I recently attended a retreat where the group was asked to go through personality evaluations so that we could begin to better understand the group and how we all interacted with each other. At the end of the examination, there were four categories of personalities:
I ultimately found myself classified somewhere between Analyzing and Supporting. I was a good planner, thorough and organized but I was also equally relationship-oriented, understanding and empathetic.
After we had all been categorized, sorted, branded and shamed for our shortcomings, we started going through exercises to examine how our personality types interacted with those in the other categories. At one point, the group was asked to “guess” where they thought each other should be classified. This was a bit of an odd task given that most of us didn’t really know each other that well. For the most part, we only had a general sense of each other’s occupation and role within the company. Not surprisingly, the fact that everyone knew I was an attorney resulted in me being classified as Controlling by those peers. It was not surprising to me as I too would imagine that most lawyers demonstrate various aspects of the Controlling personality which was described as taking charge, decisive and bottom-line focused. Made sense to me despite the fact that, like all professions, attorneys come from all walks of life and personality styles. While I could certainly flex those skills when needed, it wasn’t where I really wanted to live 24/7.
As part of the process, I started categorizing the people in my life — the good and the bad. I imagined the people in my life who had challenged me professionally and I categorized them too. I found some interesting patterns. Oddly enough, everyone in my life with whom I had significant professional struggles fell into the category of Controlling. As I read further through the description of the Controlling personality, a few things struck me.
Controlling personalities tend to be impatient, too dominant, insensitive, demanding and unwilling to let go.
In contrast, one of the drawbacks of a Supporting personality (e.g., me!) is that they struggle dealing with critical or aggressive people. I sat there dumbfounded. I could not believe the intersection of those personalities! It’s no wonder that I struggled so much in my past with those people. We were literally oil and water and our drawbacks triggered the others’. Our communications styles are dramatically different and our weaknesses just inflame each other.
I spent the evening really working through this realization and examining how this knowledge could have changed things for me in my past. Knowing that these individuals were simply acting in accordance with their dominant personality characteristics could have helped me disconnect from their aggression, demands, and insensitivities. These people were not singling me out for this treatment and it had no bearing whatsoever on me or my value. The problem was that I had allowed myself to believe that their aggression and antics were about me.
I made it all mean that I was something lesser, that I was an idiot, that they didn’t like me, they didn’t respect me, they didn’t think I was good enough, etc.
I was miserable because I interpreted this behavior as something negative about myself. At the time, I couldn’t help but believe it was all about me.
The problem was that I had allowed myself to believe that their aggression and antics were about me. I made it all mean that I was something lesser, that I was an idiot, that they didn’t like me, they didn’t respect me, they didn’t think I was good enough, etc. I was miserable because I interpreted this behavior as something negative about myself. At the time, I couldn’t help but believe it was all about me.
In the end, it all comes down to our thoughts and how we interpret the situations and the people in our lives. However, it doesn’t hurt to have a little science behind that awareness and appreciate the fact that we all have different personality tendencies that will drive our behaviors. It’s just one more reason to affirm to yourself every day that the actions and words of others have nothing to do with you and everything to do with the other person. The only thing that truly matters is:
What are you making it mean?
As an attorney, I am no stranger to difficult personalities. In my coaching work I have honed the skills to work through our issues with others to truly turn the corner and stop making it all about us. Coach with me and let me show you how.