An old theory of personality holds that people fall into two types–A and B. Put simply, Type A personalities are highly aggressive and competitive, whereas Type B are not. We all have seen this broad difference in personalities. Some people we encounter seem ready to walk over their own grandmothers to get ahead. Like all stereotypes, this is a gross oversimplification, but there’s a lot of truth in it.
In the corporate world, type A personalities tend to rise to the top. Why? Because their very personality is aggressive and competitive. They like to push, push, push for what they want and are willing to drive their agenda at any cost. They frequently are talkers but rarely listeners. They also judge people through their own lens. If you’re an introvert, quiet, or deliberative, if you’re a listener instead of a talker, they think you are not “driven” and probably not worth listening to or promoting.
The question is: does being type A make you right? Does it make your opinions more valuable? I cannot think of any reason why being aggressive and competitive makes you more likely to be correct about anything. In fact, I think the opposite is true. If you don’t listen well and are always pushing your own agenda, you’re less likely to consider the opinions of others, which means your decision-making is less well-rounded.
I’ve pointed out before, that quiet, deliberative people, type B’s, are often the ones you really want to listen to. However, in the corporate world, they are often kicked to the curb. “He never says anything in meetings,” the type A’s say. Well, if you hired him maybe he’s actually a smart person but has a hard time contributing in a meeting with 20 people all talking fast. Maybe he needs time to digest what he heard before providing recommendations.
Type A’s tend to be in positions of power not necessarily because they are smarter but because they fight for position in hierarchies. This is not to say they are without value. Their decisiveness and drive are very important to a healthy organization. They can break indecision and move companies forward in ways type B’s cannot.
The key for both personality types is the old Greek maxim: know thyself. If you’re type A, you need to be careful not to be too aggressive. Listen to your quieter colleagues, accept that they may have a different personality, and meet them where they are at. Call on them in meetings, give them time to deliberate and come back to you.
For type B’s, you need to learn to speak out more. You’re probably more respected than you realize, and when you do speak, you’re probably listened to. Try to find forums that are more comfortable for you, like expressing your opinion in writing or 1:1’s.
Sadly, because of the cutthroat nature of the business world, I see little self-awareness and frequent domination of businesses by type A’s. At the end they may get people to follow them, but if they’re leading you off a cliff, their drive may not be such a good thing.
I came to the site for technical info and came across this great post.
There is a entire book devoted to this subject “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking”. I have not read but heard the authors on a podcast years ago. Some of the takeaways were that managers need to be aware of this other personality type and create an environment in which they can succeed.
Introverts enjoy social interaction but it tires them so it needs to be limited. They need quiet spaces to work effectively. They need an environment where they can speak up without having to compete for attention.
Unfortunately society rewards this outgoing, aggressive behavior (think Dale Carnegie). It makes introverts feel inadequate, as if there is something wrong with them. As you correctly pointed out, the best way to increase awareness so that companies/managers can maximize the benefit of all workers.
Thanks… A couple things:
1. I’m familiar with the book “Quiet”. As I suspected when it came out, there was a lot of noise 🙂 about it, it was pushed in leadership meetings, everyone got excited, and nothing changed. The nature of Type A’s and the nature of the corporate world make it hard to have any kind of meaningful change, at least without clear direction from the top along with discrete goals for leaders.
2. I actually benefitted immensely from Dale Carnegie’s book and I did an 8 week course as well. This is much to my surprise as I generally hate that sort of self-help book. The title of his famous book (How to Win Friends and Influence People) sounds horribly cynical, but the general idea of it is that to get anything done you need to think in terms of other people’s interests and not your own. Some of the advice is a bit stupid, but a lot of it is quite helpful. The course started me on my road to being a successful public speaker. As I said, I think Type A’s and Type B’s each need to know the limitations of their own personality type and work against those limitations. In my own case being too introverted was causing me problems. In the case of a Type A, being too aggressive is.