For years I have written and talked about personality type (what I call our behavioral DNA–our inborn wiring that helps make us who we are) and the impact it can have on our lives. Yet I know from my conversations with my career coaching clients and workshop participants that sometimes we don’t readily see how these principles can make a practical difference in our everyday, non-work lives. I thought it might be helpful to give an illustration of one instance outside the workplace that has improved the quality of my life and especially my marriage.
The underlying concepts of personality type are relatively easy to accept within the context of work. That is: we feel most satisfied, effective and valued when we work in a job where the majority of our daily tasks play to our strengths in an environment where we can flourish (i.e.: with a boss who knows how to supervise us to maximize our performance in a workplace where we are comfortable—physically and emotionally) . What’s sometimes harder to see, however, is how these concepts play out in our daily lives–how personality type impacts the way we communicate, how we approach relationships, what stresses us and how we can best deal with stress, how we make decisions, etc.
My “aha moment” came as I was designing a new workshop some time ago about how understanding personality type can provide insight into communication and help us develop tools we can use to communicate more effectively. As I was thinking about concrete ways to illustrate some personality type differences and how this information can impact communication, I thought of my own marriage. B-O-O-O-I-I-I-NG, it hit me!
My husband and I have been married a long, long time—more than four decades. Although our marriage is a strong and happy one, over the years I have often found myself feeling resentful, rejected and invisible by what I perceived as my husband’s lack of caring, detachment and quietness. You see, most of the time I like to chat, share ideas, interact and engage. On the other hand, most of the time my husband prefers to spend time in his own head, reading, doing complicated puzzles and not interacting with me or anyone else. Historically, my way of dealing with my feelings about our different styles (and what I now realized was really a difference in our personality types) was to personalize his conduct and tuck my hurt feelings and anger deep into the back of my brain until there was no more room and all hell broke loose. My temper, like that carnival game where you try to make the bell ring by hitting a lever with a mallet, would go from 0 to 60 in a flash.
As I was designing my workshop on that special, consciousness-raising day, I saw first-hand how knowledge about my personality type and the personality types of people in my life could really improve the quality of my life. Like with many of my workshops, I was using my proprietary personality type identifying tool, G.E.M.S.—A Guide to Exploring and Maximizing Strengths, as the basis for understanding personality type and how it can improve communication. Put very simply, G.E.M.S. breaks personality type into four basic categories—Garnets, Emeralds, Moonstones and Sapphires—each with its own particular inborn strengths and challenges. Each gem, each personality type, also has either an introverted preference or an extroverted preference, depending, among other things, on how the person prefers to restore his or her energy. Basically, the introverted personality type prefers to turn inward, withdrawing from interaction with others to regain his or her energy while the extroverted personality type prefers to look outward, seeking the company of others in order to recharge.
According to the G.E.M.S. construct, my husband is an introverted Sapphire. I am an extroverted Moonstone. We could not be temperamentally two more different people. He tends to be logical, analytical, cool, calm and collected with a preference for focusing on ideas or concepts. To relax and regain his energy, he turns inwardly. While I also am analytical, I tend to be excitable and love to think in anything other than a straight line. I prefer to focus on how things affect people and tend to be outgoing, interactive, and enthusiastic. To relax and re-charge my batteries, I look for engagement with others.
So back to my epiphany…. As I was designing my workshop I began to think about how my husband and I communicate–or rather sometimes don’t communicate–and I realized that my husband’s actions—his quietness and withdrawal—weren’t about me. He wasn’t ignoring me. He wasn’t trying to put a distance between us. He was just doing what came naturally to him. He was being comfortable in his own skin. His going into his “cave,” the quietude of his own company—reading his book, playing poker on line, doing a complex Sudoku—was his way to re-charge his batteries. I realized that I too had a role in the disconnect of how we had been interacting for all those years. I also was doing what comes naturally to me. I was trying to create harmony, connect and engage, figure out what wrong so I could “fix” it. I was personalizing something that wasn’t personal at all.
That night I shared my epiphany with my husband…but differently. Rather than follow my usual style and hit him between the eyes the minute he walked into the house, I waited until he had had some time for himself. This time, as I watched some of the same behaviors I had seen for so many years, I did so without anger, without charge and with the inner peace of knowing that I had really learned something new and important. When the time was right, I used the communication tools I had identified as effective with Sapphires to share my observations with my husband. I was cool, calm and prepared with clear and concrete examples to illustrate my points. In addition, I was ready to discuss and answer his questions concisely and without judgment or anger.
Of course, life still is not perfect. It never is. But whenever I find myself beginning to get angry or hurt by my husband’s actions, instead of immediately taking it personally, I now try to pause and do a reality check to see whether it is based on something I’ve done (or not done) or whether we’re just acting true to type. That insight and self-awareness has made all the difference.