Personality Matters in How We Perceive the Virus
We have all shared a universal crisis, perhaps more than any we have collectively shared since 911, or WWII. There has been little discussion or activity that has not been about it or affected by it. THE VIRUS. We may have been touched in direct, devastating ways, or more peripheral ways, or just by the ramifications to how we live our daily lives. How is it then, that we are not united by this common threat, but are more divided than ever before, by anything. While we are inundated with "science" from many sides, news, data, updates and stories, we are not calmed or resolved in any direction. History will debate whether the illness or its divisive effects had the greatest effect on us all during this time.
In studying conflict in any form, personality differences are almost always at the core of misunderstandings and miscommunications. Personality is a guide for us as individuals that will give us the answers to why something bothers us, why we like and believe certain ways and why we dislike and disbelieve others things. My book, Personality Matters in Entrepreneurial Thinking outlines in detail the differences that are generated by our primary personality composition. Those of you who know me know I believe Personality Matters in Everything, in sales, relationships, parenting, voting, learning, and how we perceive the Virus and what it means for us.
Think about the ingredients in a cake. Pretty basic components like flour, eggs, milk, and some creative flavorings can be combined in different ways and quantities to create an unlimited variety of cakes. The basic ingredients of personality, the cornerstone traits of Dominance, Extroversion, Patience and Conformity in this case, can be combined in different relationships to each other and in different quantities to generate an unlimited variety of personalities, so much so that there are no two individuals exactly alike behaviorally, even twins. Each personality has some traits that are more influential than others, that generate the primary opinions, beliefs, needs and wants for that individual. Those traits also generate the more powerful needs and wants of what needs to be avoided. It is true we are motivated more by the needs to avoid or what is painful to us, than by the needs of attraction of what we want. Advertising is most successful when it promises to help us avoid what we most want to avoid, being overweight, losing friends, losing status, or security.
What is important to one person may not mean anything to another; what one person fears may not be fearful to another; what one person simply must have may be meaningless to someone else. Different strokes for different folks. But, the virus is really different because it has a way of getting to all of us, regardless of our very different personalities.
Each of our traits generates a compelling drive. If that drive is accommodated in our life most of the time, we will feel contented, healthy and have a good sense of well being. If that drive is not accommodated, we will be anxious, irritated and frustrated. A life of never being able to accommodate our primary drive leads to neurosis or worse. All of our traits from the cornerstone traits have an influence on us and whether we are contented or restless and anxious, but to see how the Virus has divided us, which may be its worst impact long term, we will keep it simple and look at just the basic four traits.
Dominance: Goals Drive.
Extroversion: Relationships Drive.
Patience: Security Drive.
Conformity. Certainty Drive.
Goals Driven: People who are decisive, accountable, challenge oriented, confident, direct, action oriented, judgmental, assertive.
Relationship Driven: Outgoing, enthusiastic, communicative, optimistic, persuasive, social, inspirational, influential, involved.
Security Driven: Patient, seeks fairness and respect, cooperative, agreeable, hates conflict, seeks assurances, unselfish, steady, family focus, traditional.
Certainty Driven: Perfectionistic, orderly, risk averse, systematic, process driven, self-sacrificing, seeks precedent, data and fact oriented.
Which of these sound most like you? Most of us have some of more than one, but which sounds most like you? That answer will influence your perception of the virus and what it means.
Goals driven people have a focus on results and getting things done. They are very futuristic and connect dots every day on what has to happen to reach goals and stay on track with new ideas and decisions. They are used to controlling their environment and the worse that can happen is loss of that control. They are willing to take calculated risks to gain desired outcomes and rewards.
The virus brought in unprecedented outside controls, mandates and rules, none of which were considerate of what would happen to business, or work, or goals. To a Goals driven personality, however, the virus was just another, although massive, challenge. As they do with every challenge, their abilities and skills immediately were focused on solutions, workarounds, problem solving. Their focus was on finding another way to get there, a way to stay on target while managing the newly imposed obstacles. They probably assumed that their leadership in this area would be valued and trusted as in all other things and probably were very frustrated at the divisions in those who were grateful for their innovation and resolve, and those who were resistant and untrusting in the face of such a new kind of threat. They never saw the virus as permanent, or unsolvable, but as a nuisance that required their determination to beat it in whatever ways possible but mostly to prevent it from destroying their ability to reach goals and succeed. They would normally be very impatient with the lack of clear information, clear leadership that presented a plan for beating this threat to allow us to get back to what we do. They would also be mindful and respectful of the threat, but not cowed by it and more willing to stare it down and take more risks than others to prevail.
Relationship driven people thrive on their relationships, at work, in their community, and in their activities. They have more activities than others, more social groups. They are optimistic and always believe in the best side of things, eternally optimistic. They are used to talking things through, convincing, encouraging and motivating others.
The virus brought the most profound isolation probably ever in their lives. Social distancing probably had the most negative connotation for these personalities. Relationship driven people are actually energized by being around others, sharing activities, talking and discussing. To be isolated is the worst. In work environments, isolation to a lonely cubicle usually takes a toll on these personalities after a time so being isolated at home, unable to get energy from being with friends, hearing only negative news reports is very de energizing. Like the goal driven personality, these personalities would have been most likely looking to create a new social order within the basic rules but only just within. So, rather than large gatherings, they would have organized the small ones, perhaps every day. Invite 4-5 and still get together and sit apart, but still see and be seen, communicate and set appointments for little gatherings. They would be resistant to isolation and look for news that encouraged connection and comfort with others. They would tire quickly of the cross fire of different experts with different bad news and look to those with more optimistic view points as would the goal driven. They would also feel unpleasant when their more cautious and pessimistic acquaintances would warn them and chastise them for still having connections and gatherings. Their perception would be that it will be over soon, that it isn’t as bad as people say and that most people are over reacting.
Security driven people thrive when their environment is organized and planned, and free of conflict. They believe in things that have worked in the past and in what they have experienced in the past. They trust their leaders to know what to do and to have solutions and plans for whatever comes. They look for safety and predictability, for proof. They are more focused on this security and are willing to be compliant and cooperative to maintain it and will turn to the authority that has it all under control.
The virus exposed the fact that no one has this under control, nor could they even explain it at first, or effectively predict what would happen or produce a solution, a cure, a safety net. They were further challenged by the different approaches of others, some who seemed to ignore the threat, or those who saw it as a nuisance, or who tried to maintain a sense of normalcy when nothing seemed normal to them. Because of their primary coping focus of avoiding conflict, they tried to do that. They withdrew, stayed isolated, followed all of the protocols, stocked up for future unknowns and waited. In isolation, they may have believed this will never be fixed, never solved. They are still waiting. While many have come out of their homes, resumed some sort of interaction and normal activities, many of them have resisted. They are waiting for the all clear, the answer that it is all over. They often resent and are critical and even rude to people who do not take this as seriously as they. They are waiting for the science to have a final answer and all they see is conflicting reports and opinions and they may see those who respond differently as the enemy. As in many things, they expect someone to fix this and save them because of how dependable and responsible and cooperative they have always been. They are critical of leadership who has not been able to find the final solution even though the challenge is enormously tricky and they are angry. They are angry at people who seem to be moving back to enjoying their lives when they feel so threatened still.
Certainty driven people search for data and facts upon which to base their decisions and actions. They are willing to put in the work, research and learn, but they have to trust the data and the sources of the data. The fear of making a mistake, or being wrong and at risk, drives them to seek out every thing they can from experts and the grand base of knowledge we have accumulated. They have a list, a plan, and believe that they will be content and safe if they adhere to it.
The virus does not come with a list. Nor did it bring with it indisputable data, or information, or a how to book to deal with it. The experts are at war because of their own personalities. The people they trusted turned out to be at odds with each other and changing on a daily basis. The rules changed often, the data changed, the outcomes didn’t line up with the predictions or the models. There was no manual for this. Many of them settled on a particular expert or set of protocols which was at odds with how others saw it. Certainty driven people wanted rules to be set, one set for all and people punished if they did not follow them. They want everyone to do the right thing. They sought order out of chaos thinking if we just all followed the same rules, it would get better. Even when rules were found to be ineffective, they saw rules as signs that everyone was trying to comply and do the right thing which was good.
Just from this brief recap, it is clear that the responses to the virus have much to do with what each person needs and what the virus threatened or what it took away, the ability to go forward toward goals, the ability to relate to the important people in one’s life, the ability to feel secure and the ability to know what to do with certainty. The responses to the losses, how we adapted and coped, put us at odds with those who are different around us. The virus did not unite us, it divided us and gave us reasons to distrust, disregard and resent others, perhaps others we distrusted and resented before but more so since.
Until we understand how our personality filters our views of others, how their needs look so different, (and maybe suspicious) to ours, how their perceptions generate actions different from ours, we will continue to think what is happening to us is because of “them.” What happens to us is because of us. Self awareness is the first step and it is not always easy. Once we learn why we see things as we do, we can begin to see why people see things as they do. Then maybe we can all see the virus as the enemy and know how we handle it is ok and how others handle it is ok too.
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