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Agreeableness: What is it and why your business should care

December 4, 2023
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Finding the best person for the job has always been a challenge. What makes a great employee great? Some companies believe they’ve figured out the answer, and as a result, it’s become increasingly common to see businesses analysing candidates’ personality and soft skills to help them make hiring decisions.

But different roles require different traits, and how can you decide what to assess? Today, we’re going to delve deep into one of the Big Five traits — agreeableness.

Note: Thrive assessments already come with our psychologists’ recommendations for traits and cognitive abilities for individual roles, so you don’t have to do the work yourself!

What is the Big Five model?

The Big Five model is considered the most useful assessment type when it comes to business decisions. According to this concept, there are five clusters of traits that are the most indicative of performance: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism — also referred to as OCEAN. Unlike other personality models, which often try to fit people into one of a number of personality ‘types’, the Big Five theory assesses specific traits on a spectrum, assigning each individual a certain level for each. These categories can be insightful for employers in the recruitment process and after.

Further reading: The Big Five model — overview, origins, and use in human resources

What is agreeableness?

Agreeableness is a personality trait that is integral to the Big Five model, and is considered to be one of the core qualities that define an individual’s personality. Essentially, agreeableness measures how pleasant it is to be around a person. Agreeable people are trusting and trustworthy, altruistic, kind, and empathetic. They’re more inclined to help, even if they don’t benefit directly from it.

People who score low in agreeableness, however, will be more selfish, self-involved, and self-sufficient. They might be less patient and tolerant, or keep a distance from others, and prefer little to no interaction with people.

What traits are related to agreeableness?

Agreeableness embodies many positive traits in the context of employment, especially for those who work in teams or in support roles. In the Thrive platform, the main traits that relate to agreeableness are:

  • Supportive: Enjoys helping and supporting people, and makes time to develop others.
  • Cooperative: Likes working with others towards a shared goal, and avoids disagreeing with others.
  • Empathetic: Takes pleasure in listening to others, acts in a tolerant way, and shows warmth towards others.

Other qualities that may fall under the umbrella of agreeableness are:

  • Trust
  • Altruism
  • Modesty
  • Sympathy

On the other hand, some traits that could be associated with low agreeableness are:

  • Independence
  • Self-sufficiency
  • Competitiveness
  • Antisocial attitudes

How do agreeable people act in business situations?

As you can imagine, agreeable people are a particular delight to work with. They’re the stars of the office, thoughtful and kind, always ready to help or cheer someone up. However, it’s not just about being nice — studies have shown that teams with more agreeable members perform better and that agreeableness is one of the strongest personality predictors of team performance. This is because agreeable people are better communicators, and teams with agreeable personalities are more cohesive.

For example, an agreeable employee is more likely to:

  • Lend a hand to a colleague with a problem
  • React well to feedback
  • Avoid confrontation and drama
  • Take a conciliatory position in conflicts
  • Listen carefully to what others are saying
  • Act patiently in stressful social situations
  • Sharing equipment and ideas with colleagues
  • Cooperate and collaborate easily with others
  • Prefer to work with others

People with lower agreeableness scores, however, are more likely to work best alone, make decisions that are free of personal feelings, and confront the opinions of others. It’s clear that in business environments that require less contact with clients or colleagues, or that involve a lot of conflict or decisiveness, less agreeable people might shine.

What roles would benefit from high agreeableness?

As mentioned above, agreeableness is crucial for many careers, especially those that entail working closely with other people. Specifically, agreeableness is an advantage when it comes to building relationships and teams, as well as creating a pleasant culture to work in and maintaining harmony. The bottom line is that agreeable people care about others and they are more likeable, which makes them invaluable for certain roles, for example:

  • Psychologist
  • Social worker
  • Doctor
  • Teacher
  • Nanny/babysitter
  • Customer service

In other words, careers that involve caring and sympathising with people, and working well with others.

People who score lower in agreeableness may be better suited for roles that are less sociable and more individual and independent, such as:

  • Economist
  • Accountant
  • Developer
  • Engineer
  • Analyst
  • Coroner

Note: Most roles require a mix of different traits, so only looking into agreeableness is not enough. For example, a soldier will need to act in agreeable ways sometimes — when they receive an order, or alongside their teammates — and disagreeably sometimes — when they confront an enemy soldier. This is also true for office jobs — an HR manager needs to act agreeably when they talk to colleagues, but they sometimes need to act disagreeably, like when they make layoffs. Only a more complex view of people’s personality — a full assessment, not just the score for agreeableness — can produce scientifically valid and reliable data.

How can agreeableness be developed?

While we are all born with a certain personality, it doesn’t mean that we can’t improve or change certain aspects of it. Some ways to develop more agreeable behaviours include:

  • Practise healthy communication skills: When talking to others, listen actively and use open-ended questions, then think carefully about your response — is it judgemental? Or is it conducive to the conversation and your goals?
  • Try to enthuse others: Highlight team wins, share credit with others, and own up to your mistakes.
  • Work on empathising: Make a list of your preconceptions about others and of behaviour patterns that you find difficult to tolerate. Try to consciously monitor your feelings and responses when you observe these patterns in others and take steps to rethink, reframe, and adjust.
  • Utilise feedback: When you're giving feedback, balance it by highlighting strengths and offering suggestions for development. Provide genuine encouragement and recognition to motivate and give confidence to others.

Note: The Thrive assessments provide development tips based on the results, so candidates and employees who score lower in agreeableness will receive these practical steps and others to become more agreeable.

Wondering how agreeable your staff or candidates are? Book a demo with Thrive today to learn more about how we can help you to identify this trait in potential employees and how to nurture it within your current team.

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