“I think I’d find it easier to make friends if I could be more agreeable, but I don’t know how to change. I have very strong opinions and find it hard to tolerate people who don’t share my views.”
It’s important to be able to disagreeable when it matters—such as when you negotiate your salary or need to stand up for something important. However, it can help to learn to be agreeable in some situations in life, since people who are chronically disagreeable usually have few friends and a less satisfying social life.
In this article, I’ll cover how to be agreeable in a healthy way, and by the end of the article, I’ll explain the difference between being agreeable (usually good) and being submissive (usually not that good).
My goal with this article is to help you be able to be agreeable when you need to—while still being able to disagree when it matters.
Agreeable people like to cooperate with others. They are friendly, altruistic, caring, and sympathetic. They don’t usually like to debate or disagree with others, and they tend to go along with social norms.
Research shows that agreeable people have more stable, satisfying, and intimate friendships compared than less agreeable people. Their tendency to be polite, kind, and humble makes them likable. Agreeableness is also linked with good mental health.
It’s not always good to be agreeable. If you are low in agreeableness, you put your own interests ahead of everyone else’s. This can help you focus on personal goals, work independently, and resist peer pressure. However, having an easygoing personality usually has more advantages than disadvantages.
In this guide, you’ll learn how to be agreeable in social situations.
You don’t have to agree with everyone, but you’ll come across as more agreeable and empathic if you show a genuine interest in other peoples’ views. Agreeable people are tolerant and open-minded. They know it’s possible to be friends with someone with different opinions if you respect each other.
Ask questions that reveal not only what someone thinks but why they think that way. This will help you understand their position.
- “Oh, that’s an interesting opinion. Why do you believe that?”
- “How did you learn so much about [a topic or belief]?”
- “Did you ever used to think or feel differently about [a topic or belief]?”
Asking sincere questions and listening respectfully can be more rewarding than disagreeing or starting an argument for the sake of it.
The next time you start disagreeing with someone or starting an argument, ask yourself:
- “Is this really important?”
- “Will I even care about this conversation an hour from now/tomorrow/next week?”
- “Is this conversation going to help either of us in any way?”
If the answer to any of these questions is “No,” move on to another topic that you both enjoy, or end the conversation.
Being disagreeable might just be a bad habit, but being antagonistic or difficult can benefit you in some ways. For example, disagreeable behavior can:
- Give you a sense of superiority over others
- Give you a sense of satisfaction when you “win” an argument or get your own way
- Relieve stress because it gives you a chance to take your bad moods out on other people
- Stop other people ordering you around because they are intimidated by you
- Help you fit in with others, for example, if you are friends with cynical or negative people
The problem is that these benefits are usually short-term and don’t help you build satisfying friendships.
Think of healthier ways to get the same benefits. For example:
- If you feel the need to prove you are “better” than others, this could be a symptom of low self-estem. See our recommended reads on self-esteem.
- If you take your stress out on others, try positive stress relief methods like working out or meditation.
- If you are bored and want more mental stimulation, take up a new interest or meet new, more interesting people instead of picking fights.
- If you worry that people will take advantage of you, learn to spot the signs of a one-sided friendship and start setting boundaries.
Disagreeable people often hold unhelpful assumptions that make them unlikable, such as:
- “If someone doesn’t agree with me, they must be ignorant or stupid. If they were intelligent, they’d share my view.”
- “I have the right to say whatever I want, and everyone should respect my opinion.”
- “If someone says something wrong, I must correct them.”
If you hold these beliefs, you’ll put people down, talk over them, and start needless arguments. Challenging your assumptions can help change your behavior. Try to take a more balanced view of others. You probably want everyone else to give you the benefit of the doubt, so give them the same courtesy.
Here are some examples of more realistic, helpful thoughts:
- “If someone disagrees with me, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are stupid. It’s possible for two smart people to hold different views.”
- “Everyone says dumb things sometimes. That doesn’t mean they are actually dumb, and it doesn’t mean they are never worth listening to.”
- “I can say whatever I want, but there will be consequences. Most people don’t like to be told they are wrong and might resent me.”
- “I don’t have to prove myself right all the time. It’s OK to let things go.”
Hostile body language will make you appear disagreeable, even if your verbal language is friendly. Try to avoid frowning, crossing your arms, yawning when someone is making a point, or rolling your eyes.
Nod occasionally and have a friendly facial expression when someone else is speaking to show that you are listening.
When you disagree for the sake of it, and the other person clearly isn’t enjoying themselves, you are disrespecting their boundaries. Accept that some people don’t want to have in-depth conversations or heated discussions.
Watch out for these signs that it’s time to change the topic:
- They are giving very short, non-committal answers.
- Their body language has become “closed;” for example, they have folded their arms.
- Their feet are pointing away from you; this is a sign they want to leave.
- They are leaning away from you.
- They have stopped making eye contact.
Of course, if someone tells you directly that they would rather talk about something else, respect that.
If you like arguing about ideas or playing devil’s advocate for fun, consider joining a debating society or make friends with people who don’t mind having their ideas challenged.
See our guide on how to find like-minded people.
Agreeable people form balanced relationships that are based on trust and mutual disclosure. As they get to know someone, they share things about themselves in return, which creates emotional intimacy and satisfying friendships.
Self-disclosure helps you find commonalities and discover topics that you both like to talk about. See our guide on how to have deep conversations for more tips on getting to know people.
Agreeable people are ‘prosocial’; they like to spread happiness and help out where they can. Try to do at least one prosocial thing every day, such as:
- Giving a friend or colleague a compliment
- Picking up a small treat for a friend
- Sending someone an article or video that will cheer them up
Research shows that acts of kindness can make us feel happier, which can make us more agreeable.
Agreeable people often use affiliative humor, which is based on relatable observations and jokes about everyday life. Affiliative humor is good-natured, inoffensive, and doesn’t make anyone the butt of a joke. Avoid aggressive, dark, and self-deprecating humor if you want to come across as agreeable.
You don’t have to be naturally funny to be likable or agreeable, but having a sense of humor can make you more relatable and attractive. See our guide on how to be funny in a conversation for step by step advice.
When you need to ask someone to behave differently or explain why they have upset you, don’t launch straight into criticism. Show that you understand their situation. This can make them less defensive, which means you can have a more constructive conversation.
For example, with a friend who canceled your plans:
“I know that your family life has been really hectic lately, and it’s hard to find time for everything. But when you canceled on me at the last minute, I felt like our lunch date didn’t matter very much to you.”
You can use the same technique at work. For example, if you manage someone who keeps turning in their reports late because their personal issues are distracting them, you could say:
“I know that divorce is very stressful. It’s not surprising that you’re finding it hard to focus. But when you turn in work late, it slows everyone else down.”
Agreeable people don’t try to dominate others or bully them into going along with their wishes. In general, they aim for a win-win outcome because they believe the other person’s needs are just as important as their own.
Try these conflict strategies:
- Ask the other person to work with you to solve the problem. Emphasize that you have something important in common: you both want to find a solution. Do not shoot down their ideas, even if you think they are unrealistic.
- Don’t shout, intimidate, or insult anyone.
- If you feel yourself getting mad, take some time out to calm down.
- Be prepared to negotiate or compromise. This doesn’t mean you have to be too agreeable or let someone else walk all over you. It means being willing to accept a solution that is good enough, even if you can’t get exactly what you want.
- When you want or need something, ask for it directly. Do not rely on vague hints. Be honest and straightforward.
Agreeableness is a healthy personality trait, but if you take it too far, you might become submissive.
Submissive people always put everyone else first, even if it means they never get what they need or want. Agreeable people respect everyone’s needs, including their own.
Submissive people avoid conflict and don’t like to disagree in case they upset or annoy anyone. Agreeable people don’t usually enjoy fiery debates, but they can state their beliefs and politely “agree to disagree.”
Submissive people don’t push back when someone is taking advantage of them. Agreeable people like to give others the benefit of the doubt but they don’t put up with unreasonable behavior.
Submissive people go along with what other people want them to do. They don’t know how to say “No.” Agreeable people are happy to make compromises or let trivial matters go, but they don’t act against their own principles. They can turn down unreasonable requests.
In summary, agreeable people have healthy boundaries. They like to make people happy, but not at their own expense.
Say that you’re going to watch a movie with a friend. Picking the movie only your friend wants to watch is an example of submissive behavior.
Picking the movie only you want to watch and shooting down your friends’ ideas is an example of disagreeable behavior.
Making an effort to find the movie you both want to watch is an example of being agreeable, while maintaining your boundaries.