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Disruption vs Disagreeable – Where are you?

Currently the word Disruptor has a positive connotation in our society and is viewed as someone who can see differently to interrupt an event, activity, or process by shining a light on a problem to improve a process, product, or services. A disruptive leader or employee can inspire new ideas and approaches that give a team or organization a competitive advantage.  But can disruptors go too far and become destructive and disagreeable?

Did you know in psychology there is an assessment of personality traits that measure agreeableness?  Agreeableness is considered one of the Big Five Personality traits.  According to Wikipedia ‘agreeableness is a personality trait that manifests as behavior that is perceived as kind, sympathetic, cooperative, warm, frank, and considerate.  People whose measured agreeableness is high are empathetic and altruistic, while those with low agreeableness are prone to selfish behavior and a lack of empathy. Those whose measured agreeableness is very low show signs of dark triad behavior such as manipulation and competing with others rather than cooperating.’

As with most personality traits, agreeableness works on a sliding scale from highly agreeable to low agreeableness.

High Agreeableness Low Agreeableness (Disagreeable)
Polite Abrasive
Considerate Argumentative
Trusting Critical
Cooperative Condescending
Modest Selfish

 Agreeableness may have its drawbacks too.  The more agreeable you are, the more likely it is for you to make “acceptable” decisions — in order not to upset anyone and be disliked. In his book; David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Malcolm Gladwell reiterates this important idea.

Gladwell finds that agreeable people may be too scared to break the rules. Breaking the rules or disrupting the social norms creates conflict, and agreeable people often try to avoid that because they value an atmosphere of camaraderie and acceptance. The main downside of this personality trait is reluctance to challenge the status quo, traditional ideas or old concepts — and consequently it rarely promotes innovation.

So where do disruptors fit in?  Do you need to be disagreeable to be a disruptor?  Can we find that middle ground?  To be effective with a disruptive style, you need to build a lot of trust and have strong working relationships– with leaders, colleagues and others. This takes skills in collaboration, negotiation and having productive dialogue which align with traits of agreeableness. You’ll need to clearly communicate so that everyone is in the loop all the time and allow plenty of time to build consensus and support.

Being a disruptor can be an incredibly effective way to drive innovation and bring about positive change. You don’t need to be disagreeable in how you go about that. By adapting to change and encouraging experimentation disruptors can bring success to their teams and organizations.  But it is a risky style that comes with dangers to be addressed and is not right for every situation. You need to carefully consider the unique needs and circumstances of each situation before disrupting.  Be thoughtful and engage your agreeableness traits.


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