If you want to grow your career or gain success in life generally, there’s one trait which can help you more than many others, as a gateway to significant positive outcomes. New research looked at 1.9 million people across 3,900 different studies and found the characteristic of agreeableness was hugely impactful for everything from career growth and effectiveness to greater happiness.
Agreeableness is one of the five traits in the most well-researched model of personality called the Big Five personality theory. Someone who demonstrates agreeableness behaves in a way that is warm, friendly, empathetic, kind and cooperative. In addition, people who are agreeable tend to be optimistic and get along well with others.
But before you shake your head and assume agreeable people are the doormats of society, know that agreeable people don’t surrender themselves or give up strength. On the contrary, they retain personal power and their own opinions and get things done effectively, being mindful of others and the needs of the community as well.
Succeeding by Being Agreeable
The new research, published in Personality and Social Psychology Review found agreeableness is a turbo boost to success and life satisfaction. In addition, you can cultivate agreeableness and develop the ways in which you demonstrate within your work and your life. Here’s how:
Growth and Future Focus
Agreeable people tend to have greater aspirations for growth and an optimistic future focus. At a personal level, optimism is correlated with greater health and greater happiness. In addition, it’s a trait which tends to be over-represented in leaders. Organizations tend to reward positive, future focus and these approaches also tend to draw other people in as well.
Most people want to be around those who are approaching the world with optimism and future focus. Engagement and productivity also have a spillover effect. According to separate research, when you’re motivated, you have a positive effect on the people and culture around you.
So set goals, look toward the future and choose positive action whenever you can. You don’t have to be all-positive, all the time. Of course, you’ll need to think critically about how things can be better. But a skeptical eye on the present, is inherently part of believing the future can be better for the striving.
When people are agreeable, they tend to be more accepting of life as it is—and this helps them to adapt and adjust. Resilience is three things. First, it is understanding reality and being in tune and aware of what’s going on. Second, it is making sense of reality and thinking through what’s true, what’s important and its implications. Third, resilience is taking action to improvise, solve problems and respond. Agreeable people are resilient because they accept what’s true today, understand what must change and make choices and take action to contribute toward tomorrow.
So be aware, seek diverse opinions and challenge your own awareness. Consider your priorities and calibrate your preferences with those of the community. And take intentional action—to improve what’s happening and invest in the future.
Perhaps one of the most significant characteristics of agreeable people is their motivation to create and sustain positive relationships with others. They are attentive to those around them, empathetic and compassionate. They actively help people. In addition, they are attuned to social norms and obligations, and they respect and appreciate the ways people in multiple cultures tend to work best together.
Sociologically, the primary way people learn is through social modeling—through watching and listening and experiencing others. As a result, agreeable people have influence on those around them, and they tend to perpetuate kindness and concern, contributing to an effective community in which people care for and about each other.
So tune into others, empathize, reach out and help. When you care for others, you’ll tend to be happier and more fulfilled. Agreeable people also tend to be rewarded by employers, because they get along well with coworkers, help colleagues and contribute to the organization’s culture—and this bodes well for career advancement.
Statistically, when people are more agreeable, they tend to coordinate better with others and work effectively in a team setting. They aspire to mutual goals and orchestrate work among the group. In addition, they tend to adapt to the roles they need to play within the team—adjusting their behavior so the team can be successful.
Those who are agreeable express strong opinions when the time is right or step forward when the team really needs leadership. Or they choose to compromise when necessary. They articulate strong opinions, not in a way which is combative or which creates division, but in a way people can hear ideas and work toward mutual solutions. They are flexible to the needs of the group, while also demonstrating strength in the skills they express.
So elevate the needs of the group and collaborate with others to get good work done. Emphasize your own perspectives and respect others’ expression of their views as well—and help the group move forward toward mutual goals.
Effort and Engagement
Finally, agreeable people tend to make investments in both work and in non-work efforts. They take initiative, burn midnight oil to solve problems which motivate them and find creative new solutions to problems in their communities. Research shows when people are faced with problems and take positive action, they report greater mental health—so action pays off in multiple ways. People who are agreeable are responsive to the needs around them and engage with discretionary effort which results in a level of quality and concern for their work—based on their intrinsic desire to matter.
So identify the things that matter most to you. Prioritize and say no when things matter less, so you can say an emphatic yes to spending time on your areas of passion. Dig in, engage, invest and expend effort—in order to be more personally fulfilled and to achieve a positive career impact as well.
Overall, agreeableness is a balance. Be concerned for others’ needs, but avoid putting them ahead of your own too much—be intentional about when the needs of the group require compromise for the greater benefit. Choose your battles, but take care of yourself as well. Avoid being aggressive, selfish or arrogant—understanding you don’t have all the answers. Demonstrate humility and judgment—identifying when to stand firm and when to give ground.
Fundamentally, people who are agreeable get ahead—and are happier and more fulfilled—because they value others and the reciprocity which is fundamental to successful individuals and successful communities.