Agreeableness is one of the Big Five Personality Traits that are occasionally referred to as the Dimensions of Personality. It’s also quite a controversial trait for many in the business world. While it’s generally accepted that agreeable people – those who are perceived as kind, sympathetic, cooperative, warm, and considerate – are pleasant to be around, clinical phycologists maintain the personality trait, while great for social interactions, is not always the best for business, particularly for managers and those who hold other leadership positions.
It’s also not the best personality trait for innovation.
The Business Problem with Agreeableness
Not only are agreeable people less likely to get ahead in their careers, earn less and are more likely to work harder than they need to, they also lack the direct, callous decision-making skills managers often need to make hard decisions that benefit the business. This is because agreeable people empathize with the person, usually putting their needs above those of the collective (i.e. the business).
How it Affects Innovation
It may seem nice to have a whole group of agreeable people working together on research and development projects, but it turns out the personality trait is not particularly conducive to innovative environments. This is because agreeable people tend to cultivate environments that are harmonious, rather than innovative, creative, or competitive. They prefer the status quo to rocking the boat with new and/or controversial ideas.
Remember that even Galileo was once thought of as a controversial outsider.
The Dangers of Groupthink
Individuals who are more agreeable also tend to be more susceptible to groupthink, obedience and persuasion, an idea that was famously brought out in the open by the Milgram Experiment in 1963. In the experiment, Stanley Milgram, a psychologist at Yale University, measured how far obedient people would be if they thought their instructions were part of an experiment, even if those instructions involved them harming another person (in the case of the experiment, it involved them delivering an electrical shock to person who answered questions incorrectly.
The point of the experiment was to ascertain how ordinary people could be persuaded into committing atrocities similar to those committed by Germans during WWII.
People who are susceptible to persuasion, groupthink and obedience are not likely to bring new ideas to the table that challenge existing norms. They also are not likely to challenge poor ideas that are posed by leaders, even if those are hindering the R&D efforts of their business.
Essentially, too much agreeableness can be a roadblock to breakthrough innovation in a hyperconnected world. If all you ever do is all you’ve ever done or will do, you are average. No business today can be average.
While some degree of agreeableness is desirable – too many disagreeable thinkers in one place can lead to conflict – being too agreeable will also have a negative effect on diversity of thought. A healthy balance, as usual, is the key to success.