Where personality traits are concerned, it might seem like being agreeable is a positive, helpful, likable, and generally well-received trait.
If you’re pleasant, you are often accommodating, supporting others, open to other people’s needs, and flexible to their requests — all beneficial, positive qualities, right?
For better or worse, being agreeable can actually be harmful to you and others. It seems counterintuitive, but like so many aspects of interpersonal relations and personality traits, it’s complicated, and being agreeable vs. too agreeable is a slippery slope.
Experts agree that being indulgent can truly do more harm than good in many instances.
First, let’s break down what it means to be agreeable.
You’re partially correct if you’re picturing that token “easygoing” friend who is up for anything and always willing to go along with your requests and support your needs. According to Verywell Mind, “agreeableness describes a person’s ability to put other people’s needs above their own.”
You can probably see how that description poses some dilemmas right off the bat.
Agreeable individuals get pleasure out of serving others and putting the needs of others first. Generally speaking, pleasant people are also well-liked. They get along with others, display empathy, are emotionally intelligent, refrain from judgment, and prefer to de-escalate conflict whenever possible.
Again, all seemingly positive personal traits and skills. Everyone needs an agreeable friend and family member, and it’s easy to see why pleasant individuals are a joy to be around.
But it’s not all good.
The Harms of Being (Too) Agreeable
Agreeable people can also be overly trusting, forgiving, and flexible. In moderation and the appropriate scenario, those qualities are wonderful and helpful — forgiveness is a virtue, they say — but agreeable people can get taken advantage of in some instances. Their altruistic belief in the best intentions can be used against them.
Being too nice is never a good thing in relationships, which are give-and-take partnerships between people. If you’re pleasant and willing to do anything to avoid conflict or confrontation, you’re missing an essential piece of a mutually beneficial and healthy connection.
According to Andrea F. Polard Psy.D., author of A Unified Theory of Happiness, boundaries and conflict are essential in a healthy, balanced relationship.
“If we do not set boundaries in personal or professional relationships, chances are, the other expands his or her power over us, consciously or unconsciously,” she told Psychology Today. If someone is always happy, flexible, accommodating, and willing to give up their own needs for the sake of others, then this can “create an expectation for the harmony to continue, regardless of how much the agreeable person sacrifices for such a harmony.” This enables the less agreeable person to be more selfish, do less work and make less effort while the pleasant individual makes all the sacrifices.
This applies to many types of relationships, both professional and personal. Consider the many accommodations women feel they must make in the workplace to be seen as agreeable and likable (and therefore more desirable as an employee).
What Happens When Women are Too Agreeable at Work
Women have to work harder for less money than their male counterparts just to prove their worth. According to a new analysis by the National Women’s Law Center, which looked at the latest data from 2020, “women working full-time year-round were paid just 83 cents on the dollar compared with men.”
We know that women must work longer and harder to match the compensation men earn for the same job. We also know that many women are resorting to agreeableness to hold on to their jobs or move up in the ranks at work, assuming that if they are liked and accommodating, they will be more valuable.
According to Alicia Menendez, author of The Likeability Trap, MSNBC anchor, and host of the “Latina to Latina” podcast, this obsession with being liked and agreeable is highly problematic for women, especially for minority women.
Her book dives into the dilemma, arguing that women are so consumed by a desire to seem likable that we soften our personalities to be more agreeable. But if we’re too nice, we’re not considered fit for leadership roles.
It’s an impossible situation where women, especially women of color, are unable to be likable and successful at the same time because they are often penalized for that likeability or lack thereof.
Similarly, sometimes being agreeable and being too nice is just a way of compensating for underlying insecurities or issues.
“Being too nice can simply be another way of saying someone is uncomfortable with the possibility of letting people down,” explains Dr. Robin Buckley, CPC, a cognitive-behavioral coach. It might come from a deep-seeded need to please or a fear of rejection. But regardless of your reasoning, if you’re so focused on being too nice, you aren’t using that energy on your own needs and your own to-do list, Buckley told Bustle.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with being friendly, flexible, supportive of others, and empathetic to their needs. There is nothing wrong with being kind and considering what others want. Sometimes, there is nothing wrong with wanting to be liked, and there is certainly nothing wrong with avoiding judgment and conflict. There is, however, a problem when your excessive agreeableness is used against you or comes at the sacrifice of your own needs. And those are the keywords to keep in mind — your own needs.
Being agreeable is okay, but are you giving up a piece of yourself just to be likable? Are you slowly building up resentment for others because you are putting their needs first? Remember that relationships are about balance, and you must approach everything with moderation.
If your instinct is to be agreeable, try to focus on what you need and make sure you receive equal support and attention from others. If you’re inclined not to be nice, try giving a little more and seeing how flexibility and empathy for others impact your relationships. Being nice isn’t necessarily a problem; being too agreeable is.