Blog of Sara Jakša

What's the Deal with Agreeableness?

I have never really understood the agreeableness. When starting with the very short descriptions, it seemed that the agreeable people are nice and cooperative and empathic. Disagreeable people, in contrast, were hard, and competitive and direct.

When I take the personality test, I always score low on agreeableness. No matter what norms am I compared to. But actually, comparing gender, the women tend to be more agreeable on average (with quite a lot of overlap). So I should understand, why disagreeableness is like. What I did not understand is, what the other side looks like.

So I tried to figure out, what is the difference. And one of the models explaining that was based on the me vs. other difference. So the agreeable people put others higher then themselves. While the disagreeable people put themselves above the other people.

So that have additional effect. The agreeable people are more likely to be interested in other people. Because they put other people more highly, they are more likely to be cooperative and more empathic.

Alright, so they put other people above themselves. But if that is true, why are they always upset with my actions? Why are they always resentful about people getting what they want. Why are they a lot of times about being fair? I could not understand it.

I still remember giving an evaluation at the Toastmasters. My evaluations were not for the weak. I was asked to not evaluate the newcomers. But I was evaluating one of the older member and I was looking at the person I was giving the evaluation to. That person was listening, but while I did not feel like we have a conversation, I also did not see any negative reaction to it.

But then a couple of days later, I get an email for them, where they are asking me, when am I going to apologize. I remember looking at that email, wondering what was it about. So I wrote back that I have no idea, what was I supposed to be apologizing for. Well, the answer came back, saying that I should know that I emotionally wounded that person or something is that direction. I wrote back, that if that happened I apologize, since this was not my intention. But in my head, I was screaming 'WTF!?'. I could not process that reaction at all.

Thankfully, I recently had an opportunity to talk to somebody who was very agreeable, but who also aware of these theories. So we did not have to spend a lot of time figuring out what vocabulary to use. And there was a lot of interesting tidbits taken from that conversation, but one story stuck to my mind.

There he was explaining, how he sometimes he would forget an umbrella. And that there is a person, who said something like: 'You are always forgetting an umbrella.' And he said, in that moment I felt deeply wounded, like this was an emotional attack.

There the light went off for me. I sometimes say things like that, but these are just sentences. The words, where the other person was not taken into account at all. Overgeneralized observations. In a way a person would say that it is always raining. The people constructed my words as an attack, when I did not even think about them at all.

The difference in the me vs. others is a more general one. Because they are always putting the other people in front of them, they assume that other people also think about other people in the same way. That is why they assume that everything a person does is connected to other people in some way. So things, that are some for some completely different reason get constructed as things that are done for their sake or as attack on them.

Puts a part of my childhood in a different perspective. :)

This is also why not saying everything that I want to say works. Because if I simply don't act, then it can not get misrepresented. I can't act the way people want me to, if it goes against my thinking or feeling, but I usually don't have problem with not doing something (just don't stab me in the back, because I will retaliate :) ).

But even knowing a bit how agreeableness work now, I still don't think I really get it.

I presented the same topic and point at the Ljubljana Python Meetup in July 2019.