Charles Chamberlain

the four quadrants of agreeableness


I've come to really like personality tests like Myers–Briggs and the Enneagram. A lot of people don't like them; they are by definition categorizing people and people don't fit neatly into categories. It can be dangerous to fall into the very real trap of thinking you understand someone just because you know their test results. Caveats aside, I have found them to be very useful and have appreciated their existence.

Taking a personality test and reading up on the results can tell you a lot about yourself. Wonderful! But the more interesting consequence for me has been what they can tell me about other people, and specifically how they can differ from myself. What personality tests have shown me is that there are many different axis in which people can be different: most of which I never would have thought of without them. It's all too easy to assume people think or feel the way you do: knowledge to the contrary is hard-won and oft-overlooked.

I've recently discovered another two axis which can be used to understand how people vary! Introducing, the four quadrants of agreeableness:

A cartesian graph with two axes "societal agreeableness" and "personal agreeableness". The four quadrants are a result of where you fall on each of those axes

The idea is that people tend to fall into a single category, and that category might tell you something interesting about the person. I want to be clear that "agreeable" here does not mean "nice": it is literally how much the person is willing to agree.

As an example, I am an extremely agreeable person in a day-to-day context of chatting with friends. This is not a value judgement but a statement of fact: I would wholeheartedly rather go along with whatever desire a friend puts forth than express my own which might be in conflict.

But when it comes to society and grand social landscapes (dev tools, for instance), I'm the exact opposite. I couldn't be more disagreeable. I prefer exclusively to express my individual opinion and would grit my teeth to go along with an overarching social current.

I have a good friend who falls on the other sides of these axis as me: She is in person quite disagreeable, that is, she is very willing to disagree with people and express her own opinion. But when it comes to social issues she's very much in favor of upholding tradition and social norms.

We came to the conclusion that there are people who fall into the other categories too: we both know people who are personally and socially agreeable as well as the opposite.

Again, these are not value judgements. The word 'agreeable' above is just a descriptor of how likely agreement is in the given context. That said, I have personally ascribed value judgements to agreeability in the past. But I'm realizing slowly that there is no 'right' way of doing things here. There is value in speaking your mind. There is value in getting along.

This kind of thing is fascinating to me! If you have any more axes that you use to think about people, I would love to hear them! Shoot me an email or chat on any platform.

Thanks for reading and hope you have a great day!