There’s no denying that the functionality, quality, and price of your products and services all play an important role in your ability to be successful in business. However, there’s one other factor that can have a huge impact on your ability to rise to the top; although, it’s one that is frequently overlooked.
What I’m talking about is your personality. But, this term can actually mean a number of different things, so before we go on, let’s first make sure we’re on the same page about what exactly personality is.
The American Psychological Association defines personality as “individual differences in characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving.” Put simply, personality is a combination of the thoughts you have in your mind, the feelings you tend to experience on a day to day basis, and the way you use both of these to interact with the world around you. It is the traits that you have, the combination of characteristics or qualities you possess, that make you uniquely you.
Personality & Business
So what does personality have to do with business? As it turns out, quite a bit. How you process things around you and how you decide to respond as a result of that processing can affect you professionally in more ways than one. At least, that’s what the research says.
Numerous studies have been conducted to assess the relationship between personality and business impact, and the two seem to be fairly interrelated on quite a few different levels. For instance, some pieces of research have found that your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors can impact your ability to be an effective business negotiator (partially depending on the preference of the people you’re negotiating with). Others suggest that your personality traits can even affect your business’ overall levels of performance.
For purposes of this article though, we’re going to talk specifically about how your personality can impact your relationship with your staff. As Anne Mulcahy, former CEO of Xerox Corporation once said, “Employees are a company’s greatest asset.” Therefore, using your personality to your advantage in this one area alone can help you maximize the value of your assets…and subsequently your business.
However, this isn’t exactly an easy topic to discuss, solely because of the number of traits that exist. How many are there? Apparently the answer to that question depends on who you ask.
Personality Traits by the Numbers
Kendra Cherry, author of The Everything Psychology Book: An Introductory Guide to the Science of Human Behavior, shares that many experts in this field differ regarding the number of personality traits in existence. And their differences are sometimes huge in range.
For example, Cherry shares that psychologist Gordon Allport says that there are more than 4,000 personality traits that people can possess. However, other personality experts say that these can be boiled down into a much more manageable list, like psychologist Raymond Cattell, who narrowed his to just sixteen, what he refers to as “source traits.” And yet another psychologist was able to minimize his list to three.
Certainly, everyone in the field seems to have differing opinions about the actual number of traits we can possibly possess. However, a number of professionals have agreed that there are a few basic categories, which address the most common personality dimensions. These are often referred to as the “Big Five.”
The “Big Five”
The University of Oregon explains that the Big Five are essentially the five major categories that each encompass several of the traits that are found to co-occur in people. They are:
- Extraversion (sometimes spelled extroversion)
- Openness to Experience
From a scientific standpoint, where you stand in regard to each one of these can ultimately affect how well you do in business. For instance, one study involving more than 300 franchise owners in the U.S. found that franchisees that scored higher in agreeableness and lower in extraversion “were more likely to develop congenial relations with their franchisors.” In other words, they had friendlier relationships with the people they did business with based solely on their degree of likeability.
How you fare in each of these categories can impact your relationship with your employees as well. So let’s delve into each one now, not only so you know specifically what each one means, but also to hopefully help you learn a few ways to make your particular traits work for you.
Extraversion essentially refers to how you prefer to interact with the world. If you are extroverted, for example, you are generally talkative, energetic, and more assertive. And if you’re introverted, you typically keep to yourself, are quiet, and would rather watch rather than participate.
Listening 2 Leaders says that, if you’re an extrovert by nature, one of the best things you can do is “slow yourself down.” As a business leader then, if you’re holding a staff meeting, instead of taking over and being pretty much the only one that talks, give others a chance to speak as well. Let them share their thoughts and opinions without jumping in and interrupting.
And if you’re an introvert, they first suggest that you “see value in your personality style” and second, when it comes to meetings and presentations, it’s absolutely “crucial” that you prepare in advance. This can help you when you have to say or do something in front of a crowd. Also, “step away from the action from time to time to be alone and recharge.” It’s okay to push yourself outside your comfort zone, but make sure you don’t push yourself too hard.
The second category is agreeableness and this refers to your level of sympathy or kindness. In business, it often seems that leaders are at one end of the spectrum or the other. Either they bend over backwards to show their employees that they care or they come across as extra harsh, almost as if they don’t even have a heart. Which one is better?
According to Harvard Business Review, while you don’t always have to get along with everyone in a business environment, the more agreeable you are with regard to your staff, the more advantages you both receive. The reason they say this is because research is now showing that bosses with a certain level of “niceness” or who “project warmth” are now coming out ahead.
Harvard also points out that taking a “tough” stance, or being less agreeable when dealing with your employees often brings about higher levels of stress in both of you. For them, this leads to increased turnover rates, higher number of sick days taken, and lower levels of productivity when they are at work, costing you in time and money.
Stress can play a big role in your life as well. For instance, The American Institute of Stress reports that work-related stress is responsible for 1 out of every 10 strokes. It raises your risk of heart disease and heart attack, and it even reduces the grey matter in your brain, potentially tipping off any number of psychiatric issues.
Now, if you’re agreeable by nature, one thing you have to be careful with is your tendency to avoid conflict or address problem situations. This can cause you to lose the respect of your staff, and some of them may even take advantage of you. To avoid this, you may want to hire a manager to oversee your employees and handle any issues with them that arise. This enables you to stay “likable” while still tending to your business.
On the flip side, if you’re not agreeable by nature, you might benefit from having some type of advisor or someone you can talk to who can help you take actions that come off as more sympathetic or kind. This makes it easier to act in a way where your staff feels that you do care for and value them, and they’ll likely work harder for you as a result.
Conscientiousness is all about whether you’re organized, thorough, and a planner or if you’re undependable, chaotic, or all over the place. Obviously, whichever one describes you best can greatly impact how you interact with the people who are tasked to work under you every day.
If you’re organized and a planner, you’ll likely have no issues with employees who are the same, as they’ll appreciate these qualities. However, your employees who are closer to the other end of the spectrum may struggle if you have this trait and they don’t.
One way to use it to your advantage when dealing with this particular group is to break their big tasks down into small, manageable, bite-size pieces. This still enables them to get them done in an orderly fashion without giving them so much that they become overwhelmed or fail simply because they couldn’t prioritize and organize.
And if you’re the one who has trouble being orderly and detailed yourself, you’d likely be better off delegating tasks that require organization to others within your company. Training and development specialist Brian Tracy says you can also work on this trait and become stronger in this area by doing something as simple as creating a filing system, a task that can save you as much as 30 percent of your time each and every day.
Neuroticism is a personality trait that is characterized by constant feelings of tension, moodiness, anxiousness, worry, or fear. Sometimes these can work for you and other times they’ll work against you.
Being neurotic in the workplace can be a good thing as long as you’re a “healthy neurotic,” or someone who channels these somewhat negative emotions into positive behaviors. For instance, if it pushes you and your staff to do a better job, then that’s not all bad.
However, if you’re not a healthy neurotic and you experience these types of feelings without having a positive outlet, this can not only affect you mentally and physically (with lower levels of health), but it can also seep into your relationships with your staff. After all, when you’re stressed out and worried all the time, people are going to feel less comfortable coming to you.
To keep this from having a huge negative impact on your staff, work to incorporate some positivity into your work days. Maybe you could put some inspirational sayings on the wall or start your staff meetings by mentioning all of the things you appreciate about your staff, as gratitude tends to lessen negative emotions.
Openness to Experience
The final category within the Big Five is openness to experience. This addresses your ability to be creative, imaginative, and insightful. If you have these qualities, you may be seen as a visionary in your field; as someone who isn’t afraid to wander outside of the box.
To make the most of this set of traits, should you have them, encourage your employees to share their creative ideas as well, enabling you to overcome hurdles in your company in new and more innovative ways. This is especially true when dealing with people in highly complex jobs as research shows that this can raise their level of performance.
Now, if you tend to struggle in this area yourself and tend to prefer “tried and true” over never-been-tried-before, you might want to stick to less complex types of work, as this is when your performance is best. Additionally, it may help to assemble a team of people who do have openness to experience and give them a little creative license to come up with some ideas that could move your business ahead. This allows you to stay in your comfort zone, while also letting your employees shine in a way that suits them best.
Personality in business isn’t everything, but it is important. Regardless of where you score in regard to each of these traits, one thing is clear. How you deal with your staff matters. So never underestimate the power of your personality in relation to them, as it really can affect how well you prosper in the end.
I’m always interested in learning other small business owners’ thoughts on relevant topics and issues, so if you have a unique article idea, feel free to contact me at [email protected] (put “Businessing Magazine” in the subject line, please). If I use it, it’s a free link to your website!