Agreeable / Disagreeable


Agreeableness/Disagreeableness is an element of our behaviour so important that psychologists include it as one of the 5 foundational personality traits (“Conscientiousness”, “Agreeableness”, “Neuroticism”, “Openness”, and “Extraversion” – acronym “CANOE” or “OCEAN”).

In each of these traits, there are 6 basic factors.  In the context of standard “big five” trait analysis, scoring poorly on measures of:

  1. modesty
  2. compliance
  3. tendermindedness
  4. humanity
  5. straightforwardness
  6. trust

are signs of “Disagreeableness”.  But in the context of Collegially Disagreeable (C/D) processes, I’m defining the term somewhat differently.  I’ve grouped the 6 factors into two distinct groups, those related to Deference (modesty, compliance, and tendermindedness), and those related to Cohesion (trust, humanity, and straightforwardness).

Ideally participants in a C/D process will score very poorly in the Deference factors and very highly in those measuring Cohesion.  Successful C/D requires a commitment to take dissenting, often discomforting, positions.  The Deference factors inhibit these sort of discussions, creating precisely the type of group-think that can be so dangerous.  In contrast, low scores on the Cohesion factors (usually seen as a sign of “Disagreeableness”) undermine the ability of the group to work together.

The opposite of deference is dissent.  Open courageous honest conversations cannot happen when someone withholds an innovative idea due to modesty, complies with the instruction of others, or is too tenderminded to risk offending others.  Vigorous conversations become tentative, novel ideas and solutions go unsaid.

Disdain, deception, and suspicion (the opposites of humanity, straightforwardness, and trust) are part of the cluster of behaviours that exemplify the sub-class of Disagreeable people commonly known as “Assholes”.  Rather than fostering dissent and open discussion, these behaviours create an environment of secrecy, factions, and betrayal.    While this may lead to lots of disagreements, little of it will be productive.

Dissent and disagreement will naturally generate tension within a group.  It is inevitable that some people will at times take offense at another person’s comment.  To counter-act this divisive force, it is important that group members make a point of deliberately practicing cohesive factor behaviours.  It is hard to rebuild collegiality after statements that are deliberately hurtful or demeaning, but it is also difficult to do this following an accusation that someone has done so. (Shaming – a type of anti-humanity driven by mistrust – is another way to seriously undermines C/D.)

collegially disagreeable  6 rules to be collegially disagreeable