By Karen O’Connor
Our lives, like those of millions around the world, are filled with different types of people, heading in different directions with different goals in mind.
The woman who sits behind you at work may be the life of the party on or off hours, making others laugh and wanting everyone to like her. Your neighbor, the head of the homeowners’ association in your community, on the other hand, would rather lead than follow, do things his way instead of risking the mistakes of someone else.
Maybe you prefer carefully planning out projects and activities so they are completed correctly—the first time. But your spouse is a casual type, making decisions at the last minute depending on how he or she feels. This may drive you nuts—but then you did marry this person!
And then there’s your teenaged son who avoids getting involved in unpleasant conversations because he wants to avoid conflict.
Whatever your personality is or the personalities of those around you, your life may seem, at times, like a giant puzzle with pieces that never quite fit together. It may help to look at the big picture first, as you would on the cover of a puzzle box. This can help you fit the pieces into their rightful places more easily. As you understand others, you’ll better understand yourself as well. I had this experience several years ago and it changed for the better all of my relationships, including my marriage. Here are some of the things I learned that may be helpful to you too.
“In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well” (Romans 12:6, New Living Translation).
There are the four basic personality types according to the study and experience of Hippocrates, a Greek physician of the Age of Pericles who is considered one of the most outstanding figures in the history of medicine. Over the years many individuals, including Christian author and speaker Florence Littauer in her Personality Plus training, have given the four personality types a modern look.
The Playful personality is the bright flower in the puzzle. Playfuls motivate others to work and play. They are the best at making initial contact with people, encouraging and uplifting them, insuring the group has a good time, whether at work or at a neighborhood barbecue or while serving single parents at church. The Playful type needs fun and adventure, regardless of the venue. This is the person to get involved in planning entertainment for the office party, welcoming new people into your neighborhood, or finding something fun to do for your family on a rainy afternoon.
The Powerful personality types are the square corners of the puzzle. They prefer to lead than follow, motivating people to take action, controlling plans and productivity, giving quick and clear instructions, and making sure the group sees the immediate gain. They can come across as authoritative and overpowering, however, so don’t be surprised if, at first, you feel intimidated in their presence. On the up side, however, Powerfuls provide structure and boundaries for an organization and for a household. Invite them to take charge of a family picnic or class reunion.
They make outstanding managers, leaders, and supervisors. Acknowledge their strengths, cooperate with them on projects, exhibit loyalty, and the benefits will be many. Since their basic need is action and excitement, you can learn, grow, and achieve your own goals more quickly under their influence than you could on your own. Sometimes, however, as parents and friends they can feel overbearing. It might seem that life is their way or the highway!
The Perfect personality makes up the straight edges of the puzzle. This is the detail person, the one who keeps the financial records, is sensitive to the needs of others, and makes sure employees or club or family members keep long-range goals in mind and don’t go on a spending spree or giving things away. They’re apt to be critical at times if reports are inaccurate or items are not returned to their proper place, but they’re sincere at heart. Give Perfects what they need—order and understanding—and they’ll give you what you want. They’re good listeners and loyal friends and parents. Ask them to take charge of charts, graphs, and budgets. And look to them for sympathy and understanding when you’re down. They care about people and are at their best when needed.
The peaceful personality covers the landscape of the puzzle. These folks support fellow workers, committee leaders, their children, and spouses and also help them feel they belong. They always find a middle ground—even in the midst of chaos. The Peacefuls are sometimes indecisive and undisciplined because of their devotion to peace and quiet, but they present a believable and balanced viewpoint that is calming in even the most stressful situation. Don’t count on the Peaceful personality to motivate or rally for a deadline. But he or she is the ideal one to support and comfort fellow workers and family members when morale is low.
PATIENCE & UNDERSTANDING
I remember the time my husband and I first walked into a class on the personality types. Before the instructor even uttered her opening remarks, she walked over to Charles and laid a hand on his shoulder. “Now here’s a Perfect, if there ever was one.”
“What? Who me?” Charles asked, turning a bright shade of pink and wondering what she was talking about. He was soon to learn. As was I!
After that insightful weekend of learning and study, we both left the seminar room with a big sigh. We now had the tools we needed to inject more patience and understanding into our marriage. I learned that I was a Playful personality—a definite contrast to his Perfect personality! We had some work to do and we did it. Our marriage benefitted 100 percent. I saved a lot of time and energy once I had a better grasp on why he did the things he did in the way he did them. And he lightened up a bit as he began to see that having fun and smiling more, as I liked to do, could add some delight to his life. We made it through the next 20 years giving and receiving grace to each other!
INTROVERTS & EXTROVERTS
Something important to know about all the pieces in the personality puzzle is their basic temperament, what drives and motivates them. Extroverts are those individuals who love to be around people. They gain energy and strength from interacting with others. This fuel keeps them going during the times when they have to be alone for a work project or when loved ones are away from them or during a time of study and rest.
Introverts are just the opposite. They gain energy and strength from being alone. This fuel keeps them going so they can hold up when they have to be with family or coworkers or friends and neighbors.
However, most people are a blend of the two with a sharp tendency toward one or the other.
It would seem, then, that the Playfuls and Powerfuls would be extroverts and the Peacefuls and Perfects would be introverts. That is probably true for most, but there can be exceptions. So it’s important to pay attention to how you and others behave and to notice personal needs (to be alone or to be with others).
By noticing the signals and words people share, you can get to know them more intimately and therefore get along better and truly enjoy one another. This information will also help you communicate your needs in a way that will help them understand and get along with you in a more satisfying way.
It takes time and commitment to discover and learn about the personality types and to discern which ones are extroverts and which are introverts, but the work you put into it will pay off—big time. You will learn to appreciate the individuality and value of each puzzle piece as God designed it. And in the end you’ll have filled in all the pieces of the personality puzzle so you can experience a life of rich and rewarding relationships, no matter what the situation or location—home, church, work, or community.
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6, English Standard Version).
Karen O’Connor, a Certified Personality Trainer and author, is from Watsonville, California (karenoconnor.com).