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The Dark Side of Agreeableness: Why Pleasing Isn’t Always Pleasant

Published March 29, 2013


Agreeableness is one of the five superordinate traits of personality that have been identified through over eighty years of scientific research. It is also the trait that is often most misunderstood.

People who are high in agreeableness are often labeled as:

  • Compassionate, polite and helpful
  • Modest, trusting and nice
  • Empathetic and unselfish
  • Generous and understanding

Sounds like great traits for an employee, right?

In reality, individuals high in agreeableness are often likely to be taken advantage of and are unlikely to enforce standards if people’s feelings will be hurt. For the workplace, they are very likely to avoid conflict.

Of course there is a dark side to low agreeableness, as well. Characterized by skepticism about other people’s motives, resulting in suspicion and unfriendliness; people very low on agreeableness have a tendency to be manipulative in their social relationships. They are also more likely to compete than to cooperate, but that is for another article.

Hard to See, the Dark Side Is

The dark side of agreeableness is that on the surface the person seems warm, welcoming and great for office morale. However, those high in agreeableness can lead an office towards inefficiency. Agreeable people are very eager to avoid conflict and not to disrupt the status-quo. They will often leave the decision making to their colleagues, as they have a very difficult time saying ‘no’ to others.

The ability to nip conflict in the bud is a serious factor to consider when hiring employees.  About 30% of all conflict in organizations comes from poor leadership. Whether they are the unable to stop the conflict as an employee or disrupt the conflict as a manager, individuals that avoid conflict can become a liability.

Additionally, being overly familiar with staff, agreeable people will often undermine their own professionalism and ability.

Agreeable people can also overwork themselves due to an inability to delegate properly. This habit will generally be formed as the more agreeable a person is, the less likely they will want to be the cause of an issue in the eyes of their colleagues/employees.

Being High in Agreeableness Can Affect Your Health

If you are high in agreeableness, it is important that you recognize it and take the time to address any after effects of this trait. Consistently putting the need to please others before one’s own needs can actually lead to health problems such as stress, depression and resentment

High agreeableness can be heightened if that individual has a low self-esteem, especially when excessive feelings of guilt increase the need to people please.

How to Protect Yourself from Your Own Agreeableness

By all means, being agreeable is not the end of the world. Agreeable people work wonders in positions that require high touch. Anytime customers care is on the line, which it is in most businesses, agreeableness can be a huge plus. Positions that require empathy and support such as not for profit efforts, charity, and social work are excellent for highly agreeable people. In situations where it is problematic, there are steps highly agreeable people can take to protect themselves:

For both the employer and the employee, it is important to identify what inherent traits make up an individual. A concerted effort is needed from both parties to suit those traits with each available position, to create a win-win for both the individual and the employer.

What have your experiences been with agreeableness in the workplace?

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