It was Jessica’s first review. She had been with the company after coming from a land grant university in a largely rural state. It was an adjustment coming to work at one of the nation’s elite consulting firms. Most of the new hires came from Ivy League Schools.

Grace her boss started by saying: “Jess I’m really impressed with practical abilities. In fact none of our first years come close to you in practical problem solving. I’m also impressed by how agreeable you are, but that’s also a concern.”

“Let me start with where I see strengths and how your strengths may also be a concern. I’ve seen several cases where you stepped in to help a colleague. But I want you to teach them and not do the work for them.”

“In meetings, you seem reluctant to speak up. And when you do, you are reluctant to disagree even though I suspect you have a better way. Here’s the trick. Say Yes/And. Yes is your agreement. And is your ideas to add to what others have said”

“I really value your modesty but don’t hide your achievement. You don’t need to be always promoting yourself as some of your colleagues, but don’t be bashful about accepting credit for your work.”

“Now let me say two things that I really value in your performance. You are very truthful. I never worry if I’m hearing the true story. You tell me the good and the bad, and I like that. Also I really value your empathy toward others who are struggling. I find that a rare trait in high-achieving young people.”

“Finally, one word of caution: at times, I think you are too trusting. This can be an overly competitive company, and others may not always be as supportive as you would be. To quote former President Reagan: ‘Trust but verify.’”

Agreeableness has been identified as one of the five distinctive personality traits by psychologists along with introversion/extroversion, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness. For most organizations, agreeableness is a desirable trait, but it can have its limits as was evident in Jessica’s performance review.

There are six elements to the agreeableness trait:

  • Altruism – Your willingness to support others without being asked or expecting a reward.
  • Cooperation – Your willingness to subordinate your desires to those of a group.
  • Honesty – Your personal values that guide you to be truthful.
  • Modesty – Your willingness to forego praise and be humble.
  • Compassion – Your empathetic response to others.
  • Trust – Your acceptance of others and what they tell you and your belief that they are honest.

Often when we talk about the culture of an organization and how we fit in, we are talking about agreeableness. It’s how we fit in with the six elements listed above to that of the organization.

*   *   *

“The culture of a workplace – an organization’s values, norms, and practices – has a huge impact on our happiness and success.” – Adam Grant (Organizational Psychologist)

How To Use

Useful guides for incorporating messages into discussion.