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.  The 6 factors related to the “Agreeableness/Disagreeableness” dimension are:

  1. Modesty
  2. Compliance
  3. Tender-mindedness
  4. Humanity
  5. Straightforwardness
  6. Trust

Low scores on these factors are seen as signs of “Disagreeableness”.

I think that this definition makes the error of conflating two very different, almost opposite, types of characteristics: those related to Deference (modesty, compliance, and tender-mindedness), and those related to Cohesion (trust, humanity, and straightforwardness).  In the context of building Collegially Disagreeable (C/D) cultures, treating these groups as distinct.

Ideally participants in a C/D culture 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 is too modest to advocate for an innovative idea, complies with the desires of those with higher status, or is too tender-minded 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 referred to 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, few of them will be productive.

Dissent and disagreement 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 vital 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