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Articles > Ask TraitLab: Agreeable or Assertive

Ask TraitLab: Agreeable or Assertive?

A reader asks about the distinctions between Agreeableness and Assertiveness.

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A reader asks:

Hi Greg,

What is the difference between being disagreeable and being assertive?

Being very assertive seems disagreeable to me, but I don't understand how this fits with the other parts of Extraversion.

For example, I see that Extraversion has an Assertiveness component and an Enthusiasm component. But to me, Enthusiasm (being positive and friendly) sounds a lot like Agreeableness! How are all these concepts related?



Hi Enthused,

Great question!

Extraversion and Agreeableness are both closely related to interpersonal behavior. And as you’d suspect, some interesting correlations exist between components of Extraversion and Agreeableness. To answer your question, it helps to step back and examine the “aspect” components of both Big Five dimensions.

Remember, Big Five dimensions are more like collections of related traits than single traits.

Within each Big Five dimension are two smaller collections called aspects.

Agreeableness’s aspects are called Compassion and Politeness, and Extraversion’s are Assertiveness and Enthusiasm.

A diagram of the aspect components of Big Five Agreeableness and Extraversion: Assertiveness, Enthusiasm, Compassion, and Politeness.
Aspects of Big Five Extraversion and Big Five Agreeableness

The strongest positive correlation is between Compassion and Enthusiasm. People high on either tend to display more warmth and positive emotions. With Compassion, this warmth is often directed to other people. That said, someone rarely scores highly on Compassion and low on Enthusiasm. Instead, people high on Compassion tend to also score highly on Enthusiasm.

What about the relationship between Assertiveness and Compassion? It’s small and non-significant. In other words, knowing someone’s Assertiveness tells you very little about their Compassion. Highly Assertive people are just as likely to be high or low on Compassion.

On the other hand, Assertiveness and Politeness tend to be negatively correlated. People who score highly on Assertiveness often score lower on Politeness.

The answer to your question depends on what you mean by “disagreeable” — uncompassionate, impolite, or both?

From what we know about the correlations between these components, highly assertive people tend to be (but not always!) more disagreeable in only one sense: politeness.

Have a question about personality? Send it to greg@traitlab.com.

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