Tag Archives: birth order

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Think About Personality Types

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

I’ve always been fascinated by attempts to document personality types.

Part of that fascination surely stems from the fact that in another life, I’d be a psychotherapist.

And part of it  is that as I go about the networking process that is part and parcel of looking for a job, I’m coming into contact with all sorts of personality types along the way.

If you pay someone to advise you on changing careers these days, the very first thing they’ll likely do is administer a personality test to see what career paths you’re suited to. Personality tests are also increasingly part of the recruitment and promotions process at top firms.

I’ve had my own brush with them along the way, recounted in this post, about how – for better or for worse , my own essential personality “type” doesn’t seem to have changed much over the years. But I’m always excited to learn about new ways to parse personality.

So, how should we think about personality types?

1. Extrovert vs. Introvert. Extroversion/introversion is one of the four key dimensions of the famous Myers Briggs Type Indicator which remains the gold standard for many in assessing personality types. But until I stumbled upon this informative (and extremely funny) piece in the Atlantic by Jonathan Rauch entitled Caring For Your Introvert, I think I’d misunderstood the essential difference between the two. It’s not – as many people think – a distinction between shy and gregarious.  Introverts are not, in fact, necessarily shy if that means that they hate being around other people and/or other people make them anxious. It’s that their relative need to be around other people is much lower than that of the extrovert, who feeds off of constant interaction. For the introvert, as Rauch puts it (borrowing from Sartre), “Hell is other people at breakfast.” Whereas if you leave the extrovert alone for two minutes, “he will reach for his cellphone.” Love it!

2. Personality Style. I’m thinking here of the widely-used DISC personality assessment, which focuses a bit less on “type” than on “style.” DISC identifies  four key behavioral styles, which they label D (drive), I (insight), S (steadiness) and C (compliance). What I like about this way of thinking about personality (as opposed to the more nuanced but complicated Myers Briggs assessment) is that it gives you a sort of over-arching “flavor” for people you encounter, each of which has a set of prevailing traits, strengths and weaknesses. In my old job, for example, once I learned that as a (high!) D (dominant/forceful/task-oriented), I was sharing an office with a high S (reliable, dependable, process-oriented), so many things came to make sense and I could adjust my own interactions accordingly.

3. Birth Order. Another way to think about personality types is that of birth order. In brief, birth order suggests that where you fall in a family vis your siblings has a huge impact on how you behave. So, for example, the eldest (according to this theory) tends to be sharp, responsible and success-oriented, the youngest is more rebellious and risk-seeking and the middle child is an agreeable team-player. I know plenty of exceptions to this rule but as an arm-chair theory of personality types, I think it shows a lot of promise.

4. Manager vs. Maker. A useful dichotomy of personality within the workplace is the manager vs. the maker. On one side of this divide, you have a group of workers – usually managers – who divide their day into tiny bite-sized chunks and for whom meetings – even spontaneous ones – constitute the essence of their job. On the other side, you have “makers” – i.e. computer programmers, writers, artists – who need large blocks of time to carry out tasks and who find meetings onerous and inefficient because they cut into their productivity. I love this schema, because it cuts across professions to get to the core of what matters in a job: how you like to spend your day in terms of tasks.

5. Personality For Play. I learned about this personality matrix on Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project blog. Gretchen borrows it from Stuart Brown, who’s written a book about the importance of play. Brown identifies seven key personality types for play, things like the joker, the collector, the explorer and the narrator. Again, no science here; pure observation. But I think there are some important insights to be gleaned for everyday interaction.

What about you? How do you sort people by type?

Image: Occasionally Slightly Louder by Von Krankipantzen via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

 

Tips For Adulthood: Five Facts About Siblings

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Earlier this summer, my daughter began reading the Harry Potter series. Like most kids who discover these amazing books, she was instantly drawn to both the plot and the characters. As a result, she now spends most of her imaginary play in the role of Hermione Granger uttering “Oculus Reparus!

But no sooner had she completed Chapter One of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone, my son (who read all seven of the books – more than once – two summers earlier) promptly turned around and read the entire series back to back. While I’m sure that her enthusiasm for these stories reminded him of how much he enjoyed them himself, I’m fairly certain that there was also an element of sibling rivalry at play.

It’s not the first time that I’ve witnessed this sort of dynamic between my kids. And there’s a wealth of literature out there backing up the idea that sibling relationships are vitally important in shaping who we are and how we behave.

Still, I find that I can’t read enough about the precise ways in which sibling dynamics (or the lack thereof) affect our development into adulthood.

To wit, here are five recent findings about siblings:

1. Close sibling relationships are good for your health. At least, so says a Harvard University study showing that being close to one’s siblings at college age was a crucial determinant of emotional well-being at 65. I’d read about this study a couple of years ago when it came out. What I hadn’t realized is that the purported benefits of close sibling relationships extend not only to mental health, but to physical health as well. According to relationship researcher Mark Morman of Baylor University, siblings who maintain close relationships in adulthood are less at risk for depression and they maintain lower heart rates as well.

2. But only one third of siblings remain close into adulthood. According to scholars in Europe, another third remain relatively close. And while few adult siblings sever ties completely, about 33 percent drift apart entirely, sometimes describing their relationship as distant or rivalrous. (Earlier studies based in the United States offer more favorable percentages.)

3. Despite sharing similar genes, sibling personalities often differ. This is perhaps not all that surprising, given that in an environment of limited resources (read: parental attention and affection), you would expect siblings to differentiate themselves in order to get noticed. Still, siblings who share the same gene pool do tend to resemble one another markedly both physically and intellectually. And yet, their personalities diverge 80% of the time.

4. The effects of maternal favoritism persist into adulthood. According to one recent study in the United States, recollections of maternal favoritism in childhood were more important than perceptions of current favoritism in predicting tension among adult siblings, regardless of age. And children of mothers who favor or reject one child are also more likely to suffer depressive symptoms as middle-aged adults. (Whether and how this extends to paternal favoritism strikes me as an avenue ripe for research.)

5. Being an only child confers some real benefits. There’s a lot of talk these days about the importance of birth order  in shaping personality. I also feel like I keep reading essays by only children who want to give their own children siblings, whether to shoulder the burden of caring for an ailing parent or to relieve the burden of being the only one left when one parent dies. But despite the bad rap being an only child sometimes gets, new research suggests that only children tend to exceed other kids in terms of academic accomplishments, sophistication, vocabulary, and even social skills. Precisely because they have to learn skills outside the home – whether at school or day care and the like, they tend to have a greater ability to make and maintain friends and to resolve conflict. Hmmm. Wouldn’t have expected that.

 

Image: Sibling rivalry by esther gibbons via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

 

 

Sibling Rivalry: Is Cross-Dressing the Answer?

I’ve been thinking a lot about sibling rivalry lately. It started with this post in the arch on-line parenting magazine, Babble, which I must confess I found deeply reassuring.

My kids fight all the time. It began when my daughter was born and my son, then not quite three, confessed that he’d “like to throw her in the garbage.” It pretty much went down hill from there. And although as she grows older, they play together more and more, I still spend easily 75% of my time with them breaking up fights (lately, he’s been teaching her how to swear, and I think it says a lot about our household that my husband and I consider that to be progress).

Then I got a hilarious email from a friend with whom I’d shared the above link, who confessed that her kids fight all the time and that she’s not sure what to do about it. Like the author of this article, she lives in a place – she calls it “Stepfordville” – where, as she so eloquently puts it, you hear the “my kids are best friends” bulls#*t all the time (along with, “That b*tch used my recipe and didn’t give me credit,” and “Did you notice Michelle’s boob job?”). Ah, the joys of American suburbia.

I’ve always been a big believer in birth order (here’s a quick primer) and the way in which sibling relationships (or lack thereof) have an enormous impact on who we are as people (Remember that book, Born to Rebel, that came out like 10 years ago claiming that sibling relationships have driven all great historical change?)

I always recommend the book Siblings Without Rivalry to anyone struggling with sibling issues. It provides some great, hands-on advice for how to deal with sibling conflicts (though, as with all parenting books, I seem to forget the “5 Easy Steps” as soon as I put it down…)

I think one of the hardest parts about parenting – and growing up in general –  is learning not to foist your own sibling issues on your kids. In my case, for example, because I was the youngest of four, I find myself naturally siding with my daughter whenever my kids fight, simple because she’s the youngest. I have to fight really hard not to assume that my son is bullying her unfairly.  But when I can stop myself from siding with her automatically, I find that it really helps him not to be as defensive and angry about whatever provoked the conflict (even if he did something wrong).

In the meantime, perhaps I should also take heart in the fact that my daughter seems to want to be a boy. One of her favorite activities these days is to come home from school and put my son’s clothes on. Most days, I simply don’t know what to make of this and chalk it up to a phase of some sort. But perhaps I should take it as a sign that rather than compete with him, she just wants to be him? Hmmmmm…..

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And speaking of which…On the way to school today, my 5 year old daughter asked my husband if he knew the difference between boys and girls. His initial thought was “uh-oh” (we’re a bit behind on the whole birds and bees discussion, even with our 8 year old son). But just as my husband was about to start sputtering something politically – and anatomically – correct,  she interrupted him and said proudly, as if letting him in on a big secret, that girls have…wait for it…longer hair.

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