Reading time: 3 Minutes
What’s the right working environment for your personality?
The office joker. The man who sits in the corner and quietly gets things done. The woman who knows how everything works, and is sorely missed when she goes on holiday. We all know these characters in our workplaces – but which one are you? Actually, you could well be every single one of them.
Of course, these are widely-drawn stereotypes but what it really comes down to is personality. Whether you’re reserved or outgoing, studious or fun-loving can’t be changed and is down to your genetic makeup… isn’t it? Where you lie on the extrovert-introvert spectrum is a big deal for many companies, and a healthy proportion of the most well-known corporations require prospective employees to take a personality test as a vital part of the on-boarding process. In such complex and often fast-moving organisational structures, it’s important to understand where that new recruit might work best – for both their wellbeing and the good of the business.
To be clear, there is no right or wrong personality. But it’s good to know the personality of each employee to facilitate harmonious team work.
According to organisational psychologist Adam Grant, a faculty member of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton business school, no one takes this more seriously than management consultancy Bain & Co. In his WorkLife podcast, he says it’s all about developing a common vocabulary so that different personality types can respond to and understand each other better: “The leaders at Bain think personality is pretty important, so important, in fact, that before new hires even learn how to do their jobs, they learn about themselves,” he says. Named by jobs website Glassdoor as the best place to work in the US, the firm must be doing something right.
That said, it’s all too easy to define yourself by your personality. “I am the outgoing type,” or “I am the shy and retiring type” – but, like most things in life, it’s all subject to change depending on the circumstances. Sure, you might be outgoing at a party but what about in the boardroom? And, equally, someone who thrives in an office environment might find themselves to be more of a wallflower at a social gathering. The trick, according to Grant, is to adapt your behaviour to fit: “Your personality matters, but your ability to adapt matters more. Who you become is not about the traits you have. It’s about what you decide to do with them,” he states.
In essence, what he’s saying is that we’re all a little bit of everything, and the key is to know when to dial up certain characteristics and when to dial down others. Forget extrovert and introvert: this is the world of the ambivert, and the ability to read a situation and respond on an emotional level – let’s call it empathy – is growing in importance as AI and machine-learning start to take over the roles that don’t require the nuances of human understanding. “I’ve found that ambiverts actually make more effective leaders and more productive salespeople,” Grant says. “They strike a balance of talking and listening.”
So, the rule seems to be: recognise who you are in each situation and find where you fit. In psychology-speak, this is what’s known as “self-monitoring” – and the data behind it is compelling. “In the workplace, the evidence shows that high self-monitors are more effective on average. They get higher performance reviews and get promoted more often,” Grant says. “They’re better at getting ahead and getting along. The time they spend adapting allows them to overcome obstacles and obstinate people.”
Some of us are better at “self-monitoring” than others, actors being the most obvious example. But there is a hack that can help: simply recognise where you lie on the spectrum and find the working environment that’s right for you. Even if you’re a one-man band, knowing what suits your working practices best can be a boost to productivity. A flexible personality requires a flexible workspace, which fits neatly into the growing trend for coworking: perhaps you need to focus and work undisturbed, which is where a desk in a quiet corner comes in. Or you might wish to gather everyone together for a brainstorming session – that breakout area, complete with cosy cushions and space to stretch out? Perfect. And for boardroom-style, more formal affairs, there are meeting rooms.
We all get energy from other people – just in different ways. So whether we’re more extroverted or more introverted (or somewhere in between) is something to be celebrated – it would be boring if we all saw the world the same way. What’s great about a coworking space is the choice it provides to explore our traits and recognise the most productive environment for the task at hand: after all, our personality types aren’t set in stone and can change from one day to the next. As Grant says, “Self-monitoring is all about assessing the situation and adapting, and the good news is that many of us underestimate our adaptability.”