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Agreeableness is one of the five personality traits of the Big Five personality theory. A person with a high level of agreeableness in a personality test is usually tolerant, tactful, friendly and warm. They generally have an optimistic view of human nature, get along well with others and for those reasons, make excellent team players.
A person who scores low on agreeableness may put their own interests above those of others. They tend to be uncooperative, unfriendly, and distant.
Cooperation versus Competition
Cooperation is a key characteristic of people who score high in agreeableness, as one of their main interests is maintaining social harmony. Their basic belief is that people are usually decent, honest, and trustworthy. Therefore, agreeable individuals find it important to get along with others. They are willing to put aside their interests for other people. These individuals are helpful, friendly, considerate, and generous. They enjoy helping and contributing to the happiness of others, assist people who require help and tend to have a wide circle of friends.
On the other hand, precisely because they tend to put the interests of others before their own and are willing to compromise on their ideas and ideals if it reduces conflict, people high in agreeableness risk becoming a social doormat at the metaphorical mercy of more individualistic characters. Moreover, their need for affirmation from others and a natural tendency to refrain from being abrasive or contradicting lead to displaying a people-pleasing behaviour. Still, these people are at risk of not developing assertiveness and other important social skills required to succeed in today’s world.
At the other end of the spectrum, individualistic people who score low on agreeableness tend to be competitive, combatant and even antagonistic. For them, peace and social harmony matter little, and they place greater value on independence and task completion. They are less trustful and optimistic than the high agreeableness scorers and prefer to be task-oriented to the detriment of human relationships. They take little interest in others and other people’s problems and don’t care much about their feelings. Thus, they tend to have no problem with insulting and belittling others and trying to manipulate them to get what they want.
Common Agreeableness Traits
Each of the Big Five personality traits is made up of six facets or sub traits. These can be assessed independently of the trait that they belong to in a personality test.
The sub traits of the agreeableness domain are:
High agreeableness characteristics
- Are kind, considerate, and helpful
- Tend to get involved in altruistic activities or community events
- Honest and sincere in words and deeds
- Feel empathy and concern for other people
- Enjoy helping and contributing to the happiness of other people
- Tend to have a wide circle of friends
Low agreeableness characteristics
- Prefers solitude
- Feels exhausted when having to socialize a lot
- Finds it difficult to start conversations
- Dislikes making small talk
- Carefully thinks things through before speaking
- Dislikes being the center of attention
Causes of Agreeableness
The exact reason why people tend to have more or less interest in being agreeable has been the subject of considerable debate and research in psychology. As with many such debates, the question tends to boil down to two key contributors: nature or nurture.
While much of your personality is based on experiences, upbringing, and environmental factors, there is a large genetic influence. Many proteins within the human brain determine how the cells communicate and form new connections. How these neurons form determines what pathways your brain forms, and eventually what thoughts, feelings, and personality you have.
Some people are more prone to agreeableness, based partially on what proteins their genes encode for, and therefore how their neurons form. DNA analysis has identified several genes which may affect this trait.
Agreeableness is a complex trait influenced by a wide variety of genetic components. However, it is also a very malleable trait. Not only does it change depending on environmental factors, but it also changes in people over time. In general, as people get older they become more agreeable.
The origins of individual differences in agreeableness have prompted considerable speculation. Agreeableness holds the strongest environmental component of the Big Five traits: Estimates of its shared and nonshared environmental influence range as high as 21% and 67%, respectively (Bergeman et al., 1993). Recognizing that it is not a genetic fixture, the consensus view holds that agreeableness is probably grounded in childhood difficultness (Graziano, 1994). More than a temperament trait, difficultness encompasses impulsivity, tractability, and negativity (Bates, 1986), all of which have a direct bearing on social interactions and interpersonal relationships. Thus, adult agreeableness should have its origins in emotional and behavioral regulation as indicated by child cooperation, self-control, persistence, and expressed affect (Ahadi & Rothbart, 1994).
The degree to which a person presents particular traits does depend upon innate personality, but it also depends a great deal upon circumstances. Even the most agreeable person may become less agreeable when faced with direct competition for critical resources or important opportunities. On the other hand, research suggests that it is possible to increase agreeableness through:
- Exposure to positive role models who demonstrate highly agreeable qualities
- Being in situations where agreeableness is important (such as in a job which involves collaboration)
- Easy access to opportunities to behave in an altruistic manner
It may not be surprising that very young children are, in general, more self-centered and less agreeable than adults. It may be that adults’ experience with the ups and downs of life make them more empathetic to others’ pain (Greenberg et al., 2018).
It may also be that ethical or religious education has a significant impact on agreeableness. A third explanation may be that we learn, over time, that most people are more likely to accede to our requests if we first build a trusting relationship.
Careers and agreeableness trait
It has been argued that how a person’s career unfolds is increasingly affected by their own values, personality characteristics, goals and preferences. See what the best-suited careers for agreeableness trait high and low scorers.
People who are more agreeable tend to empathize easily with others. They thrive in environments that encourage them to build connections and make a positive contribution to their community.
Of course, it is always a plus to have the capacity to collaborate, socialize, and build positive relationships with others. And “agreeable” people are likely to do well in fields in which these skills are important.
Agreeableness, however, can have its drawbacks. Agreeable people, for example, may find it very difficult to work alone, analyze the validity of arguments, make difficult decisions, or give bad news. As a result, a low level of agreeableness may make it easier to succeed in some fields
Potential job ideas for those who rank higher in this area are:
- Religious Leader
- Non-Profit Organizer
The Big Five embraces five very different personality traits, and each person has a different combination of each. It’s important to note that potential jobs for highly agreeable people could vary if the person has an additional strong trait.
Less agreeable people tend to do a better job in environments that don’t expect them to connect emotionally with others. They thrive in careers that are objective and logical, as it allows them to be direct.
Potential job ideas for those who rank lower in this area are:
- Computer Programmer
- Venture Capitalist
- Upper management
- Arts criticism
Agreeableness Book Recommendations
Continue expanding your knowledge on the subject of agreeableness and engage it by reading the books we have selected for you:
- John, O. P., & Srivastava, S. (1999). The Big-Five trait taxonomy: History, measurement, and theoretical perspectives. In L. A. Pervin & O. P. John (Eds.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research (Vol. 2, pp. 102–138). New York: Guilford Press.
- Greenberg DM, Baron-Cohen S, Rosenberg N, Fonagy P, Rentfrow PJ. Elevated empathy in adults following childhood trauma. PLoS ONE. 2018
- Bergeman CS, Chipuer HM, Plomin R, Pedersen NL, McClearn GE, Nessleroade JR, et al. Genetic and environmental effects on openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness: An adoption/twin study. Journal of Personality. 1993;61:159–179.
- Graziano WG. The development of agreeableness as a dimension of personality. In: Halverson CF Jr, Kohnstamm GA, Martin RP, editors. The developing structure of temperament and personality from infancy to adulthood. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum; 1994. pp. 339–354.
- Bates JE. Measurement of temperament. In: Plomin R, Dunn J, editors. The study of temperament: Changes, continuities, and challenges. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum; 1986. pp. 1–11.
- Ahadi SA, Rothbart MK. Temperament, development, and the Big Five. In: Halverson CF Jr, Kohnstamm GA, Martin RP, editors. The developing structure of temperament and personality from infancy to adulthood. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum; 1994. pp. 189–207.