Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Personalities at Work: Understanding and Managing Human Nature on the Job

Academic journal article Public Personnel Management

Personalities at Work: Understanding and Managing Human Nature on the Job

Article excerpt

All people possess personality traits. These are the individual variations of temperament, cognition and interaction style that give each of us our distinct color as human beings. But when these personal characteristics grate harmfully on others or significantly derail the success of the persons themselves, psychologists regard them not just as personality traits, but also as personality disorders. (1 2) The official diagnostic definition of a personality disorder is "an enduring pattern of inner experience and behavior that deviates markedly from the expectations of the individual's culture, is pervasive and inflexible, has an onset in adolescence or early adulthood, is stable over time and leads to distress or impairment." (3)

Personality-disordered individuals typically have little insight into their own behavior or understanding of the adverse impact they have on themselves and others. They characteristically justify their offensive or self-defeating behavior patterns as being due to uncontrollable fate or to the fault of someone else. It is the extremes of their self-perception and conduct toward others that distinguish personality-disordered individuals from those with milder traits. More practically, in the workplace, people with personality disorders can cause considerable difficulty for both the organization and themselves. (4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12)

However, because personality-disordered individuals may also be talented and productive in other aspects of their work, their more dysfunctional behaviors may be tolerated in the workplace, or coworkers and supervisors may even exploit them. In fact, people gravitate toward different kinds of jobs based not only on their training and intellectual skills, but also on the basis of their personalities, temperaments and cognitive styles. (13 14) In the ideal case, individuals with personality disorders, unless extremely severe, may eventually burrow into their own comfortable niche in the organization and operate effectively until something changes in the work environment that destabilizes their position or performance.

The purpose of the present discussion is to provide business managers and their consultants with some insight into the minds of the people they work with, and to suggest some strategies for maximizing the relationship among workers in a job environment. Personalities may not be easy to change, but they often can be accommodated, and a seemingly obstreperous or hopeless employee may be salvageable if you know how to play to his or her strengths and minimize or overcome his or her interpersonal and job-related weaknesses.

In this discussion, the border between a personality trait or style and a disorder per se is deliberately kept open in order to emphasize that in most cases this is really a continuum, instead of a rigid demarcation. Another loose set of borders is among the personalities themselves. It is common for people to have mixtures of personality traits or disorders, for example, the Dependent personality who's craving for approval expresses itself through Obsessive-Compulsive devotion to details for her boss, or the Paranoid personality who's suspicion about being undermined by jealous coworkers manifests itself in Histrionic displays of disciplinary wrath. Each of the personality types discussed below will be treated as if they are "pure" types, but again, bear in mind that these are abstractions, and you may not find such neat diagnostic categories in your workplace. People are complex.

Avoidant Personality

Clinical Description and Work Style

Avoidant personality is a pattern of social inhibition, feelings of inadequacy and hypersensitivity to negative evaluation or criticism. Even relatively neutral or potentially pleasant interpersonal interactions are approached with trepidation, and any sort of direct confrontation is out of the question. These are people who fear people. They are not antisocial per se, and may actually be very polite and accommodating in demeanor. …

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