Agreeableness is a personality factor that describes how people approach their interactions with others. Agreeableness is a dimension of personality relating to individual differences in our desire to create positive interpersonal relationships.1 Let’s explore this trait, its benefits and drawbacks, how it impacts behavior, and how people can become more agreeable.
What Is Agreeableness?
Agreeableness, along with openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, and neuroticism, is a personality dimension in the Five Factor Model of personality (FFM), a widely researched and accepted categorization of human personality; together, these personality traits impact the way we approach ourselves, others, and life in general.<a2 The factor agreeableness is less frequently studied than the other four traits.3 Nonetheless, personality researchers in the field of psychology have studied the trait and offer scientific insights into how agreeableness impacts our behavior.
Agreeableness is a thought process, set of emotions, and, especially, a behavior.1 It is one of the two traits that describe how people relate to others and engage in interpersonal relationships (extraversion is the other).4
Sometimes, the agreeableness personality factor is referred to as the agreeableness-antagonism continuum, and it describes how people interact with others regarding such things as:5
Everyone falls somewhere along the spectrum between the two extremes.3
Research, such as a 2001 study appearing in the Journal of Personality, has shown that this trait is directly related to how people handle conflict.6 The most agreeable among us tend to avoid conflict at all costs, while those low in agreeableness seem to enjoy and even thrive on conflict. There’s much more to this trait than how one approaches conflict, however.
In fact, agreeableness is a complex personality factor with six distinct facets including:1
- Altruism: The degree to which someone enjoys helping others and finds giving to be fulfilling
- Compliance: Someone’s willingness to cooperate, compromise, and follow rules and procedures
- Modesty: How quiet or boastful someone is about their accomplishments and how much they enjoy talking about themselves
- Straightforwardness: A person’s level of honesty, genuineness, and sincerity as well as how manipulative they tend to be
- Tender-mindedness: Someone’s degree of empathy and compassion for their fellow humans and all living things
- Trust: The way someone views others and how much they believe that others lie or or deceitful
It’s worth noting that not everyone agrees with the division of agreeableness into six subsections. Some researchers prefer the use of five facets, including affability, compassion, modesty, morality, and trust.7 The difference may be splitting hairs, however, as no matter how the qualities of agreeableness are defined or divided, all are nuances that describe how people engage in interpersonal relationships.
How Is Agreeableness Measured?
Agreeableness is measured with inventories that assess where people fall on the spectrum of each of the five personality traits. A reliable measurement of the personality factors requires a formal assessment by a psychologist. Psychologists use tests, either paper-and-pencil or computerized, such as the Structured Interview for the Five-Factor Model of Personality, the NEO Personality Inventory—Revised (NEO-PI-R), or The NEO Five-Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI). These are detailed tests with numerous questions designed to pinpoint the nuances of personality.8 Scores are complex, involving numerous sub-scales that lend reliable insight into someone’s personality
It’s possible to take versions of these personality tests casually online. Entering “Five factor personality test” or “Big 5 personality test” into a search engine will yield numerous websites where you can take a test free of charge or for a small fee and receive almost instant results. It’s important to note that these are more for entertainment or to gain a general awareness of where you fall on the spectrum of agreeableness and the other four traits. For a truly accurate and detailed assessment and to determine where you fall on the agreeableness-antagonism spectrum, it’s necessary to take the test with a licensed psychologist who can then help you interpret the results much more thoroughly than a short profile you receive in an email after taking a quick online test.
Common Characteristics of Agreeableness
Simply put, someone who is high in agreeableness is genuinely likeable.
Agreeable people share a number of characteristics and are often described as:1,9,10
In contrast, people on the other end of the spectrum—those low in agreeableness who tend toward antagonism—are often described as:1
Bear in mind that very few people are one extreme or the other. Further, even those high in agreeableness aren’t always easy-going and friendly. Everyone has bad days and reacts negatively to stressful people and situations, even those who are generally agreeable. Rather than being an absolute, this factor (and the others, too) describes an overall pattern of someone’s personality. It merely explains how someone acts in their interpersonal relationships most of the time.
How Agreeableness Influences Behavior
Agreeableness is a personality factor that seeks to explain how people act with others; therefore, it directly influences behavior in all situations in which we encounter human beings. Here’s a look at some specific ways the trait agreeableness impacts our actions.
Agreeableness is a pattern that impacts the way we act in all types of relationships, such as intimate partnerships, friendships, and with coworkers, supervisors, and subordinates. People high in agreeableness approach interactions with empathy, flexibility, and adaptability.10 They are able to take the perspective of others into account even when they disagree with them.
The higher someone is in agreeableness, the more they purposefully avoid conflict and the less likely they are to complain or show anger.10 This doesn’t mean that they don’t have opinions of their own or never get irritated with another person but instead reflects the way they act (or choose not to act) on these feelings.
As Team Players
People who are high in this trait make great team players. They are polite, respectful, and cooperative rather than manipulative, and they aren’t prone to taking advantage of others for their own gain.4 The higher someone is in agreeableness, the less ego-driven they tend to be, acting more to help everyone succeed than to outperform others or be seen as the best.10 People who step in to help solve conflicts positively and enhance cooperation among groups of people are usually those that are high in agreeableness.
Agreeableness includes traits like openly displaying empathy and kindness.4 People high in agreeableness treat people equally. They’re not prone to prejudice or bullying.1
The people among us who willingly and often reach out to help others are usually those who are high in the factor agreeableness.10 While even people who are lower in agreeableness might jump in to help in isolated situations like emergencies, those higher in the trait are altruistic and helpful as part of their overall behavior and are the ones who actively volunteer their time long-term.1
Because they’re caring and empathetic, agreeable people take interest in others. They give others their full attention when they’re with them, and they listen deeply. This characteristic is often what allows them to know what help is needed so they can then offer their assistance.
Those high in agreeableness don’t merely avoid conflict because they’re personally uncomfortable with it. Instead, they genuinely look for the good and others; further, they are other-oriented rather than self-oriented and tend to be understanding and forgiving.10
As a factor of personality, agreeableness influences the way we interact with everyone else in our lives and across situations. Like the other factors, there isn’t a value judgment attached to it. People high in agreeableness aren’t “good,” and those low in the trait aren’t “bad,” but people on the high end of the spectrum do tend to be easier to get along with. While the trait itself doesn’t carry a value judgment, there are pros and cons to being highly agreeable.
What Are the Benefits of Agreeableness?
Agreeableness is associated with prosocial behavior. Prosocial behavior, in turn, is linked to a greater sense of wellbeing, happiness, and positive emotions.
Other-directed behavior and altruism is positively correlated with:11
- Greater life satisfaction
- Positive emotions and outlook
- Decreased depression
- Positive social connections
- Lower mortality rates and increased reports of happiness in older adults
- Improved job performance among employees who believed that their work improved the lives of others
Being high in agreeableness also helps people avoid problems associated with a low degree of this trait, such as:1
- Aggressive behavior
- Acts of violence
- Risky sexual behavior
- Mental health disorders such as social anxiety disorder, agoraphobia, and panic disorder
High agreeableness may even be tied to lower sensations of pain. In a study, people who were agreeable displayed increased brain activity in a region thought to suppress pain and were more likely to have their pain eased by a placebo instead of actual pain-reducing drugs.12
Being agreeable seems to offer numerous advantages. However, it’s possible to have too much of a good thing.
Are There Negative Aspects of Being Agreeable?
There is a downside to being too agreeable. Highly agreeable people tend to be people-pleasers, often sacrificing their own interests and needs in the interest of helping, supporting, or caring for others.
There can be negative aspects of being agreeable, including:10
- Giving up things that are personally important for the sake of avoiding arguments or making others happy
- Being taken advantage of by those that aren’t so agreeable
- Increased suffering because their own needs go unmet (either because of overt manipulation by others or because they simply don’t speak up for themselves to make their needs known)
- Avoiding conflicts that could lead to positive outcomes and growth
- Experiencing burn-out and a reduction in the ability to give
- Possessing perfectionistic tendencies
Causes of Agreeableness
The five personality factors are complex with both genetic and environmental components. They have contributing factors, but there isn’t a single cause of the traits that can be easily pinpointed. That said some causes of agreeableness have been identified.
Agreeableness is partially influenced by our genes. A study reported in 2013 in the Journal of Human Genetics examend 1,089 Korean women between the ages of 18 and 40 using the Genome-Wide Association Study (GWAS) and the formal five-factor personality assessment NEO-PI-R.13 They found a connection between agreeableness, a specific gene called DRD3, and several of that gene’s variants. The DRD3 receptor is located in the limbic system of the brain, the area involved in emotions, cognitive functions, and endocrine activity. Therefore, researchers believe that agreeableness has both genetic and neurobiological influences.
Agreeableness is also associated with human development and progression during the lifespan. People tend to become more agreeable as they age.4,9,13 This can be explained in part by the tendency for people to gain emotional maturity with time and life experience and because as people grow older, they often prioritize social and emotional goals over task-oriented or productivity goals.9 Being prosocial seems to become more important as people age.
Gender may also influence someone’s degree of agreeableness. The two traits among the five personality factors that have the biggest gender differences are agreeableness and neuroticism, with women tending to score higher in both traits than men.4
Of course, differences in agreeableness in specific groups like gender and age aren’t absolute. Individual differences abound. Some men are more agreeable than the average woman, and some women are less agreeable than the average man.4 Similar individual differences can be found in various age groups as well. The five personality factors, including agreeableness, are quite individualized with multiple factors influencing how much or little someone possesses them.
5 Ways to Become More Agreeable
Our personalities aren’t fixed. Agreeableness and the other four personality factors are malleable, and studies show that it’s possible to move up and down the spectrum of each of the traits.14,15
If after learning more about agreeableness you’d like to possess more of the trait, try these five tips:
1. Develop a Specific Goal
According to a study reported in 2015 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, developing intentions and setting goals contributed to positive changes in personality factors such as agreeableness.14 Thinking that you’d like to be more agreeable is very broad and vague and thus difficult to achieve. Instead, be more specific and think about your motivation or reason for becoming more agreeable.
What would this mean for you, your relationships, and your general interactions with others? The nature of agreeableness is other-orientation rather than self-orientation, so expand your thinking beyond what’s in it for you. How will the people you care about benefit if you’re more agreeable?
It can be helpful to break goals down into smaller components. Instead of thinking about the broad concept of “agreeableness,” look at the six facets of the trait mentioned above, and identify one or two areas that you’d like to develop first. You might want to add more, but starting with just one or two will make the process less overwhelming.
When you know what you want, determine specific, small action steps you can take to reach your goal. For example, if you’d like to become more empathetic, you might decide to start listening more fully when your loved ones are sharing their experiences with you.
2. Find Meaning & Invest Yourself in What you do
Feeling more connected to what you do, whether that’s in your job or in other actions and relationships, can help you become more agreeable. Identifying ways your work or other actions improve the lives of others helps you deepen your understanding of your impact on people.11 In turn, this increases empathy, a desire for altruism, and helps you reap the benefits of agreeableness.
3. Notice Your Urge to Argue or Resist
Ironically, increasing self-awareness, a mindfulness skill, can help you be more oriented toward others and less self-centered. Begin to notice those times when you feel argumentative or resistant to people and ideas. As you notice yourself feeling and behaving in less-than-agreeable ways, you can then pause before automatically reacting. Reflect on your goals and greater meaning, and then choose to respond more agreeably rather than reacting argumentatively or aggressively.
4. Hone Your Empathy
It’s possible to become more empathetic toward other human beings.10 Spending time in meditation, especially mindfulness meditation and loving-kindness meditation, has been shown to increase empathy.16 Even the simple act of reading novels, which are ultimately about human beings and their experiences and challenges in life, can boost your levels of empathy.10
You can also build empathy, compassion, and understanding by listening to others more deeply, attending to what they say rather than mind-wandering or thinking of what you want to say next. This is also a way of becoming more modest and other-oriented rather than self-oriented, an important facet of agreeableness.
5. Become More Actively Altruistic
Both change and agreeableness have this in common: they require intentional action. It’s not enough to want to become agreeable; instead, it requires you to do things for others. If you’re not used to reaching out and helping, start small. Begin to volunteer your time in an activity you already enjoy. If you love animals, for example, consider spending just an hour a week helping out at a local animal shelter. Action is what leads to motivation,17 and as you increasingly do more for others, you just might find that you enjoy the satisfaction that acts of kindness brings. Then, you’ll want to do more of it, increasing your agreeableness in the process.
Final Thoughts on Agreeableness
The five personality factors are convenient ways of describing individual differences in people. They aren’t all-or-nothing traits, and they aren’t value judgments or measures of someone’s worth. The agreeableness-antagonism spectrum is simply a way of noting how people behave in their interpersonal relationships. Agreeableness does have benefits and drawbacks, but it’s neither all good nor all bad. Where do you fall on the spectrum? If you so desire, you can take measures to boost your level of agreeableness and, with it, your level of satisfaction with yourself and your life.
What Is Agreeableness Infographics