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MAUGHAN: I don’t even know how to respond to that.

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DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.

MAUGHAN: I’m Mike Maughan.

DUCKWORTH + MAUGHAN: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.

Today on the show: can you be too agreeable?

DUCKWORTH: What can I do to help you solve your problem?

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MAUGHAN: Hello, Angela! We are on our fourth personality trait of the Big Five. These have gone fast.

DUCKWORTH: Oh my gosh. Three down. Here we go.

MAUGHAN: So, today we are talking about agreeableness, and we have a great question to set this up. “Hi NSQ, it’s really important to me to be kind and empathetic. I volunteer, I donate to many charities and nonprofits, and I try to give everyone I meet the benefit of the doubt. I don’t regret any of these behaviors, but I’ve been taken advantage of many times because of them. Friends always know that I’ll help out when they need help moving or want to ride home from the airport, but they are suddenly busy when it’s time to reciprocate. I’ve also been scammed out of money when I thought I was helping someone in need. My therapist tells me that I’m too nice, but I don’t want to be meaner. Basically, my question is: can you be too agreeable? Faith.”

DUCKWORTH: Mike, I assume that Faith, who probably took the Big Five inventory on our website, scored really high in Big Five agreeableness. And I’m going to guess that you also scored super high in this personality factor.

MAUGHAN: So, this was my lowest of the positive scores. I got a four out of five  in agreeableness. 

DUCKWORTH: Really? It was your lowest one? I can’t believe that.

MAUGHAN: Yes, well, I mean except for neuroticism which is supposed to be —.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah, which you want to be low, yes.  

MAUGHAN: Yeah, so I scored a four. What was your score and what are the scores for our NSQ listeners?

DUCKWORTH: Well, I scored a 4.33, so not that different from you. And our listeners scored 3.83, so a little bit lower than you. The national average is almost exactly the average for our NSQ listeners. So, we are, like, straight up the middle of the alley for agreeableness compared to adults in the United States. And let me remind you of the six questions that you and I took. So, there were three questions that were positively scored. “I’m someone who is compassionate, has a soft heart. I am someone who assumes the best about people. I am someone who’s respectful, treats others with respect.” And you may recall there were three reverse-scored items. So the more you say, “Yeah, it’s like me,” the lower your agreeableness score. “I am someone who is sometimes rude to others. I’m someone who can be cold and uncaring. I am someone who tends to find fault with others.” I mean, I will say that Big Five agreeableness is partly about being a compassionate person. So, I think we should talk about that, because that’s what Faith is curious about. But there is a whole other part of Big Five agreeableness, which is really more about being compliant with other people’s requests — not because you’re kindhearted or that you are sympathetic, but just that you have this tendency to kind of, like, fall in line with other people’s demands.

MAUGHAN: Interesting. I have lived all over, well, the world, but all over the United States as well. And I found this thing by a journalist named Frank Jacobs called “Geopsychology: Your Personality Depends on Where You Live,” who was referencing this 2021 study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science. And they did a, a survey on agreeableness in the United States and what regions are quote-unquote “the most agreeable or disagreeable,” and I would love for you to guess!

DUCKWORTH: Oh my gosh, this is so fun. I’m going to guess the Northeast, including New York, is the least agreeable, and I’m going to guess that the Midwest is the most agreeable. Complete stereotyping here.

MAUGHAN: they found that disagreeableness hangs heaviest over some western states, from Montana to New Mexico, Nevada to the western halves of Kansas and Oklahoma, but this was my favorite line. “There is an additional grumpiness epicenter in New England.”

DUCKWORTH: Oh, there you go. Okay, so I was not wrong.

MAUGHAN: But the most agreeableness is pronounced in the South, as one might imagine. 

DUCKWORTH: Oh, forgot about the South.

MAUGHAN: But they did, to your point, find an important cluster in Minnesota and the Dakotas where people are very agreeable. 

DUCKWORTH: I am no expert on geographic psychology, and I don’t want to say that this is scientific fact, but let me speculate that when I talk about these, like, two faces of agreeableness, there’s the compassion element and then there’s compliance, you know sometimes “compliance” is also called “politeness.” I have not lived in the South, but I wonder whether it’s more a polite culture than a truly compassionate culture. And I say this in part because there were two years in my life where I lived with a couple of roommates who were from the South. I mean, they had that wonderful, like, soft accent.

MAUGHAN: The southern charm.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah, they were just like —  I guess for somebody who grew up in New Jersey, it was just so charming. They always were polite. I mean, always solicitous and like, “No problem.” But then, after some months, I realized that there were times where they were totally irritated with me or totally irritated with other people — and I got to see it when we would come home from some dinner party where they had been exceedingly polite and seemingly kind, but then they would come home and just thrash the person. So, I, I do kind of wonder about the finding that, you know, people from the South are more agreeable because — I mean, you know, you could be polite and compassionate, but I think politeness and compassion or compliance and compassion, I mean, they’re not the same thing. And I, I do think it’s worth asking the question whether you can have too much of these tendencies. What’s your instinct on this? 

MAUGHAN: Yeah, obviously.

DUCKWORTH: Oh, really? You’re like, “This is an easy question?”

MAUGHAN: For me, it is. In the workplace, for example, I really look for and benefit from healthy conflict. And if people feel like they just have to be compassionate, compliant, agreeable — don’t get me wrong, it can be an incredible asset when someone — their default is “yes,” they’re going to figure out a way to get things done. At the same time, it’s really damaging when people are just willing to say yes to everything, you never get to the best answer. And if leaders haven’t set up a culture where you can give feedback, where there can be this healthy conflict, where people are willing to push back and be quote-unquote “not agreeable” in the moment, then you lose the ability to get to the right answer and you just end up with the opinion of the highest-ranking person.

DUCKWORTH: So, what does it look like when people don’t do that? Do you think the conflict goes underground? Like, people go to the bathroom together and, like my two roommates, like, you know, just start talking trash, and then they come back in the room and, like, everything’s fine? Or do you think it’s that people just, like, kind of stop thinking hard about what really should get done?

MAUGHAN: I think both of those probably happen, right? And again, I’m going to put that on both sides, like, people have to be willing to speak up, and you have to create a culture where people feel safe to speak up.

DUCKWORTH: Right. If you think, like, “Oh, the goal in life is just to go from a three in agreeableness to a four, and from a four in agreeableness to a five,” it does actually raise these questions about like, well, what if you really disagree with somebody at work? What if you feel like you’re getting taken advantage of, like Faith does? Like, you’re basically being a doormat. So, there does seem to be this really messy nuance to it, which is like: it can’t always be the right thing to say “yes,” to agree, and maybe not even the right thing to, like, always be thinking about other people. I was talking to our friend, Adam Grant, who, as you know, is a professor of management at Wharton. So, when Adam came to my university, you know, University of Pennsylvania, which includes Wharton, I was already there, and I was asked to meet him and make him happy enough that we could recruit him. But immediately we got into an argument. From, like, minute three, we were like, “That doesn’t make sense.” And it’s because we started talking about research, and Adam was studying being a giver: you know know, somebody who really asked the question, “What can I do to help you?” And I think, you know, he’s always been interested, actually, in the dynamic between men and women in the workplace, and he was very interested in how, in his observation, a lot of women ask exactly that question. “What can I do to help you solve your problem?” And a lot of men were asking the question, “What can you do to help me solve my problem?” And he saw this asymmetry, and he saw these female givers who were getting taken advantage of. They were getting all the scut work, you know, like, “Well, somebody’s got to write up the minutes from this meeting,” and like, “Somebody’s got to, like, start the Word document.” He saw that clearly men were less likely to volunteer for those tasks, to concede when asked. I get into this argument with him — now, this is years ago. I have since evolved. But at the time, I was defending the position that more, and more, and more giving was the right, and right, and right thing. So, I was a little bit like Faith. I was like, “Isn’t it just the right thing to be as altruistic as possible?” And then, Adam said, “No, you know,  you’re going to be a doormat.” And then, he gave me this counter proposal. He’s like, “Look, here’s the way to be a giver who doesn’t get taken advantage of. When you give, always ask yourself, what’s the problem that I’m solving for this other person? And, at the same time, how does this benefit me?” I had, like, an allergic reaction. I was like, “That’s not the way my mother raised me.” 

MAUGHAN: I know. I have the same allergic reaction.

DUCKWORTH: Doesn’t that just sound, like, Machiavellian?

MAUGHAN: I want to govern my life as a good person who does things just because it’s the right thing to do, not because there’s anything in it for me.

DUCKWORTH: Right? I mean, intuitively, doesn’t it ruin it when the gift has an ulterior motive?  

MAUGHAN: I think we share that instinct completely. Speaking of, of our friend Adam Grant, he wrote something with his wife in The New York Times where he talks a lot about this idea of self-sacrifice versus generosity. He said those are pretty different things. Self-sacrifice is not sustainable, and it isn’t healthy, because people who only care about others tend to kind of neglect themselves, which leads to more anxiety, more depression, etc. Whereas those who are generous — it’s not about the self-sacrifice, it’s about giving in ways that nurture more givers. They said, “Being less selfless actually allows you to give more, because instead of letting people sap your energy, you maintain your motivation.” That’s something I can agree with.

DUCKWORTH: That is exactly what he said in that argument.

MAUGHAN: Yeah, but what you’re repeating here is that it was also, “What’s in it for me?” I guess the phrasing for me matters a lot because if it’s, like, “Hey, I’ll do this to help you, but only if it also helps me,” — that feels just messed up.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah, and I think actually that’s eventually, you know, where his thinking evolved, because, as I said, this is years, and years, and years ago. I think it was before he started writing books, and in the book Give and Take, Adam has this typology, there are three kinds of people. One kind of person is a “giver”; they’re primarily motivated to help other people solve their problems. One kind of person is a “taker”; they’re primarily motivated to get ahead and to relate to other people with the question, what can you do to solve my problems? Also, there’s the possibility that you’re a “matcher.” And the “matcher” is actually the thing that we were just describing, like, “I’ll do this for you if you do something for me. I’ll do a favor for you on Monday because on Tuesday I might need you to do a favor for me.” And this nuance here, is that it is possible to think about this as more sustainable giving, as you said. Not like, I’m a matcher, it’s tit for tat, it’s quid pro quo. But it’s more like: how am I going to do this without becoming, like, an exhausted, burnt out, cynical, detached, on-the-brink-of-quitting person? And I think the sustainable part isn’t always, “Oh, because you’re going to do something for me,” but something different, like —    I remember we got a voice memo from one of our NSQ listeners from now weeks back, and they worked in some kind of charitable work. And they said that in their many years of working in that sector and also hiring people, what they had learned is to not hire people with a, quote, “savior complex.” And the listener goes on to describe how when you hire somebody who’s, like, a martyr, you know, it’s like, “I won’t eat lunch. You could have all my money. And like, every person that I come across, I have to save them too” — that you just know they’re going to burn out. I think that’s, that’s the nuance — maybe not that you should go through life as a matcher and you should always look for, like, what you can get out of things when you give, but just that you should find a sustainable, self-propelling way because, otherwise you do, I think eventually, get to the end of your rope.

MAUGHAN: The other group that I find somewhat difficult — and again, on the surface it may seem positive, is people pleasers.

DUCKWORTH: Wait, how would you describe “people pleasers”?

MAUGHAN: Well, if I may, I’d love to borrow — because I, I read an article from a journalist and psychologist named Juli Fraga in The Washington Post, and I feel like she summarized it better than I can, truthfully. So, she said, “Here are some signs of a chronic people pleaser: over-apologizing, taking responsibility for other people’s feelings, agreeing even when you don’t, saying yes to avoid conflict, and feeling like your needs don’t matter.” To me, it’s exhausting to work with someone who’s a chronic people pleaser in that it’s like — you should disagree with me, we should have healthy conflict, please stop over apologizing, let’s just get it done.

DUCKWORTH: Have you ever heard this expression “disagree, but commit completely”?

MAUGHAN: Oh, of course, yeah. It’s one of Amazon’s great principles.

DUCKWORTH: Yes! I’ve read all of Jeff Bezos’s annual letters, and you know that’s weird for me since I don’t care anything about like money, or profits, or revenues, or whatever. But, you know, Jeff Bezos started writing these annual letters when he started Amazon, and to me, they’re all about psychology and human nature. And this expression “Disagree, but commit completely” really stuck with me. And basically Jeff was describing, I think, you know, very similar situations to what you’re talking about. He was like, you know, “There are going to be times in anybody’s life where you have a conflict. And sometimes we’re going to discuss it and we’re going to agree. And that’s great, because we’ll kind of come to a maybe a third possibility that neither of us thought of. But sometimes we’re going to talk, and like the end of the conversation is that we’re going to disagree.” And this expression, like, “Disagree but commit completely” I think means, “I’d prefer that you disagree openly. But when, as a team, we’ve decided to go in a certain direction, like an army marching, you kind of have to fall in line.” So, I do think that there’ll be times where you should disagree and go your own way. I do think there are times where you should disagree and commit completely. But the whole idea that it’s okay to have conflict that’s not resolved, to disagree fundamentally with another person — I mean, wow, I have to say it really took me a long time to learn that in life.

MAUGHAN: So, I love the principle of “disagree and commit” for a lot of reasons. One, it says in the principle, “I expect disagreement.” Like, we encourage disagreement. We need everybody to speak up.

DUCKWORTH: I’m predicting it. I’m okaying it. Right.

MAUGHAN: Yeah, and I love that idea. At the end of the day, we have to pick one direction to go. We can’t just, you know, vacillate in this eternal disagreement.

DUCKWORTH: You can’t have, like, half the marketing team doing one strategy. And the other half of the marketing team’s going to do the exact opposite.

MAUGHAN: Right? And so the idea is, okay, we want to encourage healthy conflict here where people can speak up and speak their minds. And then, once we make a decision and we’re going this direction, we’re all going to align behind it. And so I think it’s an incredible principle. Well listen, Angela and I would love to hear your thoughts on agreeableness. Where do you fall on the spectrum and how has this part of your personality affected your life? Record a voice memo in a quiet place with your mouth close to the phone and email it to and maybe we’ll play it on a future episode of the show. Also, if you want to learn more about your own personality, head to You can take the Big Five inventory and you’ll get an immediate personality profile. Your results will remain completely anonymous. And if you like the show and want to support it, the best thing you can do is tell a friend about it. You can also spread the word on social media or leave a review in your podcast app.

Still to come on No Stupid Questions: do nice guys really finish last?

MAUGHAN: I don’t even know how to respond to that, other than, like, bummer. 

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Now, back to Mike and Angela’s conversation about agreeableness.

DUCKWORTH: You know, Mike, when, when I was — gosh, I can’t remember. Maybe I was still in graduate school. Anyway, a very long time ago, I did some research on Big Five agreeableness. It’s not my specialty, but I was curious about, like, how does Big Five agreeableness matter in your life, especially for kids? So, I did this study on inner-city boys. It was part of something called the Pittsburgh Youth Study. So these inner-city boys were assessed when they were young and then they were kind of followed up later in life, and one of the things that we found, as other scientists have, is that, you know, there are these two faces of agreeableness, two halves of agreeableness, if you will. You know, we called it compliance and compassion. We found it’s, uh, generally a good thing to be an agreeable little boy in Pittsburgh. So, the little boys who were more compliant or polite, they ended up getting more education. They also grew up to more likely have jobs versus be unemployed. They were less likely to father a child while still a teenager. They were less likely to get involved in crime.

MAUGHAN: I mean, is that all maybe tied to the compliance side? You’re more willing to follow rules?

DUCKWORTH: These were all about the compliance side, yeah. And the compassion side also had its positives. And in particular, the little boys who were high in the compassion aspect of agreeableness ended up having longer, committed personal relationships. But we had exclusively looked at little boys in Pittsburgh. And not just any little boys. These were all boys who by some metric were at risk for not-so-great life outcomes, which is why there was, you know, a reasonably high percentage of them who did end up in criminal situations, teen parenthood, et cetera. If you widen the lens, you can ask the question like, well, what about for most people? Is agreeableness good for most people? So later, I did another study with a national sample of American adults, and we looked at all the Big Five, and we’ve talked about this study a little bit. But for agreeableness, we looked at the relationships with income and with wealth, you know, how much money they had accumulated over their lives. Do you want to guess what the relationship is between your agreeableness and how much money you make and how much money you accumulate?

MAUGHAN: I would guess that disagreeable people make more money and in some sense, get promoted more frequently because they’re more willing to just say, “This is what I want. This is what I need.”

DUCKWORTH: Sharp elbows.

MAUGHAN: I am pretty dang agreeable and I’ll admit, sometimes I’m in negotiation and I’m like, “Okay, that’s fine,” instead of push, push, push, push. So, my gut would be: disagreeable people actually end up making more money on average.

DUCKWORTH: Correct. So, agreeableness and income were negatively correlated — or, as you put it, more disagreeable people make more money. And, you know, by kind of a substantial margin, they have greater lifetime wealth as well. It’s complicated. Like, maybe if you’re a little boy in inner city Pittsburgh with lots of risk factors, being compassionate and compliant is a protective factor in terms of your long-term life outcomes, but if you look at the big picture, at everyone — I don’t know, to me, it was really sad. I was like, “Oh no, nice guys really do finish last.”

MAUGHAN: Yeah, but I think there has to be a balance. You still have to be good to work with. I worked with one individual for a while who could get stuff done, but no one would ever work with them a second time. And that is not a sustainable strategy. 

DUCKWORTH: Because they were so aggressive? 

MAUGHAN: Yeah! I think you have to meet a bar of agreeableness for then this disagreeable trait to impact that you can make more money, etcetera, etcetera.

DUCKWORTH: But, you know, there’s a cultural dimension to all this. And again, thinking about men versus women. So, there was a study that was done by Tim Judge, who’s a, you know, really terrific psychologist who studies, the workplace, et cetera. And then also Beth Livingston, who does the same. And they had a prediction, just like our study, that in general, people who are more agreeable would earn less money. And what they found is that this was especially true for men.

MAUGHAN: Wait, agreeable men make less money.

DUCKWORTH: Like, “nice guys finish last” could be the summary of this.

MAUGHAN: I’m so sorry.

DUCKWORTH: I know! They concluded that there’s a kind of backlash against agreeable men. It’s not the conventional gender role that we expect. And so, you’re not only going to be penalized for being nice, but you’re, like, doubly penalized because, like, that’s not the way you’re supposed to be in our society.

MAUGHAN: I don’t even know how to respond to that, other than, like, bummer. And I feel like a very agreeable person, and now I’m —.

DUCKWORTH: I’m actually wondering, Mike, what are you like when there is conflict in the business context?

MAUGHAN: In a negotiation — I will give you an example recently where I was negotiating something and I took a much stronger stance than I normally would and got a way better outcome. It was not inherent to me to be that quote “disagreeable” in the moment, but it worked way better. And that’s, I think, important to understand when to deploy different elements of this personality family.

DUCKWORTH: Right. You know, I feel like I still want to be my mother’s daughter. You know, I grew up with this mom who just seemed to me to be, like, an infinite well of generosity. It didn’t matter who knocked on our door, they could come to Thanksgiving dinner. She gave away everything. I mean, she literally gave away my sister Annette’s stuffed animal collection one year. My sister had been, over the course of her childhood, carefully accumulating these stuffed animals. She would keep them all on her bed, as I remember. So, like, after she would wake up in the morning, she’d, like, make her bed, and, like, put all the animals back on it. So, she loved these stuffed animals. And one day she comes home and they’re gone. My mom had met some stranger, and they had a child and I think this is not a very wealthy family. And she immediately could see that the child didn’t have anything to play with. And she gave away my sister’s stuffed animal collection, which I thought was pretty terrible until it actually happened to me, and then I really thought it was terrible. And what I mean by that is: this one birthday — I think I was in third or fourth grade, and all year I had asked my parents, begged them, for this little handheld game called a Merlin. I don’t think you’re old enough to remember the Merlin.

MAUGHAN: I don’t know what that is. No.

DUCKWORTH: This is like several generations before the iPad or phones or whatever, there was this, like, red plastic — it kind of looked like a big phone, maybe 12 inches long. And it had these, like, buttons on it, and you could play, like, Tic-Tac-Toe on it and not much else, honestly. This is, like, a very primitive version of a computer. It had just come out, and there was this toy store called KB Toy and Hobby, and it would be prominently displayed, and I begged and begged, and my parents were super frugal, and so of course they would say, “No, no, no, no.” But on my birthday, that’s what I got. I got a Merlin! I was so happy that I would literally run home from school so that I could, like, throw my book bag on the couch and play with my Merlin. So, one day, not long after my birthday, I get home. I run into my bedroom. I’m looking everywhere for my Merlin. I think maybe my sister’s taken it. Maybe my brother’s stolen it.

MAUGHAN: Wait, this isn’t even, like, years later. This is the —.

DUCKWORTH: No, no, no this is like days after my birthday. I go and tell my mom that, like, either my brother or my sister must have taken my Merlin. And she’s like, “Oh no, no, they didn’t take it. I took it. And I gave it away.” And I was like, “What?!” Now my sister’s pain at losing her entire stuffed animal collection meant something to me.  And I was like, “What do you mean you gave away my Merlin?” And she was like, “Well, they didn’t have a toy and you have so many.” And then, she turns around and, like, continues stir frying dinner. And I was bereft. But then I thought, “Well, they’re going to get me a new Merlin.” Which she didn’t! That was it! My birthday present that year I guess was just having a few days to play with the Merlin. So, in a way, you know, part of me — I mean, I am my mother’s daughter. There’s some part of me which just has this instinct, like: give, give, give, give, give; what’s wrong with the savior complex? Be as altruistic as possible. But where I have to say to Adam, honestly I have come around to agree that you can be a doormat. You know, to Faith, I would say: yeah, in a way, you can be too nice. But the nuance here is that it’s not that you’re too altruistic. It’s just that you’re being a giver in a way that is seeping something out of your own life and you can’t do that forever. Like, you can’t bleed for other people forever. And I think, in a way, if you can respect other people, then you can disagree with them and, like, have open conflict because you’re not losing respect for them. You’re just saying, “I disagree.” And if you can respect yourself, right? Like, “I love myself enough also to not get burnt out. So, in a way, I think agreeableness is great as long as there’s a bedrock of respect — you know, respect for others, but importantly, like, respect for yourself.

MAUGHAN: I may have told you this before, but one of the most important things I have ever watched in life came through a rare YouTube-rabbit-hole moment for me where I was just watching a bunch of random videos.  

DUCKWORTH: That does not seem like you, but go on. I like rabbit holes that other people go down.

MAUGHAN: That’s what I’m saying. Very rare, but I’m going through this YouTube rabbit hole and just watching whatever was popping up. And suddenly an interview pops up between Kristen Bell and Harry Connick Jr. Did I know that Harry Connick Jr. had a talk show? I did not. 

DUCKWORTH: I did not!  

MAUGHAN: Have I ever seen another clip from it? I have not.


MAUGHAN: Kristen Bell is married to the actor Dax Shepard, who you recently were on his podcast. She’s talking about early in their marriage, and how they would fight so much. And she would get so mad, she would storm out of the room, storm out of the house, get in her car, and drive away. Finally Dax pulls her aside and says, “Hey, I have too much respect for myself to let you continue to respond this way.” And so, they worked out a deal. Next time they got in a fight, she could leave the room, but she couldn’t leave the house. And so, she’s like, “We got in this big fight and I stopped talking. I grabbed the car keys, and I went to the door, and I just stood in front of the door, and I was so mad.” She’s like, “But I love him so much — and I want to be part of this relationship forever — that I wouldn’t leave the house.” Because she’s like, “I knew he said he had too much self-respect to let this keep happening.” And then, they finally made the agreement that she could stop talking, but she couldn’t leave the room. And they go through this process. But I remember watching that, because I had been in a situation with an individual at work where I realized I had not had enough self-respect because of the toxicity of this individual and how situations were in working around him. And I remember thinking in one very specific situation of my three older brothers, and I was like, not one of them would sit here and let someone treat them like this. Why am I doing this? And when I watched that, I was like, “Man, I don’t have enough respect for myself in that I’m letting people do this.” And so, I would just say to Faith, I think there’s a big difference between being a giver and —  to use the words that we’ve been using today — being a doormat. And I don’t think it’s about being meaner. I think it’s about having more self-respect.

DUCKWORTH: You know, there’s one item on the questionnaire that we have up on our website: “Is respectful, treats others with respect.” But I think what you’re saying has so much more depth to it, like, really, really really: “Has a respect for other people and for oneself.” If you stand on that ground, I think you can’t be too agreeable.

MAUGHAN: And it allows you to keep giving in the long term, right? And so, Faith, if I could end, it would be to harken back to what Adam and Allison Grant talked about: the difference between self sacrifice and generosity, and I think maybe that very famous book, The Giving Tree. The Giving Tree, if you’ll remember the book is about this tree —.

DUCKWORTH: I remember that book. I could almost quote it to you and draw all the pictures. Did you read it growing up?

MAUGHAN: Oh, of course, I think growing up it was about, oh, this really generous tree that just gave, and gave, and gave until there was nothing left. This little boy would come and say, “I’m hungry, I need an apple.” And then it’s — well, you tell— I mean, I don’t have it memorized — but.

DUCKWORTH: And he, he wants a swing from the branches. And you know, when he gets older, he wants to make a boat. And so, he’s like, “Can I cut you down and, like, make a canoe?” And the tree says “yes,” and he cuts down the tree. And he goes on his adventures. And then, he grows up, and he’s, like, now an older man. And you remember the end, right?

MAUGHAN: Yeah, at the very end, he just says, “I need a place to sit.” And I think for a long time, we thought of this as this really beautiful giving tree because it’s called The Giving Tree

DUCKWORTH: Right, like the whole idea was that there is no limit to what you should give. That you should be as, you know, as giving as possible.

MAUGHAN: The editor of the book, a woman named Phyllis Fogelman, later said that she had qualms about her part in the publication of the book and said, quote, “I think it is basically a book about a sadomasochistic relationship.”

DUCKWORTH: If Dax Shepard and Kristen Bell rewrote the end of The Giving Tree, how do you think they would end it?

MAUGHAN: Maybe the boy apologizing for stealing way too much from the tree, because then there really is nothing left. Whereas, if the tree had continued to blossom, it would have been able to continue to bless generations of people with apples, and with shade, and with swings, and joy. Versus, “Oh, I selfishly used everything up, so now there is nothing left to give to anybody else.”

DUCKWORTH: How about this? When the boy asks for the apple, that’s fine. When the boy needs shade to read under, that’s fine. When the boy wants to put two ropes hanging from a branch and, you know, a piece of wood in between so he can swing, that’s fine. But maybe when the boy comes to the tree and says, “Can I cut you down and make a canoe out of your trunk?” Maybe that’s where the giving tree has to say, “No, I have too much respect for myself, and I have too much respect for you. I’m going to teach you a lesson that’s going to be more important than a canoe.”

MAUGHAN: “Do not cut me down.”

And now, here’s a fact-check of today’s conversation:

In the first half of the show, Angela expresses her enthusiasm for Amazon’s leadership principle “disagree but commit completely.” The principle is actually “have backbone; disagree and commit.” The phrase “disagree and commit” has also been attributed to former Intel CEO Andrew Grove and to Sun Microsystems co-founder Scott McNealy.

Later, Angela shares her short-lived experience with the Parker Brothers handheld electronic game Merlin — also known as Merlin the Electronic Wizard. Angela says that the device was pretty much only good for Tic-Tac-Toe. However, Merlin fans will know that the original device, released in 1978, offered a total of six games: including “Mindbender” — similar to Mastermind — and Blackjack.

Finally, Mike and Angela speculate about what the plot of Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree would look like if the tree were less self-sacrificing and agreeable. We should note that playwright and screenwriter Topher Payne has already rewritten the story as part of his “Topher Fixed It” series which provides “alternate endings to beloved but problematic children’s literature.” In his version of the tale, titled The Tree Who Set Healthy Boundaries, the boy and the tree experience a more equitable relationship. The tree gets her certification in small business management, the boy and the tree open a pastry shop together, and the boy goes on to have children and grandchildren who also adore the tree.

That’s it for the fact-check.

Before we wrap today’s show, let’s hear some thoughts about last week’s episode on extroversion.

Katrina MURRAY: Hi Mike and Angela, Katrina from London here. One observation I had is that how extroverted we tend to act in a social setting is heavily influenced by what we are lacking in our working, or other, life. For example, my job is fairly solitary, usually with eight out of nine hours working spent alone, whereas my flatmate spends pretty much all of his working time chatting to other people and presenting. By the end of the day, he is absolutely desperate for some alone time, whereas I’m excited to talk to literally anyone about literally anything. An outside observer would probably see me as being the more extroverted one, but really I think we’re both just leaning towards what we’ve been missing in the day. 

Natasha GORE: Hi Angela and Mike, this is Natasha from North Carolina. Although my extroversion has served me well professionally, what many of my introverted friends don’t get is that extroversion is not what I would choose in most other instances. I’m in my mid 40s, and like Mike, as I’ve aged, I find myself choosing what some might view as the introverted choice, for example, staying home on the weekends, or finding some quiet during a conference, since it takes time to deflate the energy I get from simply being around others. Plus, I don’t need or want energy at 10 p. m. I want to sleep! Whereas my husband, an introvert, can fall asleep the second we pull into the driveway after a night out. I was one of those extroverts who thrived during the slowdown of the pandemic, despite the memes on Facebook that suggested only introverts were enjoying life at home all day. I’m thankful to have found some balance between what occurs in me naturally and what might be best for me.

That was, respectively, Katrina Murray and Natasha Gore. Thanks to them and to everyone who shared their stories with us. And remember, we’d love to hear your thoughts on agreeableness. Send a voice memo to, and you might hear your voice on the show!

Coming up next week on No Stupid Questions: are there any upsides to neuroticism?

MAUGHAN: If you have some of this negative emotionality, it can lead to a great stand-up routine.

That’s next week on No Stupid Questions.

*      *      *

No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, People I (Mostly) Admire, and The Economics of Everyday Things. All our shows are produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. The senior producer of the show is me, Rebecca Lee Douglas, and Lyric Bowditch is our production associate. This episode was mixed by Greg Rippin. We had research assistance from Daniel Moritz-Rabson. Our theme song was composed by Luis Guerra. You can follow us on Twitter @NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to To learn more, or to read episode transcripts, visit Thanks for listening!

DUCKWORTH: Wait, is that the Midwest? I can’t even tell you.

MAUGHAN: Oh, Angela.

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