Agreeableness

& Relevant Book Recommendations
July 29, 2021
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Agreeableness - The Big Five Personality Traits, abstract painting of a woman with her face covered in paint

Table of Contents

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:

Trust
Altruism
Morality
Modesty
Cooperation
Sympathy

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
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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.

Agreeableness and other Big Five Traits

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:

  • Counselor
  • Nurse
  • Teacher
  • Religious Leader
  • Veterinarian
  • Non-Profit Organizer
  • Judge

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:

  • Accountant
  • Engineer
  • Scientist
  • Surgeon
  • Computer Programmer
  • Author
  • Venture Capitalist
  • Military
  • Science
  • Upper management
  • Entrepreneurship
  • 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:  

References

  1. 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.
  2. Greenberg DM, Baron-Cohen S, Rosenberg N, Fonagy P, Rentfrow PJ. Elevated empathy in adults following childhood traumaPLoS ONE. 2018
  3. 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 studyJournal of Personality. 1993;61:159–179.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
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Big Five circumplex models of Personality
Conflict Reaction
Agreeableness & 
Neuroticism

Easily annoyed, perceiving most of the actions of others as being ill-intended. Closed and quiet temperament people accumulate tension gradually and suddenly lash out later on at great intensity. On the other hand, open personalities frequently express their dissatisfactions by engaging in choleric or even aggressive reactions.  

The Nervous

He rarely gets angry in conflictual situations. On the contrary, he is animated by his desire not to hurt others and is easily impressed by their dramas. When confronted with a problematic situation, he tends to blame and punish himself, looking for emotional support in others. He sometimes appears to be what others would call a needy person.

The Sensible
Neuroticism
Agreeableness
Neuroticism
The Executor

He is a calculated person, cold-blooded, who does not act on the impulsive of the moment, but adequately controls his angriness and frustration. In relation with others, he can resort to every means, including manipulation or backstage games, to reach their goals.

The Mellow

He rarely gets angry, and when he does, he can easily get over the sadness or frustration he feels. Having an accommodating personality, he prefers to not care much for the troubles others cause and to look for a consensus when in conflictual situations.

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Big Five circumplex models of Personality
Human Interaction
Agreeableness & 
Extraversion

Prefers giving order to executing them. Frequently takes on a confrontational position when others contest his decision. May adopt bold solutions and, if successful, has a tendency to take all the credit. 

The Authoritarian

He likes the company of others, having an easy time establishing new relations and friendships. They frequently become group leaders, being appreciated for their ability to make themselves likeable. Tend to place a greater value on relationships to the detriment of tasks.

The Popular
Extraversion
Agreeableness
Extraversion
The Competitor

He prefers to keep a distance from others, rarely initiating contact, even with loved ones. He chooses to work independently, and when it comes to working relationships, he prefers respect over friendship and focusing on the task over focusing on relationships.

The Understander

He prefers to execute what he is told to without resistance. He often gives in, which determines others to try to take advantage of his “kindness”. Having a peaceful way of being, he rarely ends up in open confrontations with others.

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Big Five circumplex models of Personality
Society Orientation
Openness & 
Agreeableness

He is sensitive to the traditional values of society like family or church. Often believes that strictly respecting the moral and traditional norms without questioning them is something one must do if one wants to live in a healthy society.

The Traditional

Idealist and open-minded, he trusts in society’s favourable evolution and the positive nature of the human being. Believes that education significantly contributes to the development of society. He is tolerant and encourages any form of acceptance and diversity of ideas.

The Progressist
Agreeableness
Openness to experience
Agreeableness
The Fundamentalist

He lets his judgement be influenced by many preconceived ideas, which he passionately defends and can let go of with difficulty, no matter the evidence presented. Moreover, he has a sceptical vision of the evolution of human society, thinking those who break existing rules should be severely punished.

The Sophist

He can critically discuss any problem seeing both advantages and disadvantages, without getting emotionally involved. He prefers not to blend in with the rest of his co-workers and make winning and rational counter-arguments, even when risking to not consider the sensibilities of his colleagues when doing so.

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Big Five circumplex models of Personality
Character Type
Agreeableness & 
Conscientiousness

Being self-centered and organized gives you an individual that is oriented to task, career and gaining personal success. If his personal interests overlap with those of the group he is in he can obtain high performances. If not, he will choose his own interests.

The Careerist

A trustworthy person, always willing to offer his help to those who solicit it. Good discipline, working power and social skills make him an exceptional team player. He often gets voluntarily involved in group tasks and solution-seeking brainstorms without getting any personal gains.

The Loyal
Agreeableness
Openness to experience
Agreeableness
The Comfortable

It is difficult to count on him because he is tough to motivate even to start an action, let alone finish in time a task. Even after he starts, he can easily give up if he finds anything he doesn’t like. He is focused more on his own level of comfort and less on others. If it can get him an extra benefit, he tends to overlook existing rules.

The Receptive

He is motivated by good intentions and wants to get involved and help others., but because of his disorganization and lack of structure, he oftentimes has difficulties honouring the promises he makes. He needs to be protected by others and have relationships based on trust and common sense.

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