Is your job a thrill or a struggle? Do you work hard at what you do for the sake of getting it done because it is expected of you, yet, not find a thrill at doing it? Or do you constantly get a charge of your work, that is, find yourself mostly enjoying your job? These are significant questions to ask yourself. For, simply put, if we mostly struggle, we have probably chosen a position to which we are not inherently* suited. Whereas if we thrill, we have found the right niche for our internal brain patterns*.
*Inherently suited has nothing to do with training but everything to do the internal brain patterns we develop between the ages of 3 and 13.
- The Obvious is not Obvious
It is obvious to us all that people are different. They look different, walk differently, talk differently and sing differently. Each personal combination is unique. None of us knows two people who are the same. Although we may get confused before identical twins, families of twins will assure us of the great differences between them. (I can attest to it myself, being from a family with two sets of twins.)
We have no difficulty in accepting the physical distinctions amongst people. However, the moment we switch to personality differences our measuring stick changes; we think the mental attributes are an issue of mind over matter and with sufficient training or cajoling, people can be ‘corrected’ to behave in other ways. What is obvious to us about people’s physical difference is not obvious to us about people’s mental difference.
The position of this paper is that the mental differences are just as great as the physical ones. And why shouldn’t they be?
Certainly the empirical evidence in front of us, to support that thinking, abounds. We all know people who are laid back and we know people who can never sit still. We know those who are outgoing and those who hide as soon as a crowd appears. Our experience has introduced us to people who like to be front and center and others who prefer to slip into the background, those who are aggressive and those who are passive.
But underneath this veil of clear behavioral differences, we still think that people can change, that with a bit of training or behavioral coaching we can bring out the shining personality of Henry the wallflower.
The mental differences are there for us all to see. Even though they are obvious, today’s management methods seem to reinforce the belief that mental differences are not a permanent feature of the individual that all people can change and conform to what is ‘ideal’. Thus begins an active effort to change the person’s ‘undesirable’ behavior. It starts as young children, it continues through school and it persists through one’s career. What is obvious is not so obvious.
- We are Wired to be Different
As we look around us, we cannot help but see the cursory differences among people. Each person has a special way of responding to the vast array of situations as they are presented. People are driven by some stimuli but totally oblivious of others. Each person’s world is different than any one else’s world. Are you patient or impatient, direct and to the point or do you wander down a meandering path, are you aggressive or passive, thoughtful or thoughtless, practical or impractical, emotional or unemotional, optimistic or pessimistic, calm or anxious? Adding up the thousands of possibilities, you and I should have little trouble in noticing that each person is unique. What every individual is doing is responding uniquely to a combination of stimuli.
People are so different that they each might as well come from different worlds. Others do not see things the same way. “Why can’t you understand?” “Because, my world is different than yours.” Although Jane and Tom marry because they have so many things in common, it takes only a short time in this happy union to realize that they have far more things not in common. Your mate is very different from you – as is every person around you. Is your mate good at articulating difficulties while you become tongue-tied? Things that are easy for some are painfully difficult for others. Do you get up and present easily in front of a group or do you avoid public speaking like the plague? The process is constantly at play, not by rational choice but by some driver within. A cautious person, Mary, will be cautious at work, cautious at home and cautious at play. Risks at work, risks at home and risks at sports will be minimized by her. By contrast Tom, a bolder person, will take risks at whatever endeavor is tried.
There is no pause in the process and there is no conscious thought to it. It is just as natural for Mary to be careful as it is for Tom to be carefree. No amount of training is going to make Mary throw caution to the winds and become a skydiver or take up white-water rafting. No amount of training is going to make Tom assume knitting as a hobby or suppress his urge to go to the edge. Each personal perspective is unique.
In the past century, we ascertained that fingerprints were different for every person. More recently we discovered and utilized the uniqueness of DNA for each human being. And now we say that the brain for each individual is wired differently. So, why should anyone be surprised?
Buckingham and Coffman (Reference 1) explain it more or less as follows:
A child’s brain at birth has 100 billion neurons. The mind is made up of the connections between these cells (synapses). Every neuron sends out thousands of signals, trying to connect to form the mind. By the third birthday, the number of connections is up to 15,000 for each of the 100 billion neurons – up to 1,500,000,000,000,000. During years 3 to 13 the child refines the connections – the stronger ones become stronger, the weaker ones die to reduce the number of connections to half. The brain has carved out a unique network of connections numbering around 700 trillion. Some connections are complete; some are not made. A complete connection for empathy means the child, Jane Doe, will feel every emotion around her as if it were her own. If she has a poor connection for empathy, she will forever say the wrong thing to the wrong person – not out of malice, but from an inability to pick up the emotional signals being sent. If she has a complete connection for confrontation, her brain will hand her one perfect word after another during the heat of the debate. If she has a poor connection for confrontation she will find that her brain always shuts her mouth at the most critical moments.
These mental pathways are her unique property, providing recurring patterns of behavior that make Jane Doe unique. They define where she will have difficulty and where she will excel – where she will struggle and where she will thrill. They create her enthusiasm for one thing and her indifference for another. After mid-teens, there is little change. The patterns endure.
3. Connections for Better/Worse
We are well aware of the battered wife who, on being rescued and having recovered, seeks a new mate, but she finds herself with another brutal man – the last type of person she wanted!
What is going on?
She has been ‘wired’ to fall into that trap, to repeat the cycle, which happens in many social calamities. Do these people want to repeat the terrible cycles? Of course they don’t. But they do.
Psychologists say that we marry our parents – whether it is good for us or not. The childhood comforts even of a dysfunctional parent – all parents will yield some tender mementos – appeal to us so we are attracted to potential mates displaying them. Dysfunctional or not, we men are attracted to some aspects of our mothers and women to their fathers. Two months ago, I met a young male friend’s new live-in mate. She is the spitting image of his mother’s (also my friend) own personality. Fortunately, this union has all the appearances of a healthy relationship. This enticing trap to the opposite sex parent’s image is harmful only if the parent had some major dysfunctional characteristic, which is bad for the young selector. Thus arises the cyclical pattern of failed marriages or relationships, as by choosing the comforts, the person automatically chooses the discomforts. It is done without rational thought, but is based on our emotions that dominate our rational thought.
Can this be easily changed? No. It is hard-wired. Once the hard wiring is acknowledged and understood, one can move out of the trap.
4. The Die Is Cast
So, the die is cast for us all – functional or dysfunctional as we may be. The 700 trillion neurons connections have been made that define each of us uniquely. And that uniqueness is not readily changed.
We tend to do some groupings of those personality types around us. He is grumpy. She is fun to be with. Charlie’s a daredevil. Karen is scared of her own shadow. Basic personality types have been observed and known for centuries. The ancients found a grouping of four (with many sub-groupings) to be convenient. The names for the ancient four categories are:
- Choleric (irritable)
- Phlegmatic (unemotional)
- Sanguine (confident)
- Melancholic (worried*)
These groupings were derived, respectively, from the four ancient “cardinal humors” – themselves derived from the understood chief fluids of the body: yellow bile, phlegm, blood and black bile. The human dispositions were thought to result from combinations of the four humors. Modern psychology follows this approach, examples of which are psychological personality groupings of four animals, four colors and the four characteristics of Merrill-Reid: Driver, Analytical, Expressive and Amiable (reference 2). Each of these groupings has a defined set of behavioral characteristics which, at the moment, are outside of the scope of this paper. Suffice it to say we will focus on the word combinations and all they imply intuitively to us: Driver (irritable), Analytical (unemotional), Expressive (confident) and Amiable (worried*).
*Worried about being approved, this person adjusts by attempting to be everyone’s friend, hence becoming ‘Amiable’.
- Looking for Solutions
Armed with the information that we are hard-wired to behave a certain way and knowing there are generalizations of four characteristic groupings, how do we apply this to our own “thrill or struggle”? First, determine your characteristics or talents and follow the suggestions below.
- Select for Your Inherent Talent
Select your job or portions of your job that fit with your inherent, hard-wired talent. Decide on your general makeup: Driver (irritable), Analytical (unemotional), Expressive (confident) and Amiable (worried). Assess yourself; assess which of the four are really you. Focus on one, perhaps two, but never on more than three. Stop looking at the last one or two as weaknesses, but rather as you really are. For example, if you are a Driver, you will typically be always in a hurry, looking for quick solutions, perhaps step on other people’s toes and have less focus on details than others. Therefore go for jobs that require action; avoid jobs that are highly detailed and devoid of action. If you are Analytical you will, typically, be thorough, careful and good at detail. Therefore go for jobs that demand carefulness, detailed planning or organizing. Avoid jobs that tend to be chaotic and unorganized. If you are Expressive, go for jobs that demand creativity and innovation; avoid routine, repetitive jobs. Finally if you are Amiable, go for jobs that take advantage of your empathy for others; avoid jobs that remove you from people contact.
In summary, we are not saying that if you are a Driver you lack the ability to address fine details. You probably have that discipline. What we are saying is that you will never thrill in a job demanding mostly fine detail and you will probably never ‘star’ in that job; you will not rise in the morning anxious to get to the office to attack more detail or receive incredible praise for your facility with detail. On the other hand you probably will be able to ‘star’ in a job that applies your energy towards action and you will be anxious to get to the office to fix unresolved action items. And you will probably be praised for your ability to roll up your sleeves and get things done.
- Define Outcome, Not Process
Define the right outcomes for your job (and for those who report to you) and let each person find the personal best routes (following their characteristic talents) towards those outcomes.
- Standardizing the ends (outcome) prevents having to standardize the means (routes).
- It encourages you (and your employees) to take responsibility.
- Make sure in defining outcomes, you are doing what is right for customers.
- Make sure in defining outcomes, you are doing what is right for the company.
- Do what is right for your individual characteristic groupings.
- You will become your own harshest critic, raising your own bar on performance. You will compete against yourself. Throw out the concept of performance averages or standardized quota systems. (Use them only as rough guides.)
- Focus on Strengths
Now become more of who you already are. (A Driver becomes more driven, an Analyzer becomes more analytical, an Expressive person becomes more creative and an Amiable individual becomes more people-oriented.)
Fit is everything. Put a round peg in a round hole – a mainly-Driver person in a mainly-Driver job. Avoid putting a round peg in a square hole in the belief that ‘training’ will fix it.
You know you have achieved success in focusing on strengths when: you become in awe of what you can do – when you truly admire your own results and capabilities.
- Manage Around Weaknesses
If you have clear difficulties or struggles on the job, you must ask three questions:
a) Is the weakness a deficiency in skills or knowledge? Then get skills or knowledge training.
b) Is your boss tripping the wrong personality triggers? (i.e., motivating your shy personality with public praise or motivating your non-competitive personality with contests.) Then ask your boss to stop it; advise your supervisor that these motivators, while suitable for others, do not work for you.
c) If it is not either of the above, then by default, it is an inherent talent issue. For example, asking on a recurring basis that a shy person do public speaking, asking an impatient person to do a fine, detailed task (i.e. asking a Driver to become an Analytical person or vice versa). Training is not an option; it is a waste of time. But the situation is NOT a disaster because none of us have all four groupings. Perfection is not in the cards for any of us.
- Solution for Employers
A person working in a job demanding the wrong personality grouping area is always a person with a struggle, a thrill that is never felt. Therefore the supervisor must:
- Devise a support system – checklists for disorganized people.
- Find a complimentary partner – an Analytical person with someone who lacks the inherent Analytical talents.
- If neither of the above work, it is job misfit. Find another role for the employee.
- The measure of misfit is when supervisors spend most of their time managing around the person’s weakness.
Understanding your basic, inherent talent and characteristics allows you to focus your efforts towards a job that mostly thrills you and avoid those that will be mostly a struggle for you. (For example, a simple remedy may be to trade tasks within the job with other workers as you fit tasks to their thrills in exchange for their tasks that thrill you.)
In searching for the job fit, it does not mean you will find a perfect fit but it does mean you can avoid jobs that are inherently out of line with your character. It means you can stop forcing yourself to become someone you will never be. It means you can work towards a thrill instead of working towards more struggle.