The Challenge of Separating Emotional and Intellectual Agreeableness

There is a decent amount of research showing that agreeableness (as measured by the five factor personality test) is not always associated with strong professional outcomes.

Specifically, agreeableness can reduce results orientation and create opportunities to be taken advantage of by colleagues who better use power to achieve their desired ends.

That being said, agreeableness need not be all bad: to the extent that it helps cultivate large, loose networks, agreeableness is likely of use to leaders in attracting talent and coalition members, especially in the non-profit sector.

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Many times, I’ll be in a conversation with a colleague, grantee, or potential grantee and there will be a small war going on my head: part of me wants to nod my head, smile, and ask probing but pleasant questions – while another party of me wants to dig in very hard on everything that might be wrong about what we’re discussing.

I have a strong desire to be both emotionally agreeable and intellectually disagreeable.

Which begs the question: is it possible to be emotionally agreeable while being intellectually disagreeable?

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I’m not sure. But here’s some things I try to do:

  • Utilize processes that create a safe space for intellectual aggression (i.e., assigning someone to be the devil’s advocate in a meeting).
  • Using hedging phrases such as “I might have this wrong, but….” that soften the blows of intellectual aggression.
  • Trying to separate my empathy for a person with my disagreement with her ideas – so that my intellectual disagreeableness does not bleed into full blown personal¬†animosity.

If you have any other tools, let me know.

I struggle to get the balance right.

Sometimes I feel like I’m too agreeable, and sometimes I feel like I’m too intellectually aggressive.

2 thoughts on “The Challenge of Separating Emotional and Intellectual Agreeableness

  1. Raulston, Dwight

    I don’t find the “I may have this wrong, but…” approach to be effective. It sounds simultaneously weak and patronizing to me. If you really believed you were wrong you wouldn’t say what you’re going to say. And it sets people up to disagree with you: if you yourself think the comment that follows may be wrong, why do you think that I should find what you have to say persuasive?

    On the bigger topic, I do agree that it’s important to find ways to be personally agreeable while disagreeing intellectually. The devil’s advocate approach is a good one. As I tell my students, I will sometimes argue against your point even when I personally agree with it simply to make you think more deeply.

    On Thu, Mar 31, 2016 at 7:02 AM, relinquishment wrote:

    > nkingsl posted: “There is a decent amount of research showing that > agreeableness (as measured by the five factor personality test) is not > always associated with strong professional outcomes. Specifically, > agreeableness can reduce results orientation and create opportunit” >

    Like

    Reply

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