The Personality Test

Josh is a mid-level manager at a large national bank. He has approximately 20 people reporting directly to him in one of the customer service departments. One of the people on his team is a woman named Maryann. From the first day Josh started managing this team, he and Maryann have had conflict. Josh has been frustrated with what he sees as Maryann’s stubbornness and misguided priorities while Maryann has felt that Josh was a terrible manager who did not value the skills she brought to the table.

Other than this conflict between them, Josh and Maryann are both good at their jobs and are valued employees, respected by the other people who work with them. However, as time went on, their toxic relationship started to have a negative effect on the group as a whole and Maryann started looking for other jobs. Josh even wrote her a recommendation for a position in another department.

The other jobs didn’t pan out, but a couple of months later, the bank brought in a consultant to give personality tests to the employees to determine their work styles and how they could best be motivated. Josh and his team filled out the questions, the group began to be divided into distinct groups based on their personalities.

As the group split up, Josh noticed something interesting. Josh and 19 of his 20 employees were all standing in one of two groups based on their similar motivations and values. Maryann, on the other hand, was standing on the other side of the room in a completely different group.

Seeing Maryann across the room, Josh realized that what he had interpreted as stubbornness and antagonism was, in fact, just a different way of looking at the world. Maryann simply wasn’t motivated by the same things as his other 19 team members.

Josh’s realization ended up having beneficial effects for the whole team. Josh adjusted his behavior so that he could better appeal to Maryann’s values and Maryann noticed Josh’s efforts and began to respect him more as a manager. The rest of the team was spared the bad feelings that had existed between the two and the day-to-day life in the office was happier overall.

In the end, the whole company was better off having Josh and Maryann both performing roles in which they already had a proven track record instead of moving one or both into a different department or out of the company. However, in order to make that happen, the company needed to help Josh and Maryann gain more insight on each other’s motivations and values.

Have you ever discovered something about a superior or an employee that has drastically altered the way you interact with them in the workplace?

2 Comments

  1. Dear Dr. Leiter:

    One of the most amazing experiences at work is to discover the human being behind the role. This is not easy to achieve because sometimes people’s common values result in different behaviors, even when they share the same source. In such situation, controversial decisions are made and interpersonal conflicts arise. As psychologist, I’ve observed that a workgroup could develop serious interpersonal problems and misunderstandings about the way the things should be made, if they don’t recognize that all members of the team share the same motivation to do their best. In that case the conflict is about How?. We need to learn how to integrate different points of view by analizing the values behind the arguments of each participant. The good news is that most of the times, the values are the same, and if not, it would provide us a wider perspective of the possible solutions for a problem.

  2. Heriberto–
    I agree, those are good points.
    It emphasizes the importance for leaders to maintain a sense of psychological safety in a workgroup to assure that members feel free to express their views. Talking about distinct perspectives on shared values deepens everyone’s understanding of their shared work.
    All the best,
    Michael

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