I was listening to a podcast called Malcolm Gladwell’s 12 Rules for Life, which, in true Gladwellian style, comes at its topic in a truly oblique fashion, and I’m still not really sure what it’s about. Gladwell starts by framing his talk with reference to Jordan Peterson’s book, 12 Rules for Life. I’m not even going to try to give you a single link to learn more about this guy. Oh, OK, if I must… here’s The New Yorker’s take on Peterson. Thanks to a comment from my son who came in when I was working on this (“Oh, that guy”), I googled Peterson on feminism, and got stuck down that rabbit hole for several hours on Friday night.
If you do decide to watch some of the interviews of Peterson, can I just say that they are the best advertisement for coaching training that I could have wished for? No joke. So many of his interviewers make sweeping statements and assumptions, which Peterson won’t put up with and hence attempts to clarify, and then the interviewers completely fail to listen to. The extent to which the interviewers seem to need Peterson to conform to their mental model of a controversial figure is striking. He’s definitely not out to make friends, but wouldn’t you like to know what he is trying to say?
So, as I was saying, Gladwell is all over the place. Home invasion movies, hockey, and disagreeableness. And it was this last topic that got my attention. I know about the Big Five personality traits, and I think they’re kind of fun, but I hadn’t really thought about them all that much. And of all five, I had thought about agreeableness the least. Because who wants want to be disagreeable? Especially since agreeableness is associated with compassion, and compassion is associated with coaching—so, until I listened to this podcast, I would have thought of myself as agreeable.
This may be one of the many situations in which other people have more insight about you than you have about yourself (see this article in the Atlantic), because the more I listened to the podcast and made connections to myself and stories about others, I realized that I’m not agreeable at all, and I have a nasty feeling that may not be a surprise to others the way it was a surprise to me.
The a-ha moment was when it occurred to me how often I start sentences with the phrase “I don’t care…” Which is probably a pretty good indication that I am willing to take a stand on issues that I feel strongly about, and there happen to be quite a few of those, without minding too much that my position is not going to win me many friends. I am not out to cause offense, and I am not trying to be contrary, and I do in fact care how you feel, and I don’t want to be the cause of your distress—I just don’t care enough to say or do things differently in order to be agreeable. A lot like Jordan Peterson, in other words.
It occurs to me that a disagreeable man is seen as a strong leader—Churchill springs to mind—but a disagreeable woman—let’s say, Maggie Thatcher—is a disagreeable woman.
The very first thing I did when thinking about writing this Coaching Letter was to go looking for a video to help explain disagreeableness, and lo and behold, Jordan Peterson on agreeable and disagreeable people was the first thing that popped up! And he does have some interesting things to say about agreeableness and gender that go some way to explaining some of the biases against women in leadership positions. And the part about orientation to conflict is also useful—conflict doesn’t bother me much, either (even I already know that).
Finally, I’d like to thank Jim and Cesca for listening to me process this all last week. I was practicing leaning in to my disagreeableness, while practicing actually being agreeable, and I wonder how well I did?
I hope you’re having a fabulous summer, wherever you are. Yours, Isobel
Isobel Stevenson PhD PCC
Connecticut Center for School Change
151 New Park Avenue
Hartford, CT 06106