Agreeableness — Asset or Liability?

by | May 23, 2023 | Personal Growth

“When you start to work with someone, there’s a negotiation that takes place involving what’s going to happen when you have a difference of opinion. Most attempts at collaboration never survive the negotiation. Merely being agreeable is not enough.”

Walter Becker

Imagine an agreeable conversation. Both individuals respect and affirm each other’s comments. They have a civilized dialogue and believe their discussion is leading to the best solution. The reality is their agreeable conversation may be comfortable, yet ineffective.

Merely being agreeable is not enough. Sometimes we agree when we should disagree.

Early in my career I believed being agreeable was the ticket to becoming a leader. I relied on my early life lessons which encouraged me to respect authority, and put others first. I worked hard to be positive and a team player. The only time I would disagree was privately, and often without much conviction. I viewed being disagreeable as disrespectful and aggressive.
I was a follower who aspired to be a leader. I needed a reset.

Highly agreeable people are empathetic, cooperative, and accommodating. The challenge becomes when they encounter something that is incorrect or not going well. Our work can challenge us to stretch our personality to new areas, such as disagreeing. Leaders cannot accommodate all ideas — they need to agree as well as disagree.

One tool to explore your personality is the “The Big 5 Personality Assessment,” which includes agreeableness as one of their five critical factors. They identify agreeableness to include trust, sympathy, modesty, morality, cooperation, and altruism.

I encourage you to complete the free Big Five Personality Test to better understand your agreeableness dimension.

Big 5 Personality Test

My Big Five results confirmed my tendency to be agreeable, although not to the extreme I was anticipating. My maturity as a leader has enabled me to embrace disagreement as necessary to drive results and earn respect. I now understand saying “great idea” should not be an effort to be liked by someone else, it should be reserved for a truly great idea. My past efforts to overly accommodate others have been replaced with boundaries. I can agree to disagree.

The following quote captures agreeableness so well:

A message of the importance of mutual respect – a foundation of character.

Three keys to managing your agreeableness:

  1. Respectfully Agree — silence is better than a superficial “I agree” when you really do not understand what has been said. Understand and confirm why you are agreeing, and think about if you should be disagreeing.
  2. Respectfully Disagree — disagreeing tactfully requires active listening and offering another perspective. Listen without interruption and try to find common ground. “I respect your opinion and agree with your first two points. On the third point, I see it differently.”
  3. Avoid Leading Questions — resist asking “don’t you agree” after expressing your idea. This is opening the conversation to a debate versus a dialogue.

One of my favorite authors Timothy Keller passed away this month. He had a famous quote — “Friends become wiser together through a healthy clash of viewpoints.” People pleasers and overly disagreeable people struggle to excel in the workplace. Challenge yourself to focus on how you respond to ideas from others, suspending your impulsive comments by pausing to consider your words. One thing we can all agree on — let’s get wiser together.

Leading Your Team

All of us set goals yet we can be frustrated when they are not achieved. The attached Harvard Business Review article has excellent ideas on reframing goal achievement. “We can overcome our natural resistance to doing hard things by pursuing habits instead of goals. This approach has been taken time and again by some of the most successful leaders, coaches, athletes, and thinkers.”

What Stops Us From Achieving Our Goals

Read to Lead

Leaders benefit from being active readers, long reads not just social media posts and news feeds. A deep read builds concentration, strengthens your intellectual capacity, and offers wisdom you can share. As you refresh or build your reading habit, diversify your experience — old, new, fiction, non-fiction, audio, hard cover, and e-readers.

My May 2023 favorites:

Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan
A story of a small Irish Town featuring a coal merchant Bill Furlong. He is the father of five daughters and one day delivering coal to the local convent he encounters a reality that changes his life. He is faced with the tradeoffs of doing the right thing. The themes of heroism, empathy, and hope in this book were inspiring.

Power Questions by Andrew Sobel & Jerold Panas
I believe great questions are at the heart of effective leadership. This book offers 337 questions designed to improve your influence and relationships. Each chapter includes insightful questions and how to use them in a conversation. An excellent coaching resource.