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Why Your Workplace Needs More Than Nice


Highly agreeable people are some of the most pleasant people on Earth. They do what they’re told, mind their own business, and follow the crowd without question.

You want this type of person on your team, right? You want to hire somebody who keeps quiet, does what he’s told, and believes in his superiors with full faith and confidence. If you find yourself agreeing with this blog post up to this point, do yourself a favor and stop. Unless you’re running HR for a bureaucratic, slow moving organization, you absolutely need more than nice on your team. You want employees who know how to put up a good fight. Speaking one’s mind? All the better.

“People who are more agreeable may also be less willing to assert themselves,” Rachel Emma Silverman wrote in The Wall Street Journal about salary negotiations. If an employee cannot stand up for what he wants, he may not receive it. This could in turn wind up with him being resentful and looking for another position.

“A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’
merely uttered to please.”  - Gandhi

1. Diplomatic vs. Agreeable

There’s a strong difference between agreeable and diplomatic. Just because somebody’s assertive doesn’t mean that he has to be a jerk.

Assertive people know how to present ideas, influence teams, and drive results while keeping conversations polite. In other words, you want to find people who know how to say “no” with a smile. Agreeable people — well, they know how to smile, but that might be the end of the line.

“Many people are afraid of being assertive because they do not want to give off the impression of being aggressive,” according to the Step by Step blog. “It is totally possible. Both of them can be separated. You can take the negativity out of being assertive by following simple tips.”

Look for people who show strong planning and preparation skills as well as a strong ability to learn from others. The ability to show mutual respect and maintain a calm temperament are key.

2. Unhappy Teams

Don’t think that you need a nice boss to keep your team happy.

“Less agreeable people are also more likely to advocate for themselves and for others — a huge part of being a leader. A moderately disagreeable people might have the attitude, ‘I’m not going to step on people willy-nilly, but I’m not going to let people step on me either,’” wrote Denis Wilson in a Fast Company post.

Agreeable people won’t advocate for their teams, and that dynamic is terrible for morale. You don’t want to hire a total jerk, but you definitely want a hire with just enough spunk to keep up a good fight. In your preliminary interviews, look for people with confidence. Ask prospective candidates about specific instances in when they’ve stood up for what they believe.

And to that point an agreeable person, is most likely to follow the decisiveness of a disagreeable person. Outspoken and decisive speakers are far more likely to sway agreeable people, than to have the agreeable people stand up for themselves.

3. Hurt Businesses

Teamwork will improve your company’s bottom line. Agreeableness will hurt it.

“One HR exec at a tech company tells the story of acquiring a startup with a culture that was so consensus driven that they couldn’t decide on which features in order to keep projects on schedule and budget,” Wilson wrote.

Somebody needs to keep the lights on, right? Recruiters should look for employees who are decisive, forward-moving, and comfortable with split-second decisions. Your business just can’t afford to keep everybody happy all the time. What is the point of “culture,” when your company is moving at 1/10th the speed that it needs to be traveling?

4. Broken Plans

Imagine that you’re leading a team and well, your strategy is completely wrong. It happens. Even the smartest people make mistakes. We’re human.

Now, imagine that one of your employees saw you moving in the wrong direction — from the very beginning. But she didn’t do anything. She sat there and shut up. Maybe she was afraid to approach you, or maybe she dislikes conflict altogether. Who cares?

Whatever the rationale for her silence, her attitude is bad news (and just plain annoying). Withholding information is just as bad as sabotaging your team’s work. No matter her intent, her silence will waste your company a heck of a lot of money. You absolutely do not want this type of person on your team.

When interviewing candidates and screening for personality traits, look for people who have made tough judgment calls in the past. How did they handle communicating ‘uncomfortable’ information?

It’s totally fine to be wrong sometimes. It’s totally wrong, however, to recognize a problem and stay quiet about it. Workplace fear is a waste of time and energy, and the people who live by it are completely wrong for your business.

5. Poor Communicators

Efficiency relies on strong communication. Overly agreeable people aren’t clear communicators — they’re people pleasers who are comfortable with the status quo. They’ll never rock the boat, move your company forward, or innovate. They’re dead weight.

Luckily, communication skills are traits that you can gauge upfront in an interview or pre-screening test. Throw challenging questions at your candidates, and see how they respond. Are they confident? Do they stand up for themselves and their perspectives? Or do they ultimately agree with everything that you have to say?

6. Caveat: People Can Change

Don’t pigeonhole a team member just because you think she’s agreeable. Motivate her. Push her to speak up. Let her know that boldness is welcomed and embraced. Give her feedback to become more assertive.

Some people grow up thinking that agreeable behavior is the right way to act. They’re afraid to push boundaries for fear of retaliation. Being assertive doesn’t always come naturally, and some people just need a little help growing into bigger shoes and roles. Be a good manager by teaching and mentoring instead of judging and making assumptions.

Final Thoughts: It’s All About Fit

Don’t get us wrong — we believe that all people have the potential to add value to organizations. It’s all about fit potential. As Albert Einstein said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Think about it — some roles need agreeable people who can keep the status quo strong. There’s nothing wrong with people who enjoy these types of routines. In fact, these individuals do very well as social workers, caretakers, trade-show marketers, and employees at not for profit agencies. Make sure that when you hire, fit potential is your #1 goal.

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