Column | Staff Development

How to mesh employee personality types to foster a successful workplace

Column | Staff Development

How to mesh employee personality types to foster a successful workplace


  • Leaders should be aware of the different personality types they most likely have on their staffs: extroverts/introverts, thinkers/feelers and sensors/intuitors.
  • Ideal approaches for managing introverts include understanding that they may prefer written communication but nudging them to engage face-to-face when needed.
  • Ideal approaches for managing extroverts include allowing their energy to flow while also knowing when to prod them to allow others to contribute.

Having administered and interpreted a well-known personality assessment countless times, I’ve seen two key problems with how leaders tend to approach personality management.a

First, managers may confuse personality preferences with character, leading them to misjudge their employees. They may think introverts aren’t team players or that extroverts are egotistical. They see sinister motives behind behavior rather than simple patterns of personality preferences.

The second problem was summed up by a manager in one of my workshops who asked, “Is it normal to think that your own personality type is the best?” The class laughed, but the truth is, we see ourselves as the standard of good, professional behavior. And we are drawn to people who remind us of … us. It’s called the similarity/attraction effect, and it can lead us to overvalue personalities that are similar to our own. It can affect our decision-making in hiring, evaluation and promotion.

It may be more challenging to lead a symphony of personalities than a chorus of our clones. But diversity protects us from groupthink, from missing out on fresh ideas and perspectives.

Key differences in personalities

Extroversion and introversion are the most discussed personality differences. Managers need to understand that extroverts aren’t showboats and introverts aren’t wallflowers. They just get their energy in different ways.

Extroverts are energized by the outer world, by talking and connecting with others. Introverts are energized by the life of the mind. Extroverts often think by talking. Introverts want to bake an idea in their heads before serving it.

The following are other important personality differences that play out in the workplace and need to be managed.b

Thinkers versus feelers: Thinkers tend to be tough but fair. They’re straight shooters but sometimes can be more truthful than tactful. Conversely, feelers have a strong desire for harmony and team cohesion but may shy away from tough conversations in their quest for positive vibes.

Thinkers need managers who help them see when their straightforwardness can come across as overly blunt and uncaring. Feelers need managers who help them express criticism constructively to their colleagues.

This dichotomy especially is important during times of change (which is almost always, right?). Change management requires a deft combination of “Get it done, everyone” and “Hey, how are you doing?” Thinkers are going to push forward, sometimes leaving collateral damage, unless the feelers are empowered to point out people issues that matter. You need to make sure both have your ear.

Sensors versus intuitors: Sensors love logic, detail and specificity. They are born to fact-check. While you appreciate their instinct for catching math, spelling or logic errors, you may think they are shooting down ideas in brainstorming sessions when they ask, “How much exactly would that cost?” or, “How could we possibly do that in our current structure?”

Intuitors, on the other hand, are drawn to big-picture, abstract and conceptual thinking. They want to kick around “what if” possibilities, no matter how much of a reach those ideas may be. They are comfortable with ambiguity and much more inclined to launch an idea, then play with it as it rolls out. This personality type is less daunted by change but can make their practical-minded colleagues nervous.

We need both types on our teams — the strategic idea people and the tactical implementers. Smart managers know how to rely on each and how to explain the strengths that each brings.

Best practices for managing introverts

Don’t assume that they will take advantage of your open-door policy. Instead, make it a point to reach out to them. Introverts often do their best work in writing and prefer to connect with colleagues through email or memos, but you need to let them know when face-to-face is the best option.

Don’t spring surprise requests to give a “command performance” on introverts, if you can avoid it. If you want them to make a presentation to their teammates or to the top brass, give them a little lead time.

But never assume that introverts can’t run a meeting or a team. History is filled with success stories of introverted leaders. The difference is that after a long day of meetings or conversations at work, they’ll want some quiet time to recharge their batteries, whereas their extroverted counterparts will want to talk about it.

Best practices for managing extroverts

Extroverted employees are likely to be the first to speak in meetings, may jump in to finish people’s sentences and may speak more than others. As their leader, you need to keep an eye on their output. Let that energy flow when it’s positive but be candid enough to tell them when to allow other voices to be heard.

In a meeting, it can be as simple as, “Mike, I’m going to ask you to hold that thought so I can get input from a few folks we haven’t heard from yet.”

Bringing everyone together

The more important a meeting is, the more value there is in sending out an agenda in advance. An agenda helps introverts prepare their thoughts and keeps extroverts on task.

When it comes time to brainstorm, the traditional method in which people shout out ideas favors extroverts and often leaves the group focused on whatever is said first. Consider “brainwriting” instead. Ask people to write down a few ideas. They can preview them to others in pairs or small groups and pull out their favorites to share with all. This is an introvert’s paradise, with a focus on writing and low-key conversations.

When brainstorming is no longer a combat arena of ideas, introverts aren’t disadvantaged, and no voices dominate. You’ll reap the benefits of more and better variety.

The best leaders help people play to their strengths. At the same time, they share honest feedback with employees about their gaps. An inveterate planner may be an asset until the planning is so rigid that it shuts out emerging opportunities. A person who gets more creative at deadline may be a top performer until that style causes delays and disruptions for others in the workflow.

That’s where the manager’s guidance is key. As I love to remind people: Our personality type explains us, but it doesn’t excuse us. All of us, managers and staff, have the capacity to modify our personality-driven behaviors for the benefit of others — and for our own success.

Footnotes:

a. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®.

b. Ibid

About the Author

Jill Geisler

is the Bill Plante Chair in Leadership & Media Integrity, Loyola University Chicago, and a Freedom Forum Institute Fellow in Women’s Leadership.

 

Do you have questions or topics you’d like Jill to address in a future article? Email Nick Hut, HFMA content manager, at nhut@hfma.org.

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