Personality Priorities, Stress Management, and the Research Administrator

By Blankinship, David A. | SRA Journal, Winter 1994 | Go to article overview

Personality Priorities, Stress Management, and the Research Administrator


Blankinship, David A., SRA Journal


Introduction

It is a typical Monday morning. After spending 15 minutes organizing your day the phone rings and you instantly recall that while you plan your day, you rarely control it. A proposal manager is calling to let you know that he will be by your office at 4:15 p.m. He has a 55-page proposal that must go out today. Oh yes, he will need five copies for the funding agency, three for the collaborators, and two for the department. Would you please help him get this thing cleared through the department? No, he hasn't talked with anyone there yet; the proposal has taken up too much time to allow him to make sure the department will support the proposed effort. Oh, one final item: he needs a 25% match, and can the indirect costs be waived? You hang up the phone knowing you are now a part of a desperate effort to complete this project before the overnight couriers make their appointed rounds. As you reach for the phone to call the proposal manager's department, it rings again. This time it is a principal investigator who has just learned from her project officer that funding for the 2nd and 3rd years of her project has been cut by 15%. How can she complete her work without the money? Doesn't the project officer know this is a catastrophe? What can you do to help her? After a 45-minute conversation you hang up the phone to go to a staff meeting, where you learn that your budget for next year has been reduced by 5%.

As this vignette illustrates, research administration is a dynamic, challenging, and stressful profession. Research administrators play many different roles: compliance officer, cheerleader, consoler, advocate, and - perhaps the least appreciated role - crisis counselor. They also work with talented and competent people who put their professional reputations on the line every day.

Research administrators who understand the causes of stress and know how to reduce or eliminate its effects can create a more productive work environment for themselves and others. To understand the causes of stress research administrators need to understand why people do the things they do. One theory of human nature, developed by Adler (1954), suggests that the paramount goal of every human being is to belong to a group. Anything that threatens this goal is stressful. We share this belief with every other person on the planet. According to Adler's model we each have adopted a set of rules - or personality priorities - to help us make decisions and maintain our sense of belonging.

Personality Priorities

Recent research on personality priorities has focused on improving relationships between couples (Bitter, 1993) and studying the relationship of personality priorities to wellness (Britzman & Henkin, 1992; Britzman & Main, 1990). However, the idea of personality priorities is based on personality types that have been rediscovered and described for centuries. The general characteristics of each type date back thousands of years (Kefir & Corsini, 1974) and appear in many typological theories in modern psychology (e.g., Adler, 1954; Jung, 1923; Satir, 1972; Perls, 1973).

Although each person's personality is indescribably unique, there are only four personality priorities. Table I presents the four personality priorities and the goals, prices, and avoidance situations associated with each type.

[TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 1 OMITTED]

The first type is the Control Priority. People who have adopted this set of rules value being in control of themselves, others, or a situation. They

believe that by being in control they have a place in the group. They also believe that if they are embarrassed or ridiculed, their standing in the group will be jeopardized. People with a Control Priority may lack spontaneity and appear to be socially distant. It is important to remember - and appreciate - that such individuals willingly pay this price to maintain a feeling of control and avoid the stress of embarrassment. …

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