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Mental Health

Are you very agreeable? This personality trait may be why you make less money than your peers.

Do you tend to go with the flow, prefer cooperation over competition and hesitate to speak up for yourself?

You're probably high in agreeableness − a personality trait mental health experts say has plenty of upsides when it comes to interpersonal relationships but has challenges when it comes to self-advocacy and dealing with conflict.

"I think of it as being a human golden retriever," psychotherapist Stephanie Sarkis says. People who are highly agreeable "tend to be pretty friendly. This is a person that if they're standing in a grocery store line they'll start talking to other people, and they tend to look for the good in people. The flip side is that sometimes people may take advantage of them."

The Big Five personality traits

Agreeableness is one of five categories that comprise the Big Five, also known as O.C.E.A.N., a tool mental health professionals use to evaluate someone's baseline personality. The other four categories are openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion and neuroticism.

Do you tend to go with the flow, prefer cooperation over competition and hesitate to speak up for yourself? You're probably high in agreeableness − a personality trait that might have an impact on your income.

Psychologists have heavily researched the Big Five and say it provides a more a accurate, reliable personality description than other tests, such as Myers–Briggs or The Enneagram. The Big Five also remains largely stable throughout someone's life, meaning highly agreeable people will likely stay that way.

"The Big Five does have data behind it as a valid instrument, so it's more likely to measure what you are," Sarkis says. "But all these five factors also have a downside to them."

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What is agreeableness − and is it why you make less money?

Agreeable people are cooperative, friendly, compassionate and empathic. They can also, unfortunately, be treated like human doormats by disagreeable people, who are competitive, blunt, transactional and antagonistic.

"Agreeable people in relationships tend to want to please others, because they really don't like conflict, so they will avoid arguments sometimes, even to their own detriments," psychotherapist Chelsey Cole says. "That means a lot of times in relationships and at work, the disagreeable people get their way, because they're the loudest and they really don't mind the conflict. They're more interested in their own needs than keeping the peace."

Agreeableness can also make people more vulnerable to narcissists, who are more disagreeable and take advantage of agreeable people's empathy, and may even impact how much money someone makes. A United Kingdom study published in the Industrial and Labor Relations Review in 2011 found a negative linear relationship between wages and agreeableness.

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Psychologists theorize this could be because disagreeable people feel more comfortable advocating for themselves, while agreeable people prefer to tout others' accomplishments rather than their own. Agreeableness also might make people more likely to prioritize personal relationships over their career or income and pursue fields that pay less but involve more care-taking and human-to-human interaction.

It's not, Cole says, because agreeable people make for bad employees or don't provide significant contributions to the workplace.

"Agreeable employees care about what's best for the group, not just what's best for them," Cole says. "They're more likely to be helpful, to contribute to the team. You can count on agreeable employees to want harmony, to be cooperative, to think about what's best for the group, and they will likely go with the flow. They're the ones who will do things that other people don't want to do, just to keep the peace."

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Highly agreeable? Here are tips to keep in mind

If you think you may be highly agreeable, mental health professionals offer the following tips to counteract challenges brought on by this personality trait.

  • Remember not everyone has good intentions: "If you have someone that's being nice to you − and if you're high in agreeableness − you may not necessarily see that they have bad intent," Sarkis says, adding that not everyone who's nice is good.
  • Be aware of the consequences of going with the flow: Sometimes short-term conflict is necessary to prevent long-term suffering. "Start looking at the consequences of not setting boundaries," Cole says. "Ask yourself questions like, 'What have I sacrificed to keep the peace? What kind of toll is this taking on me mentally, emotionally, physically?' "
  • Set boundaries, even if you need to start small: "Don't jump to set boundaries in your most intimate relationships first," Cole says. "You may need boundaries there, but those are also going to be the most triggering relationships. ... If you would normally be available all the time, then set limits on how long you'll be available."
  • Empathize with others, but don't become co-dependent: "It's OK to be empathic with people without letting it engulf you. I think it's important to note when you get enmeshed with somebody, meaning their feelings have a direct impact on your feelings," Sarkis says. "When you get into codependency, it's to the point where it's setting yourself on fire to keep someone else warm."

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