The downside to Harmonious People.

I have the privilege of meeting a broad spectrum of personality types in my work. I am often asked “Are some personalities better suited for relationships than others?” and I would say that no one ‘type’ is better or worse. Of course, some people are better suited for partnering than others, better at being a team player and team member but it often boils down to the compatibility of the two people specifically. For example, the one quality I assumed to be beneficial in life and relationships i.e. being harmonious – turns out to be more problematic than I ever thought.

Just recently I have had two separate clients, one male and one female that are by nature incredibly flexible and accommodating. For those familiar with personality profiles, we are talking Enneagram 2, SDI hub or Insights green. The motivational driver of these people is to prioritize the relationship, to fit in, to go with the flow, to be cohering, adaptable, tolerant and flexible. They are the ultimate ‘people’ people. Sounds ideal right?

And, given that they are instinctively in tune with others, their behaviour is often driven by an unconscious/conscious need to avoid conflict and maintain harmony.

Harmony is good, right?

Harmony is what we all want right?

It is. Until it isn’t.

Client 1:

In the case of my male client, his girlfriend finds his easy-going nature frustrating. She is looking for someone to take the lead more often. To be decisive. To have a strong opinion and to stand up for it.

She perceives his ‘go with the flow’ approach as rudderless. Too much easy-going is seen as effeminate, wishy washy. It feels to her like she is the driver in the relationship. The one who is forced to take the lead and plan/organize their lives. This is a job she does not want.

This client, who loves harmony, is simply willing to do and fit in with his girlfriend’s preferences.

Ironically, the same way she can identify and articulate her frustrations, he sees issues and faults within her but instead of addressing them (by having some difficult conversations that could potentially lead to conflict) he bends over backwards to accommodate her inadequacies instead.

“I would rather let sleeping dogs lie”. His desire for Harmony far outweighs his need to resolve any issues within the relationship.


Problem 1:

When you PRIORITIZE HARMONY above resolving issues in a relationship. When you let sleeping dogs lie there might be harmony but when there is too much harmony it can create indifference/ apathy/ disconnect/ distance.

Client 2:

In another example I have a female client who was in relationship with a man who was/is very self-absorbed. It was all about him all the time and she dedicated years of her life to being the woman she thought he needed her to be. She had been his rock, bending over backwards to accommodate his forever changing needs. She was happy to do it. She loved him. She adored their family. She was committed and dedicated and followed his lead in everything. Her life centred around him and his needs. In order to maintain the peace at home she would go with the flow. She thought she was being a great wife.

One day he decided he wanted something/ someone different and ended their relationship quite suddenly. And then he left.

She was completely blindsided.

All that self-deprivation for nothing. The selflessness she was taught to be a noble quality was rewarded with a slap in the face.

She has been separated now for nearly a year and yet she is struggling to come to terms with being single. Her life has revolved around him and the family’s needs, not her own. Now she has all this time available on weekends and she doesn’t know what to do with herself.

“I have spent so many years accommodating someone else for the sake of harmony that I don’t know what I want”.

 Problem 2:

When you PRIORITIZE HARMONY above being your own person. If you are more connected to other people’s needs than your own, you quite literally lose your sense of Self. This presents as a problem when you find yourself on your own/single/alone. It is difficult to know Oneself when you are so busy fitting in with others.

Other possible solutions:

As with all things there is a time and place for everything.

Too much of any one thing, even if it is a good thing, can be detrimental. I wrote about the concept of overdone strengths before in a blog ‘When your strengths are also your Achilles heel’.

If you are naturally easy-going you might be missing some of your blind spots:

  1. Conflict, when done properly, is actually a powerful tool that connects people. Positive and effective conflict shows people that we care, that we have an opinion, that they matter. When we don’t care for someone, we couldn’t be bothered to argue with them (unless you are a naturally cantankerous and argumentative person). Having the ability to have difficult conversations in a partnership is crucial. It increases our intimacy levels. Most of us like to know where people stand and their opinions on things. It is how we discern our compatibility. Standing up for your choices and who you are; the things that are important to you is a reflection of self-respect. If NOT choosing or being indecisive is your preference, stand up for that right. Be your own person and when it is not important, be flexible.

When is it time to drive/lead and when is it time to be flexible?

What are the circumstances/situations that would benefit from some difficult conversations more so than being harmonious?

  1. Relationships are about two whole individuals uniting together to become greater than the sum of the parts. Each person needs to play their own part in order to add value and contribute toward the whole. Having a strong sense of Self does not make you selfish, it makes you real. It makes you self-respecting. Partnership is about being a team player. Strong teams often have complementary strengths. Selflessness is a signal to others that you treat your ‘Self’ as less important. If you behave like a doormat you will be treated like one. Stop behaving as if your preferences and desires are irrelevant. Your needs are equally valid. Do not accommodate so much to others that you begin a legacy of self-deprivation. It does not generate a climate for equality and mutual regard. Wanting to ‘fit in’ all the time can be perceived as having no real convictions so it invites others to take advantage of us.

How can you be open-minded without losing sight of what you really think?

How can you show support without relinquishing your preferences?

Where is the balance point between being flexible/accommodating and honouring your own needs?

What can you attend to daily to ensure that you are looking after yourself as well as others?

My conclusion.

Sometimes in our attempt to achieve harmony in our relationships we forget there are other things that are equally important.

Sometimes resolving issues can be better than letting sleeping dogs lie.

Sometimes bending over backwards to attend to the demands of others will leave you feeling broken and neglected.

The question is:

What is Harmony costing you and is it worth it?