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Are You Too Agreeable?

When the need for harmony causes more harm than good.

Relationships thrive on harmony, or do they? To be a good team player is in high demand at the workplace and is therefore highly rewarded by bosses. Is that so? Many people, especially women, tend to believe in agreeableness to be a reliable asset at all times. Even in our modern times, many fall back on their desire to keep things friction-free. It is debatable whether this desire is based in biology—women need to keep themselves and their children safe—personality—some of us are more avoidant than others—upbringing—there is a designated caretaker in every family—our general culture—girls don’t frown or risk to be labeled “nasty”—or in our specific culture—our philosophical or religious conviction that happiness or salvation depend on kindness alone. Disagreeableness, so the avoidant mind, may lead to ostracism and ostracism to loneliness. We fear anxiety and depression. It is probable that attaching oneself to the trait of agreeableness is due to several reasons all at once. It may be more fruitful to ask ourselves if agreeableness is indeed always a good idea and, if not, what we can do about it.

Theoretically, most of us already know that avoiding conflict at all costs is not a good idea. 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. People get used to anything. A constant smile, perpetual silent service, no demands, and no complaints create an expectation for the harmony to continue, regardless of how much the agreeable person sacrifices for such a harmony. The partner of an agreeable person gets trained to take more than he or she should, do less work, and be more selfish. Also, women are known to work harder for less money than their male counterparts. Instead of facing a conflict, they grow resentful or pay with exhaustion. It is harmful to be exploited and grind one’s teeth to it.

What we know theoretically is either too hard to recognize in real life or too scary to change once we do. Examine your relationships. One way to know that you are too agreeable is when you feel exhausted in a number of relationships. Another is to note when you bring up small, trifling problems, instead of the elephant in the room. Bickering is often the result of avoiding the real issues. Be compassionate with yourself as you explore your belief system. It is difficult to loosen the attachment to being a people pleaser and to believing that happiness is harmony at all costs. Happiness must include self-care and self-love, which boils down to confidence and becoming your own best friend (See A Unified Theory of Happiness, Chapter 7). Once you determine that you are indeed too agreeable, drop the pseudo conflicts, and get ready to learn how to take better care of yourself:

1. Be patient

Do not expect that long-standing patterns change quickly, neither in yourself nor in “the other” of your relationships. It will take time to evolve for both parties, but change they must.

2. Be specific

Asking for what you need and want is most effective when we stay away from generalizations. State exactly what you want. Practice this skill with a friend before applying it to a real-life situation.

3. Award positive feedback

When you must be negative—which is how it will feel—start with something positive. Express your appreciation when the other is trying to improve. Do not settle, but refrain from sweeping judgments.

4. Understand

As you confront the other with a real problem, make sure you understand the other’s position. Do not assume you know. Convey that you understand when you understand. People feel less threatened when you verify their positions.

5. Do not give up easily

While you must be patient and as positive as you can be, do not let yourself withdraw when the first attempt(s) fail. Continue the conversation another time. Negotiate, possibly with a third-party present. Say things like, “As much as I understand your position and appreciate you: I must disagree here; reiterate this; feel compelled to ask for what is needed…” Rome was not built in one day, but it sure did not build itself. Stay active and pour in energy. Change is hard, but doable. Nobody else will fight your battle.

6. Give examples to illustrate your point

People often understand better when you share a related story or use a metaphor. For example, “I decided it is better for both of us if I stopped acting like Cinderella.” Or, “I am not Sleeping Beauty, after all. Nobody is. We must all wake up and face the truth of…”, “I am working like a champion. I earned a raise.” Be creative.

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© 2018 Andrea F. Polard, Psy.D. All rights reserved.