The Five Personality Types You Have To Work With

Personality doesn't have to break down into complicated algorithms to understand how they play together. Here's how to work with everyone, based on five main types.

Humans have a remarkable capacity to understand what other people are doing.

This plays an important role in our ability to strategize about what the other side is likely to do in a negotiation and to make sense of why the people we work with act as they do.

The most common way we do this is by imagining ourselves in someone else’s position.

But the problem with simulating other people’s behavior by imagining what we would do is that there are systematic ways that other people differ from us. These differences lead to errors in our predictions about how other people will act.

One of the most obvious ways that people differ is in their core personality characteristics. Personality reflects relatively stable differences in the goals that people are motivated to pursue. If you understand the core dimensions of personality, then you can use that information to assess the characteristics of the people you work with. When you know their personality profile, you can make better predictions about what they will do.

A great place to start is with what personality psychologists call the Big Five personality characteristics. These traits reflect the most prominent ways that people differ from each other.

The Big Five traits are:

1. Extroversion

Extroversion reflects the degree to which people like to be the center of attention in social situations. Extroverts want that spotlight shown on them, while introverts shun the spotlight (though they typically have many friends and like engaging in smaller interactions).

2. Agreeableness

Agreebleness reflects how much people want others to like them. People with agreeable personalities really want others to like them, while disagreeable people do not necessarily care whether others like them. Agreeable people have difficulty delivering bad news, giving criticism, and standing up for themselves to others.

3. Conscientiousness

Conscientious people are driven to complete the tasks they start and to follow rules. We often notice conscientious people, because they are likely to finish the tasks we give them. It is easy to undervalue the people low in conscientiousness, because they need a lot of supervision. However, those low in conscientiousness may try creative solutions to problems, because they do not feel the need to follow rules.

4. Openness to Experience

Openness reflects people’s willingness to consider new ideas. People who are open will try new ideas on for size, while those closed to experience will typically reject new ideas just because they are new.

5. Emotional Stability.

Emotional stability reflects the amount of energy flowing through the motivational system. That energy reflects itself in the emotional reactions that people have to successes and failures. Emotionally stable individuals are stoic. They are unfazed by circumstances. Emotionally unstable individuals experience significant highs and lows in their lives. This instability can cause difficulties in the workplace when people get angry or upset at others.

How to work with these personality traits

To become better at understanding the people around you, start with these five dimensions. Watch their behavior, and get to know how they differ. Use that understanding to begin to predict how these individuals will react differently to situations than you would have. You can also use this knowledge of their personality to find tasks and settings in which your co-workers are likely to excel.

One thing you should note about these dimensions is that most people fall in between these extremes. That is, there are few pure introverts or extroverts. Instead, people have a combination of both traits in them. That is one reason to be wary of personality tests (like the MBTI) that categorize people along a set of dimensions. Those tests will make you believe that people are more extreme in their personality traits than they really are.

Finally, these five dimensions are just the most prominent of many that influence the way people act in the workplace. Learn about other key traits like Narcissism, Need for Cognition, and Need for Closure. There are many great resources out there (including my own e-book Habits of Leadership). The more you learn, the more effectively you can work with others.

[Image: Flickr user Martin Fisch]

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8 Comments

  • Steve Kravitz

    What crap. FC must be getting their writers from Business Insider, or perhaps TMZ.

    Everyone knows that extraversion has nothing to do with narcissism, but energy. Do you get energy from being with a group of people? You are an extravert. Does being with others drain your energy? You are an introvert.

    I have no qualms about saying an author is crap when the error in their ways is contained within the first three results of a Google search....

  • michele019

    In your words: "EVERYONE knows that extroversion has NOTHING to do with narcissism". You speak in extreme black and white terms and appear quick to arrive at conclusions. Scratch beneath the surface: I'll agree - extroverts lack energy given solo tasks & solo environments. Therefore, it is the ATTENTION you speak of in group activity that gives them "energy". Ignore an extreme extrovert and you are likely to see some creative attention seeking behavior. Now whether this need for attention equates to narcissism is another question. And a pretty good question at that.

  • Jesper Jäger Ugland

    I do like fast company, however, this was not an article with sufficient information. These are just characteristics of people in general. For this to be an article, some research on how to overcome, collaborate with and understand the different types of characteristics would be necessary.

  • Mateo Gutierrez

    It this actually supposed to be an article? This is garbage guys. My 17 yr old son could have written this in 10 minutes (and that's insulting him). I like Fast Company but your social strategy is so unbelievably obvious guys. The now totally overused "Upworthy" strategy of "gaming" FB newsfeeds is very seriously diminishing your brand.

  • Kat Sanders

    Nice overview and thank you for sharing! I agree with the point that, as a colleague and leader, you must calibrate your approach based upon the individual and situational characteristics. Taking into account an individual's personality is a great way to incorporate personality traits (stable) into your approach. Being cognizant of states (unstable-interaction of the personality traits and the environment) will also bring greater awareness. Likewise, being aware of environmental/situational influences round-out the picture. Great primer on the possibilities of applied social-personality psychology in the work context!