Dealing with the Spectrum of Personalities

By Kathy Gurchiek Jun 17, 2013

CHICAGO--Understanding the emotional behavior of others—whether family members, friends or employees—can help you respond effectively during difficult conversations, Jody Janati, Ed.D., told attendees during her Saturday session, “Balance Your Conflict,” at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Annual Conference & Exposition.

Janati, who teaches in the communication studies department at the University of Minnesota, is an author and a consultant and has an Ed.D degree in organizational leadership.

Using slice-of-life examples from her own family (parents, siblings, husband) friends and herself, Janati illustrated communication-behavior types she labeled as Intimidator, Interrogator, Poor Me and Aloof, often causing attendees to erupt into laughter.

“This is why I have to drink heavily around my family,” she said wryly.

Among the personality types:

Intimidator. Quick to argue or yell, this type of communicator takes an arrogant tone, and his or her big fear is being wrong. They share truths that often are insulting or embarrassing, like the parent who points out the pimple on her child’s face in front of a group of people.

“They do not know they’re doing this; they think they’re helping,” Janati said, and they can’t read nonverbal communication as well as others. Also, like the guest who wants to dig into the reception fare before the bride and groom have arrived, Intimidators “come across as very me first.”

One way to deal with Intimidators is to call them on their actions. She recalled a male colleague who tried Intimidator tactics to muscle her off the copier she was using. He was in a hurry and didn’t want to wait his turn.

“You wouldn’t be trying to kick me off the copier, would you?” she asked him. Caught out, he left. And in the future, he walked away if he saw her at the copier when he needed it.

Interrogator. They make people feel like they’re under close observation and let others know that they do not meet their standards. Interrogators’ big fear is that if they are not present, the job won’t be done properly.

“They cast people into the role of being inadequate,” said Janati, a self-described Interrogator. “We give our opinions where no one wants them. ‘Who loaded the dishwasher?’ means ‘Who loaded it wrong?’ ” she explained. “We think we’re helping the world,” even going so far as telling people what to say and asking them to repeat it so they get it right.

Poor Me. This person always has a problem to relate, but, ultimately, doesn’t want a solution, Janati said, “because the moment you fix it, you’ve taken the power away from them. In the workplace this is superannoying.” This is the colleague who, after being shown and told repeatedly how to perform a task, continues to get it wrong. When dressed down, he tells others, relishing the drama and the attention.

Aloof behavior. Individuals who exhibit this type of behavior can come across as attractively mysterious and as needing a lot of space or “me” time, privacy and low commitment. In a group they cast themselves as unthreatening—“I don’t care; you guys decide.” In fact, they have difficulty making up their mind and will balk at making a decision on short notice, such as in a meeting.

“They think they’re weighing both sides. If you’re running a meeting, the last thing you want to do with aloof people” is to press them for a decision, Janati warned. “They’ll flip out on you.”

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News.


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