Personality types at the office
My first introduction to personality profiling use in the corporate setting was well over a decade ago. I was jumping from sales job to sales job and going through lots of different types of recruiting. These job’s started requiring personality profiles as part of the application process. It was early days of automated personality analysis for job placement and I guess there were a lot of shysters selling crap product to recruiters. I distinctly remember one in particular which was so poorly written that that it was patently obvious how to manipulate it to get into the ‘keep’ pile of resumes. It had questions like “Would you rather watch tv or go out for a drink with friends?”. I also remember that I wasn’t very interested in the job after the interview. I guess because of my disappointment at the lack of any real opportunity I decided to share my feelings about the application process. I told the interviewers they were wasting time and money by making us take the test because it was obvious how to manipulate it. At the time I thought nobody would be foolish enough to apply to a sales job and take a test where they admitted that they didn’t like to socialize. Looking back on it now I’m forced to concede that even that test may have had some value. My recent experience in workforce development has taught me that my expectations in my fellow man’s ability to be strategic when taking a test like that may have been overly optimistic. As my uncle sarcastically used to say ‘We got some real brain surgeon’s out there!’
Things have changed in the years since. Greater science and automation has gone into the personality profiles that are sold to employers as a vetting tool. You can answer questions about seemingly non-related subjects to the job and the algorithm will spit out a profile where all of the individual elements of the personality are rated. Not only are they rated, organizations have figured out where on the scale you need to be for the highest level of success. A good recent example was a company I met with whose primary market was the elderly. The desired results of their personality profile for new sales reps was very precise. Their was a numerical rating assigned to the candidate and it was plotted against a full spectrum. The company knew that the best candidates needed to rate in the ‘aggressive’ field, but over a certain level, and they would fail at the job because they would be perceived as too pushy by the target market which was wary by nature of anyone trying to sell them something.
There is another type of personality profile: the informal one. This is the one you have a gut feeling about. It’s something that is obvious but hard to quantify. There are certain personalities that find their home in big organizational settings. You tend not to see them in Social Circles as they really only appear when groups of people are forced to work in tandem. It’s when you have a mix of personality elements and behavioral tendencies that are complementary so they tend to be repeated in different people who find themselves in similar situations. Ultimately you get a personality archetype. Large organizations are filled with them. Here are a few of the most popular:
The Chess Player
With the chess player, everything is a calculation. The focus is on self propelling. The eye is always too tomorrow. You tend to see them in leadership positions because every single thing they are doing is designed to get them up the ladder. Every word they utter, every article of clothing they wear, every priority they maintain is a manipulation. These folks are really good at this. The thing they aren’t usually good at is long term impact. Part of the reason for this is that their focus is on perception rather than goal. They will never place their own aspirations at risk to make truly substantial change. Remember it’s all about perception with them, and honestly they don’t need to actually be good at their jobs. They stay at the jobs just long enough and do just enough to make the desired resume entry and then they move on. One sign that you know someone is a chess player is when the whispers you hear about them from a prior position generally aren’t positive.
Pro: If you get on their good side where you can be a confident, then you will go far. You’ll have to act like them and dress like them and maintain the same priorities as them. You have to do this even if the priority is completely self-serving and at odds with whatever the mission of the organization is. In fact you have to be their clone, take on the majority of the workload and risks, and let them get all the spotlight when you succeed. If you have the fortitude to do this they will take you right up the ladder with them.
Con: There is a really a major downside with aligning to this personality type. No matter how good you are Nor how much loyalty you have shown over the years you are always expendable. Just like a real game of chess, the chess player sees everyone as pieces to be moved around the board and sacrificed. The Chess Player will never fall on their sword for their people. It doesn’t matter what they say, because everything they say is a manipulation. You exist for their benefit, they will never exist for yours.
Hint: One sign that you know someone is a chess player is when the whispers you hear about them from a prior position generally aren’t positive or when they leave a current position and their counterparts within their circle do not speak highly of them.
The Poker Player
The poker player is very interesting in that they can have a huge heart, they will go to bat for you, but you would never know it. In fact it’s tremendously difficult to know what they are thinking at all. They are very quiet at meetings and when they speak up it’s usually with some very important point that everyone else has missed. They never develop personal relationships in the office. These people are great in political environments. It’s just really difficult to get in political trouble if you have nothing to say that could in any way be construed as taking a side. The quality of their work can usually be seen in their results over time. They’re like the youngest kid in a large family. They watched the mistakes of others and oftentimes learn not to repeat them.
Pro: These folks are perfect to have with you if you need someone who will not cause you any grief in sensitive situations. Chess Players love them but usually the poker player is too smart to completely align themselves with one.
Con: you never know what they are thinking. This could be somewhat anxiety-inducing if your personality type is one of constant sense-making or gossip. They will also rarely be seen leading the charge for some great initiative. It’s just not their style. This being said, they may make a significant impact, you just wouldn’t know it.
Hint: Spend as much time as you can understanding the priorities of the poker player. The more you know about their priorities on the job, the less anxiety and issues you will have because you will learn how to keep from being surprised.
The counselor is almost the flip side of the poker player coin. The difference is in personability. They are very pleasant and personable and the best listeners you ever met. Like the poker player they don’t really reveal much about themselves but they do usually reveal some personal bits and always seem to show genuine concern. They are the people that nearly everyone in the organization eventually feels close enough with to open up to them. The counselors keep their jobs because, like the poker player, they tend to keep their own mouth shut which avoids lots of conflict by default.
Counselors tend not to have an ulterior motive. They want to do their job and just go home. By this very fact you don’t usually see them in leadership positions. They do tend to be effective in what they do because they have an innate understanding of the motivations of the people who make up the organizations. They understand the flow of the organization as well as, if not better than, their leadership team.
Pro’s: Organized, efficient and trustworthy. They are someone you can always talk to.
Cons: You won’t ever be as close to them as you feel you are. They can give you some insight but generally don’t have any real pull to help you achieve the goals you wish to achieve.
Hint: The counselors have a sixth sense about organizations. If they open up about a concern, listen closely as there is usually some weight behind it.
The Bat-$h_t crazy (BSC)
They seem normal at first but these folks have to have a normal persona because if they didn’t initially seem ok they wouldn’t have gotten the job in the first place. Then they show up and they are out of their mind. The more aggressive ones always seem to be in office altercations or have a sense of entitlement. You can never trust them because the reactions are so erratic. Today they are your best friend, tomorrow they are lodging a formal complain because they were ‘violated’ or ‘discriminated against’. These are the type of people who are always complaining to HR, or have sued an employer in the past. Their sensemaking is out to lunch. One real world example: I had a BSC individual who worked in my professional circle vent to me about how upset they were about their status. They felt that since the new senior manager for their large organization was of the same race as them, they expected that things would ‘get better’ for everyone of that race simply because of that. In another example I had one coworker lose everything to a nigerian scam and wouldn’t listen to anyone who she tried to borrow money from after she went through her own considerable savings for the perceived lover she had never even met.
Pros: None other than they tend not to be around forever, but usually longer than anyone wants them to be.
Cons: If you get caught in their web you can get burned really bad.
Hint: If there have been multiple issues with someone they may be BSC. Stay far away from them and never have any one on one interactions if you can manage it. ALWAYS have someone else in the room.
Their interests, nay, their passions tend to be eclectic. They also have a tendency to talk way too much about things that most people generally don’t care about. They don’t just have a garden, they have a completely organic indoor hydroponic garden. If you ask “how’s your morning going?” They are the ones who answer with something like a ten minute soliloquy about their car acting up this morning almost making them late. They will go into the entire history from the initial vehicle purchase to what the engine light codes could possibly mean and how difficult it is to clean the back seat stains from the kids happy meals. You see them as professors of obscure subjects or technical types among others. There are some underpinnings of this type of behavior which are obvious and other which are not. They could have emotional issues, be on the spectrum or just have had some other challenges that is not readily observable beyond their personalities. The Eccentrics tend to be very good at their jobs. I’ve not met one who was vicious, as their personality quirks make it difficult to develop interpersonal connections, so they tend to try harder to please people.
Pros: The eccentric is genuine in that they aren’t lying about the depth of what they know. They just don’t have a filter about the right depth of information to share.
Cons: If you don’t understand their personality or know how to control it. You may find it a challenge. They may not be the best first impression to bring into a customer setting.
Hint: They can’t help themselves when it comes to their passions. Don’t get them started on move volatile subjects but let them be the subject matter expert when it comes to problems you have that fit in their wheelhouse. You will always come out with great results.
These are actually just a small selection of archetypal personalities you find in organizational settings. Since we can choose who we keep in our personal circles, unless they are family we can eschew these types from our private lives which means many of us will only see them at work. This list is quite small, it’s just a start. There are of course many others. Not all personality types are absolute and easily perceivable but they do tend to repeat. They repeat because their is a certain organizational consistency in our modern world. There are Bosses, and departments, and personnel changes. Nothing is static and very little is long term. These similarities in structure bring out about the similar personality types. It’s a chicken and egg scenero.
The real key is to understand personalities, and the most important personality to understand is your own. We may not really understand what our personality archetype is because we see ourselves as normal. A ‘normal’ eccentric can’t comprehend why the rest of the world doesn’t understand the amazing benefits of organic hydroponics, or why others don’t get the historical significance of Sony choosing the cell processor for it’s PS3. This internal world view makes it very difficult to really comprehend the reality of others. That’s the potential superpower in all this. If you can learn to quickly understand and then internalize the priorities of the personality types of the individuals you run into, then you can adjust your interactions automatically without any dissonance. You’ll always want to dress like the Chess Player no matter what your personal feelings are are towards them. You’ll learn to pay attention to not just the actions, but any small hints they give, to learn the Poker Players priorities. You won’t be offended or upset when they make a decision you may not agree with because you realize you don’t know what they may know. Orson Scott Card described the depth you have to achieve in his seminal work: “Enders Game”
“In the moment when I truly understand my enemy, understand him well enough to defeat him, then in that very moment I also love him. I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves. And then, in that very moment when I love them…. I destroy them.”
I don’t think I would advise you to want to destroy your co-workers no matter how bad of a day you are having. I also don’t think you should avoid trying to understand them as well as, if not better than, you know yourself. With that understanding comes power. Even if your not using that power to climb the corporate ladder, at least it will make it harder for someone to shake you off of it.
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