Published on:

6th Aug 2021

Asserting Boundaries

We tend to think being agreeable and accommodating are positive traits. They are, but only to a certain extent. Studies have shown that too much of either conveys a negative impression to others—precisely what you want to prevent by not asserting yourself. Thus, it seems to make more sense to assert yourself on a consistent basis and stop the need for people-pleasing.

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If you were to read a review of yourself, perhaps in an appraisal at work, you might be pleased to see yourself described as “accommodating” and “agreeable.” This might be a good review at work, but are they generally good words to be described with? Be careful, as you might be fooled with the misplaced positivity around them.

To be accommodating or agreeable means adapting to make others happy, which isn’t establishing boundaries—it’s a distinct lack of assertiveness.

It’s not bad to be agreeable, and often this comes from a place of empathy—a psychological desire to create social harmony and to make life better for everyone else. By itself, it’s a positive force, and neutral at worst. But it’s the way that you might allow yourself to blur your lines in the name of agreeableness that it becomes a negative force in your life.

Agreeableness can also come from a desire to be liked, resulting in a lack of genuineness and suppression of the self. In an interesting display of the complexity of human nature, most people are actually annoyed by people-pleasing.

In a:

The unselfish members who gave toward the provision of a public good but used little of it themselves were also excluded from the group. Two follow-up studies were conducted, which found it wasn’t unpredictability or confusion causing these results. People just found the generous players as unlikeable as the selfish ones.

It seemed that these agreeable players made other people feel bad about themselves. They were also deemed “rule-breakers.” Although they were breaking the rules of negative social norms in a positive way, it was too much. Trying to be too nice, whether to impress or due to a craving for social harmony, actually caused people to exclude them from the very group they wanted to help.

You may have tried taking on the dirty jobs nobody else wants or paying a bar tab at a work party in the hope it would endear you to a group. This is actually likely to have the opposite effect; your extreme generosity makes people just as uncomfortable as the selfish people who make life more difficult or refuse to contribute.

Going against the grain, even if that’s by doing good deeds, makes you stand out as a target. You’re actually just as likely as the selfish person to be recommended for voluntary redundancy or to find there never seems to be room for you in any of the cars on road trips.

of Notre Dame Researchers in:

Agreeable people do just that: they agree, don’t rock the boat, and don’t dare to tread potentially controversial topics like pay raises or higher starting salaries. Agreeing to everything is a sure path to becoming a pushover.

The agreeable employee has a huge workload causing him sleepless nights. He’s approached by five colleagues asking for support and agreed to help them all. They’ve talked, wondering what he does all day if he’s got time to help everyone. His boss makes yet another unreasonable demand and he accepts it, disguising his impending doom at how he will get it all done.

Another colleague refuses to help others and when asked the same question demands he is paid more for it and is promoted to a managerial position because he’s asked for advice so often. The boss agrees to his demands and delegates some of his workload to the agreeable employee.

Since childhood, most people are told to be kind, put others first, and try to make life run smoothly; the playground peacemaker grows up to be the office diplomat. Being accommodating, agreeable, and selfless actually leads to being undervalued and even excluded from a group. This seems unfair but also likely rings true with experiences you’ve had in your life.

Clearly there is something else at work behind the compulsion to be agreeable and accommodating. It seems that other people don’t always view these traits as positive or pleasurable to be around. When we avoid assertiveness, we don’t want to appear rude or selfish, but you’re making a bad impression when you appear to be selfless and altruistic. It’s in your best interest to assert your rights and boundaries and look after number one.

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About the Podcast

Social Skills Coaching
Become More Likable, Productive, and Charismatic
While everyone wants to make themselves and their lives better, it has been hard to find specific, actionable steps to accomplish that. Until now...

Patrick King is a Social Interaction Specialist, in other words, a dating, online dating, image, and communication, and social skills coach based in San Francisco, California. He’s also a #1 Amazon best-selling dating and relationships author with the most popular online dating book on the market and writes frequently on dating, love, sex, and relationships.

He focuses on using his emotional intelligence and understanding of human interaction to break down emotional barriers, instill confidence, and equip people with the tools they need for success. No pickup artistry and no gimmicks, simply a thorough mastery of human psychology delivered with a dose of real talk.

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Russell Newton