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Assertive behavior is positively associated with trait extraversion and negatively associated with trait agreeableness. Are introverted and agreeable people simply unable to be highly assertive? Global assertiveness is, we argue, influenced by more than one interpersonal ability; it is affected by the ability to show high assertion but also by the ability to show low assertion. If assertiveness and unassertiveness abilities are distinct skills, the unassertiveness of an introverted person might occur for different reasons than the unassertiveness of an agreeable person and might in consequence manifest in different situations. To explore these possibilities, we looked at informant reports of participants’ assertiveness and unassertiveness abilities (Study 1) and participants’ if-then profiles of assertiveness behavior (Studies 2 and 3). The results suggested that introverted people are less assertive than extraverted people because they have lower assertiveness ability, whereas agreeable people are less assertive than disagreeable people because they have higher unassertiveness ability.
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Article
Picking One’s Battles: How Assertiveness
and Unassertiveness Abilities Are
Associated With Extraversion
and Agreeableness
Lara K. Kammrath
1
, Megan H. McCarthy
2
, Kassandra Cortes
2
,
and Charity Friesen
3
Abstract
Assertive behavior is positively associated with trait extraversion and negatively associated with trait agreeableness. Are
introverted and agreeable people simply unable to be highly assertive? Global assertiveness is, we argue, influenced by more than
one interpersonal ability; it is affected by the ability to show high assertion but also by the ability to show low assertion. If
assertiveness and unassertiveness abilities are distinct skills, the unassertiveness of an introverted person might occur for different
reasons than the unassertiveness of an agreeable person and might in consequence manifest in different situations. To explore
these possibilities, we looked at informant reports of participants’ assertiveness and unassertiveness abilities (Study 1) and
participants’ if-then profiles of assertiveness behavior (Studies 2 and 3). The results suggested that introverted people are less
assertive than extraverted people because they have lower assertiveness ability, whereas agreeable people are less assertive than
disagreeable people because they have higher unassertiveness ability.
Keywords
assertiveness, personality, agreeableness, extraversion, interpersonal skills
Assertiveness is a highly desirable quality in Western society. It
is frequently portrayed as an important social ability (and unas-
sertiveness, in contrast, as a lack of ability), by researchers and
laypersons alike (Bar-On, 2004; Lorr, Youniss, & Stefic, 1991;
Smith, Jordan, Flood, & Hansen, 2010). Studies show that two
of the Big Five personality dimensions are consistently linked
with assertiveness: extraversion and agreeableness (Wood &
Bell, 2008). Extraverted individuals are more assertive than
introverted individuals, and agreeable individuals are less asser-
tive than disagreeable individuals (Geist & Gilbert, 1996;
Graziano, Jensen-Campbell, & Hair, 1996). If assertive behavior
demonstrates an ability and unassertive behavior demonstrates a
lack of ability, these findings would suggest that extraverted and
disagreeable individuals are highly capable of showing assertion
whereas introverted and agreeable individuals are less capable.
Indeed, this is one possible explanation for the associations
between assertiveness and the two traits.
Another possibility is that there may be more than one abil-
ity in the assertiveness domain. Specifically, people may not
only differ in the ability to act assertively when high assertion
is called for but may also differ in the ability to act unasser-
tively when low assertion is called for. Although it is not typ-
ical to think of unassertiveness as being associated with
abilities, one can easily think of situations in which it would
be inappropriate to be assertive. For example, it is appropriate
to be firmly confrontational when someone lies or cheats, but
much less appropriate to confront a person who accidentally
bumps into a passenger in a rocking subway car (and yet some
people regularly do this). This viewpoint is highly consistent
with interpersonal theory (Carson, 1969; Kiesler, 1983; Leary,
1957; Sadler & Woody, 2003) and some theories of organiza-
tional behavior (Malakyan, 2014; Srinivasan & Holsinger Jr.,
2012; Uhl-Bien, Riggio, Lowe, & Carston, 2014) that propose
that the most interpersonally effective person is one who is
capable of engaging in either assertive or unassertive behavior,
depending on the situation.
If personality traits primarily represent stability in rank posi-
tion of behavior across different situations (e.g., a person who
1
Department of Psychology, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem,
NC, USA
2
Department of Psychology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON, Canada
3
Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, ON, Canada
Corresponding Author:
Lara K. Kammrath, Department of Psychology, Wake Forest University,
Winston Salem, NC 27101, USA.
Email: kammralk@wfu.edu
Social Psychological and
Personality Science
2015, Vol. 6(6) 622-629
ªThe Author(s) 2015
Reprints and permission:
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DOI: 10.1177/1948550615572635
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is more assertive in one situation should be more assertive in
other situations), then a person who is capable of high asser-
tiveness in a situation where assertiveness is appropriate might
still be more assertive than others in a situation in which low
assertion is appropriate. Likewise, a person who is capable of
low assertiveness in a situation where low assertiveness is
appropriate might have problems showing high assertion when
high assertion is called for. Statistically, this would manifest as
a negative correlation between the ability to be highly assertive
and the ability to be highly unassertive.
Linking this line of reasoning to extraversion and agreeable-
ness, if highly extraverted people are always more assertive than
low extraverted people, irrespective of situational appropriate-
ness of assertiveness, then extraversion shouldbe associated with
high assertiveness ability but low unassertiveness ability. If
highly agreeable people are always more unassertive than highly
disagreeable people, then agreeableness should be associated
with high unassertiveness ability but low assertiveness ability.
Contrary to this view, there are indications in the literature
that the two abilities may not be negatively correlated.
Research on conflict and negotiation styles has found that peo-
ple’s score for the assertive ‘‘problem-solving’’ style has a null
or slightly positive correlation with their score for the unasser-
tive ‘‘obliging’’ style (Chen, Zhao, & Liu, 2012; Schulze, Dor-
othea, Stade, & Netzel, 2014). Research on responses to
dissatisfaction in close relationships similarly finds null or
slightly positive correlations between ratings of assertive
voice’’ and unassertive ‘‘loyalty’’ (Baucom, et al., 1996;
Kammrath & Dweck, 2006). Furthermore, at least one study
in the organizational behavior literature has shown positive
correlations between leadership skills and followership skills
(Tanoff & Barlow, 2002).
These findings suggest that assertiveness and unassertiveness
abilities may be distinct skills. If so, one cannot automatically
assume that a person who demonstrates higher mean levels of
assertiveness (such as an extraverted or disagreeable person) has
this high mean level because of an ability to be assertive when
high assertion is called for. Higher mean levels of assertiveness
could equally well result from an inability to be unassertive in
situations where low assertion is called for. Thus, it is possible
that extraverted people and disagreeable people are more asser-
tive for different reasons: one group may have a strong assertive-
ness ability and the other a poor unassertiveness ability.
To date, no previous research has examined how trait extra-
version and agreeableness are linked to assertiveness and unas-
sertiveness abilities. One way to investigate the question
behaviorally would be to examine if-then profiles of assertive-
ness (Kammrath, Mendoza-Denton, & Mischel, 2005; Mischel
& Shoda, 1995) associated with trait extraversion and agreeable-
ness. A deficit in assertiveness ability would be most likely to
manifest in situations where high assertiveness was the appropri-
ate response, whereas a deficit in unassertiveness abilities would
be most likely to manifest in situations where low assertiveness
was the appropriate response. In consequence, if extraverts are
more assertive than introverts in one class of situations but are
the same as introverts in the other class of situations, and if
agreeableness showed the reverse pattern, these if-then profiles
of behavior would strongly suggest that each trait was associated
with a different ability.
In three studies, we explored the associations between asser-
tiveness and the traits of extraversion and agreeableness. In the
first study, we had participants rate their extraversion and agree-
ableness and subsequently we asked informants (participants’
romantic partners) to report the participants’ level of assertive-
ness and unassertiveness abilities, as well as their perceptions
of the quality of the relationship. In the second study, partici-
pants rated their traits and then recalled instances of past con-
frontation behavior. We tested whether the traits predicted
behavior in all types of situations or only in situations where low
assertion/high assertion was the appropriate response. In a third
study, participants rated their traits and then were presented with
scenarios and asked how likely they would be to confront indi-
viduals in each scenario. The scenarios had been rated by
another sample of participants for how appropriate it would be
to engage in confrontation in each scenario, allowing us to
examine whether participants’ confrontation intentions were
calibrated or miscalibrated with situational appropriateness.
Study 1
In Study 1, we asked romantic partners to rate participants on
the ability to display assertiveness and on the ability to display
unassertiveness and we predicted these ratings using partici-
pants’ reports of their own personality traits. We also examined
how the two abilities were related to relationship quality, as
experienced by both participants and romantic partners.
Method
Participants
Three hundred and ninety-five undergraduate students (85
male, Mage ¼18.84, SD ¼1.71) who were in a romantic rela-
tionship (Mlength ¼17.56 months, SD ¼17.45) participated
in this online study for course credit. Participants were asked
to e-mail their romantic partner a link to an online informant
survey. Couples with complete data were entered in a prize
drawing. Of the original sample, 283 participants had complete
participant and informant data. The data from these 283 parti-
cipants and their romantic partners comprise the sample ana-
lyzed for this study.
Procedure
First, participants provided basic demographic information.
Participants provided information about their extraversion and
agreeableness by completing the Big Five Aspects Scale
(DeYoung, Quilty, & Peterson, 2007), which includes 20 items
to assess extraversion (a¼.85) and 20 items to assess agree-
ableness (a¼.87), rated on a scale from 1 (disagree strongly)
to 5 (agree strongly). Participants also rated their perceived
quality of their romantic relationship using the Perceived Rela-
tionship Quality Components scale (PRQC; Fletcher, Simpson,
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& Thomas, 2000). The scale includes items that assess feelings
of satisfaction, commitment, intimacy, trust, and passion, for
example, ‘‘How satisfied are you with your relationship?’
rated on a scale from 1 (not at all)to7(extremely). Items were
averaged to create a perceived relationship quality score (a¼
.96).
Participants were asked to e-mail their romantic partner a link
to an online informant survey. This survey asked informants to
rate the target on two subscales of a measure of interpersonal
skills: the Circumplex Scale of Interpersonal Efficacy (CSIE;
Locke & Sadler, 2007). The CSIE measures eight different types
of positive interpersonal abilities, one of which is the ability
to be assertive (the ‘‘PA’’ subscale) and another of which is the
ability to be unassertive (the ‘‘HI’’ subscale). The assertiveness
ability scale included 4 items: ‘‘S/he is able to be assertive with
others,’’ ‘‘S/he can speak up when s/he has something to say,’
‘S/he is able to take charge,’’ and ‘‘S/he is able to be forceful
with others.’’ The unassertiveness ability scale included 4 items:
S/he can let others take charge,’’ ‘‘S/he is able to be a fol-
lower,’’ ‘‘S/he is able to avoid getting in arguments with others,’’
and ‘‘S/he is able to avoid making others angry.’’ Informants
rated how confident they were that targets were capable of acting
in the way described on a scale from 1 (not at all confident)to5
(extremely confident). Scale items were averaged to create an
assertiveness ability score (a¼.69) and an unassertiveness
ability score (a¼.59) for each target. Informants also rated their
own perceived quality of the romantic relationship using the
PRQC scale described earlier.
Results
As shown in Table 1, partner reports of participants’ assertive-
ness and unassertiveness abilities showed only a small (and
positive) correlation, providing evidence for their distinctive-
ness. Participants’ extraversion was positively correlated with
romantic partners’ report of their assertiveness ability and
uncorrelated with romantic partners’ report of their unasser-
tiveness ability. These two correlations were significantly dif-
ferent from one another, Z¼2.99, p< .01. Participants’
agreeableness was uncorrelated with romantic partners’ report
of their assertiveness ability and positively correlated with
romantic partners’ report of their unassertiveness ability. These
two correlations were also significantly different from one
another, Z¼2.15, p< .05.
When extraversion and agreeableness were entered simulta-
neously in a multiple regression predicting assertiveness abil-
ity, extraversion was a significant predictor (b¼.34, p< .01)
and agreeableness was not (b¼.09, not significant [ns]).
When the traits were used simultaneously to predict unasser-
tiveness ability, agreeableness was a significant predictor
(b¼.15, p¼.01) and extraversion was not (b¼.06, ns). These
regression results are depicted in Figure 1.
A close examination of the scales revealed some item-
overlap between the measure assessing trait extraversion and
trait agreeableness, and the assertiveness ability and
unassertiveness ability scales. Each trait, however, had some
overlap with both ability scales, making it unlikely that the
overlap could explain distinct associations between traits and
abilities. Nevertheless, to provide a conservative test of the
results, we ran analyses using the subscale of extraversion with
no overlapping items (the ‘‘enthusiasm’’ subscale) and with the
subscale of agreeableness that had no overlapping items (the
‘compassion’’ subscale). The results did not change.
We finally examined how participants’ assertiveness and
unassertiveness abilities (as reported by the partners) predicted
their own and their partners’ perceived relationship quality.
When both interpersonal skills were entered into a multiple
regression predicting participants’ own perceptions of relation-
ship quality, both assertiveness (b¼.13, p< .05) and unasser-
tiveness abilities (b¼.14, p< .05) were significant predictors.
When the two interpersonal skills were used to predict the part-
ners’ perceptions of relationship quality, again both assertive-
ness ability (b¼.22, p< .001) and unassertiveness ability
(b¼.23, p< .001) were significant predictors. Thus, both abil-
ities were each associated with relationship benefits as experi-
enced by both the self and the partner.
Discussion
In this study, participants who were high on extraversion were
perceived by their romantic partners as having high assertive-
ness ability, but neither high nor low unassertiveness ability.
Participants who were high on agreeableness, on the other
hand, were perceived by their romantic partners as having high
unassertiveness ability, but neither high nor low assertiveness
ability. This pattern of results suggests that extraverts are more
capable than introverts in displaying high assertion, and that
agreeable people are more capable than disagreeable people
in displaying low assertion.
In this study, both abilities were independent predictors of
how happy both participants and their partners were in their
relationships. Neither of the two abilities appeared to be more
or less important than the other for personal and interpersonal
outcomes. This was an important finding, as the ability to be
unassertive is typically not portrayed as a beneficial skill in
Western culture. This finding also addresses a potential con-
cern of the study, namely that the findings may have been due
to halo effects in romantic partners’ ratings. As both abilities
Table 1. Ability and Trait Intercorrelations (Study 1).
Unassertiveness
Ability
Assertiveness
Ability
Agreea-
bleness
Extra-
version
Unassertiveness
ability
1
Assertiveness
ability
.11
þ
1
Agreeableness .16** –.01 1
Extraversion .09 .32*** .24** 1
Note.N¼283. Pearson correlations among informant ratings of abilities and
participant ratings of personality traits.
***p< .001, **p< .01, *p< .05,
þ
p< .10.
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were phrased as positive capabilities and as both were posi-
tively associated with relationship quality, the fact that they
had distinctive personality predictors cannot be explained by
participants’ general tendency to perceive a romantic partner
in a positive light.
Study 2
The purpose of Study 2 was to extend our findings to if-then
patterns of behavior across situations. We hypothesized that
people are generally more assertive when issues are more
important to them than when issues are less important to them,
and that in consequence, the ability to be assertive would man-
ifest most in high-importance situations, whereas the ability to
be unassertive would manifest most in low-importance situa-
tions. We expected the difference between highly extraverted
and introverted people’s assertiveness to be greatest when
issues were very important, and the difference between highly
agreeable and disagreeable people’s assertiveness to be great-
est when issues were unimportant.
In this study, participants were asked to recall three recent
incidents when they felt dissatisfied with the behavior of an
interaction partner. Participants reported for each incident how
important the issue was, and how much they openly voiced
their feelings of dissatisfaction to the person.
Method
Participants
One hundred and fourteen undergraduate students (24 male, M
age ¼18.67, SD ¼1.03) participated in this study for credit.
Procedure
Participants first completed a dissatisfaction incident recall
task and then a battery of personality questionnaires. In the
dissatisfaction incident recall task, participants were asked
to think of three recent incidents when someone did some-
thing that made them feel dissatisfied. For each incident, they
indicated the type of relationship they had with the person. Of
the incidents nominated, 13%were with romantic partners,
52%were with friends, 13%were with family, and 22%were
with others. For each incident, they rated how important the
issuewasforthem,onascalefrom0(notatall)to6
(extremely). They also rated the degree to which they con-
fronted the other person by reporting how fully they voiced
their dissatisfaction to the person from 0 (not at all)to6(fully
and completely). Trait extraversion and agreeableness were
assessed using the Ten-Item Personality Inventory (Gosling,
Rentfrow, & Swann, 2003), which contains two items for
extraversion (‘‘extraverted, enthusiastic,’’ and ‘‘reserved,
quiet’’) and two items for agreeableness (‘‘sympathetic,
warm,’’ and ‘‘critical, quarrelsome’’).
Results
On average, participants rated their recalled dissatisfaction
incidents as having moderate issue importance (M¼2.19,
SD ¼.40). Trait extraversion (r¼.23, p¼.01) and trait agree-
ableness (r¼.38, p< .001) were both associated with a higher
mean importance rating.
The confrontation data were analyzed with a multi-level
model, predicting participants’ three confrontation ratings
using ratings of importance, trait extraversion, and trait agree-
ableness. All variables were standardized across the entire sam-
ple prior to analysis. Confrontation ratings and importance
ratings were Level 1 (situational level) variables, and trait
extraversion and agreeableness scores were Level 2 (person
level) variables. The model included the two cross-level inter-
action terms: Extraversion Importance Rating and Agree-
ableness Importance Rating. We expected that importance
would moderate the effect of extraversion, such that extraver-
sion would more strongly predict confrontation as situations
were more important. We also expected that agreeableness
would less strongly predict confrontation as situations were
more important. A random intercept was included to account
for within-person dependencies in the repeatedly measured
dependent variable.
Overall, participants confronted more for issues that were
more important (b¼.23, p< .001). The hypothesized
Figure 1. Informant ratings of participants’ abilities in the assertiveness domain. Values are predicted scores from a regression model (Study 1).
Kammrath et al. 625
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interactions for extraversion, F(1, 325) ¼2.50, p¼.10, and for
agreeableness, F(1, 325) ¼4.79, p¼.03, emerged, although the
interaction for extraversion only reached marginal significance.
As shown in Figure 2, the difference between participants low
and high in extraversion was marginally significant for highly
important issues (b¼.14, p¼.09) and disappeared for low
importance issues (b¼.04, ns). The difference between parti-
cipants low and high in agreeableness, on the other hand, was
significant for low importance issues (b¼.20, p¼.03) and
disappeared for highly important issues (b¼.08, ns).
Discussion
When recalling past conflicts with close others, extraverted
individuals reported being more confrontational than intro-
verted individuals for important issues, but both extraverted
and introverted individuals reported similarly lower confronta-
tion for unimportant issues. Agreeable individuals, on the other
hand, reported being just as confrontational as disagreeable
individuals for important issues, but reported keeping silent
more than disagreeable individuals for unimportant issues.
These findings provide additional evidence that extraversion
is associated with assertiveness ability, whereas agreeableness
is associated with unassertiveness ability.
Study 3
The different patterns associated with trait extraversion and
trait introversion across situations of low and high importance
suggest differences in how participants were able to respond
when confrontation was less and more appropriate. Neverthe-
less, we cannot say for certain that high assertiveness is consid-
ered the appropriate response for important situations and low
assertiveness is considered the appropriate response for low
important situations. Thus, we conducted a final study where
participants reported how much they would confront a trans-
gressor across a large array of situations that had been rated
by a separate sample for how appropriate it would be to
confront the offender in each situation. This allowed us to
examine participants’ if-then profiles of assertiveness across
situations for which the appropriateness of confrontation was
known, in order to directly test our hypothesis that the extraver-
sion effect on assertiveness primarily emerges in situations
where being assertive is appropriate, whereas the disagreeable-
ness effect on assertiveness primarily emerges in situations
where being assertive is inappropriate.
Method
Participants
One hundred and thirty five undergraduate students (22 male,
Mage ¼18.54, SD ¼.87) participated in this study for credit
in their psychology courses.
Procedure
Participants completed a 30-min battery of questionnaires,
including the two key questionnaires for this study. Trait extra-
version and agreeableness were assessed using the Big Five
Inventory (John, Donahue, & Kentle, 1991). This 44-item mea-
sure includes 8 items tapping extraversion (e.g., ‘‘is talkative’’)
and 9 items tapping agreeableness (e.g., ‘‘likes to cooperate with
others’’). Items were reverse scored and averaged to create compo-
site scores for extraversion (a¼.83) and agreeableness (a¼.79).
Participants also completed the Trigger Profile Questionnaire
(TPQ; Friesen & Kammrath, 2011), which describes 72 types of
potentially annoying interpersonal behaviors, or ‘‘triggers.’’ Two
sample items from the TPQ are: ‘‘Interruption—When someone
interrupts another person. When he/she talks over another person.
When he/she doesn’t wait his/her turn to speak,’ and ‘‘Dishon-
esty—When someone lies and exaggerates thetruth. When he/she
doesn’t tell the entire truth or only tells half-truths. When he/she is
dishonest.’’ For each of the 72 behavior items, we asked partici-
pants to rate their likelihood of confrontation: ‘‘When someone
does this behavior, how likely are you to tell him/her openly how
you feel about it,’’ on a scale from 0 (not at all)to6(extremely).
The mean confrontation rating was 1.71 (SD ¼1.14).
We separately obtained confrontation appropriateness rat-
ings of the 72 scenarios from a different sample of 64 partici-
pants who answered the following question for each scenario,
‘How appropriate is it to confront a person doing this behavior,
that is, to openly tell the person how one feels about their
actions,’’ on a scale from 3 (very inappropriate to confront
them) to 3 (highly appropriate to confront them). Ratings were
averaged across participants to provide a normative appropri-
ateness rating for each scenario. Across the scenarios, the mean
appropriateness rating was 0.50 (SD ¼.70).
Results
The confrontation data were analyzed with a multi-level
model, predicting participants’ 72 confrontation ratings
using situational appropriateness ratings, trait extraversion,
and trait agreeableness. Confrontation ratings and normative
1.5
2
2.5
3
3.5
Low High
Confrontaon
Issue Importance
High
Low
Agreeableness
1.5
2
2.5
3
3.5
Low High
Confrontaon
Issue Importance
High
Low
Extraversion
Figure 2. Participants’ reports of confrontation behavior in recalled
conflicts. Values are predicted scores from a multi-level model (Study 2).
626 Social Psychological and Personality Science 6(6)
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appropriateness ratings were Level 1 (situational level) vari-
ables, and trait extraversion and agreeableness scores were
Level 2 (person level) variables. Trait extraversion and
agreeableness variables were standardized across the entire
sample prior to analysis (situational appropriateness was not
standardized, as the zero point of the raw scale had impor-
tant meaning). The model includedthetwocross-levelinter-
action terms: Extraversion Situational Appropriateness
and Agreeableness Situational Appropriateness. A ran-
dom intercept was included in the model.
Participants reported higher likelihood of confrontation
for scenarios in which confrontation was more situationally
appropriate (b¼.44, p< .001). There was a main effect of
extraversion such that higher extraversion was associated
with greater confrontation (b¼.11, p< .01). There was also
a main effect of agreeableness such that higher agreeable-
ness was associated with lesser confrontation (b¼.10,
p¼.01). The key interactions for extraversion, F(1,
9427.34) ¼23.38, p< .001, and for agreeableness, F(1,
9427.31) ¼56.67, p< .001, were significant. As shown in
Figure 3, extraverts had higher confrontation ratings than
introverts for situations where confrontation was appropriate
(þ1 on the appropriateness scale, b¼.18, p< .001), but
there was no difference between extraverts and introverts
in confrontation ratings for situations where confrontation
was inappropriate (1 on the appropriateness scale, b¼
.05, ns). The difference between participants low and high
in agreeableness, on the other hand, was greatest for situa-
tions where confrontation was inappropriate (b¼.19,
p< .001) and disappeared for situations where confrontation
was appropriate (b¼.01, ns).
Discussion
Participants high in extraversion said they would be more con-
frontational than participants low in extraversion in norma-
tively appropriate situations, but both participants low and
high in extraversion said they would keep relatively silent in
normatively inappropriate situations. Participants high in
agreeableness, on the other hand, said they would be just as
confrontational as participants low in agreeableness when it
was appropriate to confront, but that they would keep silent
more than participants low in agreeableness when it was not
appropriate to confront. These patterns of results suggest that
extraverts are more capable than introverts in displaying high
assertion when high assertion is called for and that agreeable
people are more capable than disagreeable people in displaying
low assertion when low assertion is called for.
General Discussion
In this article, based on past research and theory (Kiesler, 1983;
Malakyan, 2014), we hypothesized that the ability to display
high assertion and the ability to display low assertion represent
two distinct abilities, both important for effective interpersonal
relations. We explored whether extraversion and agreeableness
might show differential associations with these abilities.
In three studies, we found evidence supporting this idea. In
Study 1, informants directly reported that participant extraver-
sion was associated with assertiveness ability whereas partici-
pant agreeableness was associated with unassertiveness ability.
Moreover, in this study we observed only a small correlation
between informants’ ratings of a participant’s assertiveness and
unassertiveness abilities, supporting the idea that these capabil-
ities are distinct, and we found that both abilities were indepen-
dently predictive of positive relationship outcomes for both the
person and his or her romantic partner.
Studies 2 and 3 found that introverted people were less
assertive than extraverted people in situations where the issue
was important and when confrontation was appropriate,
suggesting a deficit in the ability to act with high assertion. Dis-
agreeable people, on the other hand, were more assertive than
agreeable people in situations where the issue was unimportant
and confrontation was not appropriate, suggesting a deficit in
the ability to show low assertion. In short, introverted people
may have trouble speaking up, whereas disagreeable people
may have trouble piping down.
Speculations About Psychological Process
Why might extraversion predict the capability of being assertive
and agreeableness the capability of being unassertive? One
possibility is that situations that call for high assertion may be
primarily ‘‘about’ agency and expressing the self. Extraversion
is considered an agentic personality trait (Digman, 1997;
Kammrath, Ames, & Scholer, 2007; McCrae & Costa, 1989),
andthismaybewhyitpredictsbehavior in these situations.
Situations that call for low assertion may primarily be about
silencing the self and deferring to others. Agreeableness is con-
sidered a communal personality trait (Digman, 1997; Kammrath
et al., 2007; McCrae & Costa, 1989), and this may be why it
predicts behavior in these situations. Thus, the psychological
meaning of assertiveness may depend on the situation.
0.5
1
1.5
2
2.5
3
-1 0 1 2
Confrontaon
Situaonal Appropriateness
Low
High
Agreeableness
0.5
1
1.5
2
2.5
3
-1 0 1 2
Confrontaon
Situaonal Appropriateness
Low
High
Extraversion
Figure 3. Participants’ rating of their degree of confrontation across
various interpersonal scenarios. Values are predicted scores from a
multi-level model (Study 3).
Kammrath et al. 627
at UNIVERSITY OF WATERLOO on September 16, 2016spp.sagepub.comDownloaded from
It is important to note that motivation may also play a role in
the patterns observed in these studies. People high and low in
extraversion may differ in how desirable they perceive asser-
tion to be in high-importance situations, and people high and
low in agreeableness may differ in how desirable they perceive
assertion to be in low-importance situations. Investigating the
relative roles of ability and motivation in the assertiveness
associated with extraversion and agreeableness across situa-
tions remains an important area for future research.
Discriminative Assertiveness
Discriminative facility refers to strategic flexibility in behavior
across situations (Cheng, 2003; Chiu, Hong, Mischel, & Shoda,
1995). Participants showed a fair amount of discriminative asser-
tiveness;Studies 1 and 2 participants all reported higher assertive-
ness for their larger concerns than for their lesser concerns,
1
and
Study 1 romantic partners all reported that targets possessed some
ability to be both assertive and unassertive. Nevertheless, our per-
sonality findings indicate that some participants showed greater
discriminative assertiveness than others. Our results suggest that
individuals who are high in both extraversion and agreeableness
would have especially high discriminative assertiveness. They
would be able to show high assertion in situations appropriate for
high assertiveness (associated with extraversion) but also be able
to show low assertion in situations appropriate for low assertive-
ness (associated with agreeableness). By the same token, individ-
uals who are low in extraversion and high in disagreeableness
would have especially poor discriminative assertiveness: speak-
ing up less than they should for important issues, but more than
they should for unimportant issues.
Limitations
As these data represent the first demonstration of a novel phenom-
enon, it is important to be cautious in our conclusions until the
findings have been independently replicated. Our data present
an important opportunity for the field of personality to develop
theoriesof extraversion and agreeableness that can account for the
if-then patterns of assertion associated with the traits in these stud-
ies. Until such theories have been developed and tested, it is
impossible to lay out the specific conditions under which the cur-
rent findings will replicate, beyond close replications using the
population, methods, and measures of the current studies. It may
be useful to note that the individual simple effects that make up
the interaction depend on the general levels of situational appro-
priateness of being assertive and the levels of personality traits
sampled. For example, if the situations sampled possessed a high
mean level of situational appropriateness for assertiveness, the
effect of extraversion on assertiveness might not fully disappear
at 1SD situational appropriateness and the effect of agreeable-
ness might become significantly positive at þ1SD situational
appropriateness. Finally, it is important to highlight that the
findings may be different for non-undergraduate populations, for
samples that are primarily male instead of primarily female, for
non-American cultures, and for interpersonal situations that
involve professional rather than close personal relationships.
Future studies exploring the conditions under which these find-
ings generalize will be useful in building a broad empirical base
to develop future theory.
Conclusions
Extraversion and agreeableness appear to both be associated
with abilities in the assertiveness domain. Across the studies,
extraverted individuals were better able than introverted individ-
uals to speak up for important issues, and agreeable individuals
were better able than disagreeable individuals to stand down for
unimportant issues. Importantly, these abilities did not imply
complementary deficits; extraverted individuals were not over-
assertive when it was appropriate to let others take the lead, and
agreeable individuals were not under-assertive when it was
appropriate to take the lead themselves. Together these findings
imply that individuals with the highest discriminative facility in
assertiveness are likely to be those who are high in both extraver-
sion and agreeableness, being able to display both high and low
assertion as the situation dictates.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to
the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
Funding
The second, third, and fourth authors were supported by graduate
scholarships from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research
Council of Canada.
Note
1. It is interesting to note that the situational main effect was larger in
Study 1, when behavioral intentions were reported, than in Study 2,
when past behaviors were recalled. This pattern fits with other data
showing that people predict that their levels of discriminative
assertiveness will be greater than what is actually observed when
real behavior is reported (McCarthy & Kammrath, 2013).
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Author Biographies
Lara K. Kammrath received her PhD in Psychology in 2004 from
Columbia University. She was an assistant professor at Wilfrid Laurier
University from 2006 to 2011 and is currently an an assistant professor
at Wake Forest University.
Megan H. McCarthy received her MA in Psychology from Wilfrid
Laurier University in 2012 and is currently pursuing her PhD at the
University of Waterloo.
Kassandra Cortes received her MA in Psychology from Wilfrid
Laurier University and is currently pursuing her PhD in Psychology
at the University of Waterloo.
Charity Friesen received her MA in Psychology from Wilfrid Laurier
University in 2011.
Kammrath et al. 629
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... All scales loaded substantially on their respective latent factor (all primary loadings ≥ |.55|) and only one substantial (λ > |.40|) cross-loading occurred. This cross-loading of assertiveness on the agreeableness-dissociality factor may reflect a tendency of persons with low agreeableness (i.e., high dissociality) to display assertivedominant behaviors (see Kammrath et al., 2015). ...
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