this regard, they are more likely to precipitate solutions.

Different Views Of Success

Disagreeable people make more money and are better managers if they can stick around. But people who are too agreeable will likely stay at the bottom of a company. At the same time, they are taken advantage of and keep silent about it.

More, being a regular worker may be suited for people with high agreeability. Management may be best suited for those with low agreeability.

In this sense, success can be characterized in two ways. First, the more traditional view where people gain power and pay. Alternatively, people are liked by the people around them.

A mismatch like this is a problem for people who are ambitious but lack the personality. It is difficult for an agreeable person to succeed in competitive environments when they can’t be disagreeable. In part, because they are not willing to cause conflict, they won’t take risks and move forward.

But this problem exists everywhere, and not only at work. Being too agreeable can be detrimental to your relationships. It is especially a problem when you don’t stand up for yourself.

Also, you may always agree with what other people want and forget what you want. With enough of this, your life could become unsatisfying because you don’t ever get what you want.

What Does This Mean

In many ways being agreeable is a great trait. It will help you live longer, have better social interactions and relationships. It will also give you a better chance at avoiding depression and substance abuse.

Being too agreeable means, you are more likely to be taken advantage of and do poorly in management. It also means you may not be considered an earnest person.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of control over our personalities by the time we are adults. But it is essential to understand the consequences of our traits none the less. This awareness is helpful, and we may be able to do things differently if we recognize the problem.

In this sense, it is essential to work on being a more disagreeable if you are too agreeable. You also need to learn to be firm about what you want and believe. The change will be difficult, but also life changing at times.

Learn more about my book How To Be Amazing! A Manifesto