Being “agreeable” is valued in social and work circles. It means you are easy to be around, people want to work with you, you make people feel good. Can we be both agreeable and authentic? How do we remain authentic when we don’t agree? What if our authentic self is disruptive and contrary?
Agreeable is defined as “pleasing to the mind, or senses especially as according well with one’s tastes or needs”.
Authentic is defined as “real and genuine”.
The word agreeable itself brings forth memories of Shakespeare's, Taming of the Shrew, where Petruchio tries turn Kate, a wildcat, into an agreeable wife. He wants to show her that life is more comfortable if people agree with each other, or in this case, if she agrees with him. Kate is nothing if not authentic. She bucks social convention to show her wit and be her true self.
Many successful consultants are very agreeable. They create slides that look just the way client expect slides to look. Their websites look just like what clients expect to see. They show a linear process that everyone can agree with. They say things that clients expect them to say. Everyone nods when they talk.
I’m not so agreeable. I want to be provocative. I want to shake things up. I want to jar you into seeing things differently than you do today. I seek to do this in a kind and loving way, but I don’t seek to be agreeable. I can generally find a few people who appreciate this, but for many people, this is simply too much work.
How can we be authentic and also be agreeable? Or at least agreeable enough to be heard. Here are some things I’m experimenting with:
Know your audience. I was at a party recently, and people were complaining about how we rely too much on our phones. “We are losing the ability to remember facts!” one person lamented. I listened for a while to everyone chiming in and agreeing. Finally, when I could take it no longer, I piped in and said “Maybe. Or maybe that brain function is becoming obsolete to make way for higher brain functions.” Judging from their faces, and the screeching halt of the conversation, it became clear that I did not know my audience.
Find the people that are open to possibilities. When I have half-baked ideas, I have a hard time finding people to talk to. Most people tend to want the “answer”. Start by building a network of people that are willing to get into what my friend Isaac calls “the garbage can.” The “garbage can” is a place where unformed ideas are free to roam and be explored. Once the ideas are developed, you can go figure out how to communicate them to the people who only want answers.
Keep being Authentic. This is the hardest part. Don’t stop being authentic just because others can’t hear you. Instead, find ways to help them hear you better.
What have you done to remain authentic? Where have you been challenged? We’d love to hear from you!