Problem Management — principles

Most personality classification systems are based on the differences in people's behaviours. While these can be of interest, they aren't nearly as useful as a system that is based on people's motives. If you know how people behave you can perhaps guess what caused their behviour, but if you know what motivates people you will be able to predict their reactions.

There are four basic personality types that determine each person's preferred view of the world. None of these types should be considered good or bad, better or worse. They are simply different. Each one can be beneficial in some circumstances, and harmful in others. (Note that other personality factors that are based on behaviour, such as extroverted versus introverted, are independent of this particular analysis.)

People generally have attributes from all four types, and while some people are evenly balanced, most tend to have at least one very strong type and at least one very weak type.

When selecting members for a team project, it is essential to include strengths from all four personality types, which can be compared to the suits of a deck of cards:

  1. Spade: likes to dig, to get to the bottom of things.
  2. Diamond: like a diamond cutter, is precise and meticulous.
  3. Club: takes direct action by the most expeditious means at hand.
  4. Heart: thinks with feelings before intellect.

The human mind naturally tries to seek and produce order and harmony in the world around it. The four personality types assign different importance to four kinds of harmony:

  1. Temporal — Analyze — logical order, linear progression, cause and effect
  2. Spatial — Organize — physical order, structure, predictability
  3. Existential — Expedite — immediate order, self-centered
  4. Spiritual — Conciliate — human order, peace, friendship

Note that self-centred doesn't necessarily mean selfish. It means seeing the world in terms of one's immediate needs. Those needs may very well include the safety and happiness of others.

The following personality descriptions each have a parallel structure of four paragraphs: motives, apparent weaknesses, strengths, and teamwork.

  1. Some people are very analytic. They need to understand why things are the way they are, why things go wrong, and why decisions were made.

    They will appear judgemental, to enjoy attaching blame, though that is seldom their real motive, and will appear to have a superior attitude, though that is seldom how they feel. They are often not good at initiating new ideas or making decisions.

    They may sit silently through most of a meeting, but by the end will have filtered out all the irrelevant details and will be able to provide a concise summary of the essential ideas and conflicts, and be able to say, objectively and unemotionally, what problems are associated with each of the various proposals under discussion.

    A team made up entirely of this kind of person will spend far too long analyzing the problem and looking for larger more general solutions and will have difficulty making decisions.

  2. Some people are very organized. They need to know how and when things are going to happen.

    They will appear anal retentive, concerning themselves just as much with unimportant details as they do with the essentials. Change and unpredictability will bother them.

    They will ensure that every task in a project has been documented and assigned to the appropriate people, and that a realistic schedule exists for the project's completion.

    A team made up entirely of this kind of person will bore itself to death. The project will be thoroughly documented and scheduled, but may end up being a very mediocre solution.

  3. Some people are very enthusiastic. They need to get the job done and over with; the celebration at the end being their main goal.

    They will appear careless and disorganized, preferring quantity over quality. When they work hard, it's usually in order to leave early and party.

    Their enthusiasm for the project will inspire the team. They will ensure that the project doesn't get bogged down in small details, and will push others to get their work done.

    A team made up entirely of this kind of person will soon complete the project. But afterward, it might often take several times as long for the people that take over the finished project to figure out what was done and to discover and solve the problems that were overlooked.

  4. Some people are very gregarious. They need to get along with others, and need others to get along with each other.

    They might appear to be lazy and distracted. They will spend most of their time talking, often about things totally unrelated to the project at hand or even to work in general.

    They will ensure that the inevitable conflicts between the other members of the team are resolved, that everything runs smoothly, and that everyone is happy.

    A team made up entirely of this kind of person will likely not complete the project. They will feel really bad about this for a while, until they comfort themselves and then they'll feel good again.

Here are some examples of typical behaviour of people with very strong tendencies to each personality type. But remember that these are extreme cases; most people have much more balanced personalities.

Whenever you do or react to something, you should be aware of why you are doing it. If it comes very naturally without any thought, it most likely is highly influenced by your dominant personality type. Before acting, you should accept this fact and decide whether what you are about to do could be objectively considered as the right thing to do. It may very well be the right thing after all, but by taking the time to consciously think about your responses you can learn to overcome many problems that are caused by your automatic but inappropriate reactions.

Similarly, you might feel indecisive about something. Often this is caused by two aspects of your personality suggesting different actions. If you can determine what those are and why they were suggested you can easily make a more conscious and rational decision.

Suppose you are about to go out and you realize that you need to finish cleaning the dishes and take out the kitchen trash. Is this because you are anal retentive and compelled to do such things, or because you will be gone for several days and don't want the house to stink when you return? If you feel compelled and this cleanup might make you late for whatever you're about to do, consciously reject your impulses and leave it until you get back. Even if there's no reason other than feeling compelled to do it, that's still okay, go ahead. But be aware of why you are doing it and know that most other people wouldn't. (But don't feel smug that you are somehow a better person, nor ashamed that you feel compelled and are somehow worse. Your personality is what it is and you can't change it. But you can learn to recognize it, understand it, and consciously ignore it when appropriate. That process is called character, and it's far more important than personality.)

Assigning numbers to these four basic personality types falsely implies a significance to their order, but since they happen to be listed in the order to which they apply to me, I don't consider that a major problem. Further information and tests about these personality types are available in Don Lowry's True Colors personal success guide, where they are referred to as Green, Gold, Orange, and Blue, thereby largely avoiding the problem of ordering.