#338 from Innovative Leader Volume 7, Number 5          May 1998

Coping with Change: Different Personality Styles
by Barbara Taylor

Ms. Taylor’s company, Rainbows & Miracles, etc., in Silverado, CA (phone 714-649-2389, email: btaylor@itstime.com) focuses on improving productivity through the use of creativity.  A tool used to promote better management techniques is the Internet-based Institute for Management Excellence (www.itstime.com/).  Ms. Taylor is the author of, The Other Side of Midnight, 2000: An Executive Guide to the Year 2000 “Problem” (Stargazer Publishing, Westminster, CA, 1998). 

Reality is a state of mind.  People don’t see life as it is — they see life as they are.  In making corporate changes, managers who understand the predominant traits of people involved can go a long way toward helping make proposed changes work.

The ability (or inability) to change is more than just desire, more than threats, more than rewards and more than just skill — it also involves basic human traits. You can increase the chance for effective change by identifying the various personality styles in your group.  Here, we’ll deal with five different perspectives, or outlooks, on life:  surviving, learning, competing, relating and teaching.


Basic Attributes:  People with this outlook view life in a very inexperienced way, unable to comprehend that there’s any rhyme or reason to life.  Surviving-level people cannot handle the complexities of modern business.  Most people at the surviving level live on the fringes of an organization or, more likely, aren’t prime job candidates.  The motto of these people is “Life is too complicated for me to handle.”  (About 5% of the US population.)

Reactions to change:  Intense fear, resulting in paralysis or complete withdrawal, violent panicky resistance, or savage attack out of proportion to the situation.  For example, someone faced with dismissal might try to damage the workplace.


Basic Attributes: These people view life through the limits of rules — needing someone or something to provide structure and tell them what to do.  Life for them is very simplistic and follows a rather rigid pattern.  Learning about rules is most important, to the point of aggressively defending what is “right.”  They want everyone to follow the same rules and don’t tolerate ambiguity, innovation or “free spirits.”  A favorite activity is making rules for everyone else to live by.  Those in positions of power can be quite demanding in their quest to enforce rules.  Their motto is “Do it my way or else!”  (About 15% of the US population.)

Reactions to change:  Overwhelmed, confused, thrown off balance, disoriented, disorganized, rioting, resistant.  When they are faced with unexpected change, they may come apart.  When faced with extreme change, they may become unbalanced and confused.  They may react with belligerence and irrational resistance to even relatively small changes.  For example, they might react to organizational changes beyond their control by attacking their boss or coworkers, by arguing or even fighting.  They might become unable to do their normal job, due to their confusion.  Resistance to lesser changes might show up as bureaucratic delays, calling in sick, losing important files or paperwork, or not doing their job competently.  They may appear overly stressed, confused or angry to their coworkers, or they may withdraw and deny the change by burying their head in the sand and refusing to deal with new procedures, new rules or new demands.


Basic Attributes:  People having this outlook view life as competition with others.  The focus is on making money, becoming a success, getting recognition, and being “politically correct.” Their motto is “I want to get mine first.”  The United States was primarily a “competing” culture focused on extreme competition with everyone and everything until the late 1980’s.  Now, the country is shifting into the “relating” orientation. (About 35% of the US population.)

Reactions to change:  Enjoy change, but only with conditions and requirements.  For example, the change must be a personal win or must represent a shift to a higher status, better conditions or have the appearance of upward mobility.  Desire for change tends to be based on external conditions, a better job, fancier office, or opportunities to get more recognition.  When the changes are not perceived as “better,” they will try to defend themselves in whatever ways they can.  They may try to blame others who are gaining status over them through the change, try to make their situation or themselves somehow appear to be better, or denigrate those responsible for the changes (one-ups-manship).


Basic Attributes:  People having this outlook view life as cooperative — with a focus on partnership, teamwork and relationship with others.  This level corresponds to someone moving into a “family” orientation where cooperation and trust become more important than the individual’s needs. There’s a growing recognition that we can’t do it all alone — that we need other people to help us.  Their motto is “Let’s work it out together.”  (About 35% of the US population.)

Reactions to change:  Actively initiate change and accelerate it.  They get bored unless there’s a great deal of change — this might involve travel, different jobs, different relationships, growth opportunities, etc.  Sometimes, they like change just for the sake of change.  They begin to value internal changes in their personality, perspective, attitude and belief systems, seeking to understand life through their relationships with others.  For example, people at this level might decide to reorganize their department or re-engineer their company, just to see how it might work.  They may overdo teamwork by calling a meeting for every challenge or trying to get everyone to work together when a faster solution might require fewer people.


Basic Attributes:  These people view life with more detachment, tolerance and acceptance of people and ideas.  They seek to teach others and see life as a broader vision of possibility without the intense drive for success.  They are the philosopher-types, teachers, or consultants.  They may seem uncaring due to their detachment and unwillingness to participate in soap-opera-like drama, gossip and political battles.  Their motto is “Live and let live.”  (About 10% of the US population.)

Reactions to change:  Initiate change and accelerate it, but are more interested in personal transformation at the deepest levels.  They seek to change their outlook, rather than trying to change outside conditions.  They’re interested in the foundations of change and its sources.  They try to learn how to alter life from their intention and desire, rather than by external means.  They aren’t interested in outside appearances of change, but rather in the reality of it.  For example, someone at the teaching level isn’t interested in her own recognition, but is interested in promoting recognition in her coworkers.

Using the Perspectives

People at the Surviving level will be traumatized by even minor changes.  They’re not suited to the usual stress of corporate life and need a controlled environment where they can feel safe.  People at the Learning level require a great deal of extra attention and support when change is required.  Pairing them up with someone from the Relating or Teaching level as a mentor can help them adjust and feel safe during times of change.  People at the Competing level need to see change as benefiting them in some way.  People at the Relating level are usually concerned about others and can help them cope with change if they are used as mentors and facilitators.  People at the Teaching level can help people see the larger picture of change if they are used as facilitators and mentors.

By planning changes with consideration of the impact on employees and using some of the many effective techniques available today, change can be exciting and energizing.  Strong managers know they cannot ignore the needs of the people involved — they are the ones who must accomplish any change.  Pay attention to how people react to change, then use people who can change easily as mentors for those who cannot.

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