Personality and the Workplace Presentation

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Slide 3 Notes

It has been a year or two since I have worked full time, so I shall have to recall a workplace situation from my past that needed improvement. Thus, when I was a teenager I worked full-time at the Autozone on 28th Street as a parts salesman. It was a steady job that only provided enough money to survive the everyday. I worked 40 hours a week, on a quite sporadic schedule, locating and selling remanufactured, discount auto parts. For the most part the job was quite bearable, until the general manager was fired and a new staff was brought in with the new general manager. Only a few of the existing employees stayed on, since the new manager had a reputation for being strict and controlling. As it turned out the new GM lived up to his reputation. It was clear from the onset that he was positioning himself for a promotion, at the expense of the employees. He would work us inconvenient hours, long hours, night hours—whatever it took to make his profit margins look good and his store look pristine. To my astonishment the employees that transferred with the manager had developed all manner of habit in order to accommodate the GM and their current predicament. Some had withdrawn into their own little world, only doing what the job absolutely required. Still others had acquired the odd practice of making excuses for their situation and the GM or, even worse, exhibiting all kinds of depreciative, accusatory, and self-accusative behavior toward other employees and themselves. In the end, I only worked there another two months after the new GM took over the store. However, as I look back now, the situation could be well understood within a framework of Adlerian social interest, as well as an application of Gordon Allport’s ideas about functional autonomy and the features of a psychology healthy person

Slide 4 Notes

Individual Psychology rests on the simple observation that humans are born physically and mentally inferior to mature adults (Feist & Feist, 2006). However, Alfred Adler took this observation a step further and postulated that the infant—as an extension of their dependence on other individuals—experiences feelings of inferiority. Individual Psychology further posits that the drive created to compensate for this “inferiority complex” leads to a style of life that includes either individual superiority or social success. Put into a systematic framework, Adler’s ideas can be compiled into six precepts: 1) The one dynamic force behind people’s behavior is the striving for success or superiority; 2) People’s subjective perceptions shape their behavior and personality; 3) Personality is unified and self-consistent; 4) The value of all human activity must be seen from the viewpoint of social interest; 5) The self-consistent personality structure develops into a person’s style of life; 6) Style of life is molded by people’s creative power (Feist & Feist, 2006). Collectively, these six precepts lead from innately predisposed inhibitions—present at birth due to physical and mental inferiority—through the path of personality development, and into the realm of autonomous creative power. In all, Adler would claim that innate predisposition sets the stage of our lives, but that we are also causative actors within our own parody.

Furthermore, the great decision in life, or so Adler would speculate, is the choice between two styles of living: personal superiority and social success. Put another way, the final goal of human existence is either personal superiority over others or the success of everyone, through the mechanism of social interest.

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Slide 5 Notes

Personal superiority can lead to certain safeguarding tendencies, such as excuses, aggression, and withdrawal. These safeguarding tendencies are formed in order to protect the fragile self-image of an individual by guarding against anxiety. Excuses follow two main formats: “Yes, but” and “If, only”. By utilizing these two statement formats a person can inflate their self-image artificially. Second, people can use aggression, in the form of depreciation and accusation, to safeguard the self against anxiety. Both methods of aggression have the same end in mind; namely, to undervalue others in order to elevate themselves. The last means of anxiety mediation is to simply put distance between the individual and society, both physically and mentally, in order to escape life’s problems. These systems of coping with anxiety are all maladaptive and are exhibited only as an extension of a style of life that seeks personal superiority.

Slide 6 Notes

Emotional intelligence (EI) entails the ability to identify, understand, use, and regulate emotions (Godse, 2010). EI is an attribute that develops over time and at the bequest of several conflicting environmental, social, and psychological mechanisms. The end result of EI is the ability to properly recognize affective transitions and thought processes, in order to better manage emotions. Furthermore, several studies have found a high correlation between certain conflict resolution styles and EI. The various styles of conflict resolution include: 1) avoiding; 2) dominating or competing; 3) accommodating; 4) compromising; and 5) collaborating or integrating (Godse, 2010). These studies found that integrative and dominating conflict styles are positively correlated with the capacity to deal with others’ and one’s own emotions; whereas, an avoiding style of conflict resolution is negatively correlated with the aforementioned. So jointly, it can be concluded that active conflict resolution styles happen in conjunction with the enactment of EI and that passive conflict styles work opposite EI. The common thread that runs through all of these studies is that personality, as an extension of EI and conflict resolution styles, is a reasonable predictor of workplace behavior (Chen-Ming & Ying-Wen, 2009, 2009; Godse, 2010).

The Five-Factor Model (FFM) of personality traits is very good at determining a dispositional signature for individuals, but very bad a predicting actual behavior in individual situations (Kline & O’Grady, 2009). A reasonable extrapolation of FFM onto team behavior would need to include more fine-grained, distinct differences in the form of characteristic adaptations. Since team behavior is largely built upon social interaction, individuals high in extraversion would be innately predisposed for team interaction. Kline & O’Grady (2009) found that agreeableness and conscientiousness were quite unrelated with being a team player, but that team leadership and team interdependence were better predictors of team success. In all, it can be concluded that social interaction, mediated by leadership and interdependence with a team, foster the production of team players, rather than any one personality trait.

Slide 7 Notes

The traditional psychoanalytical approach espoused by Freud, Jung, and Adler claims that unconscious forces can explain much of observable behavior; whereas, the behaviorist approach advocated that all behavior can be explained through simple stimulus-response mechanisms. Nonetheless, Gordon Allport put forth an eclectic response to these assertions, maintaining that neither unconscious processes or stimulus-response (S-R) mechanisms can account for the full variety of human behavior, but that behavior is expressive as well as adaptive—meaning that behavior is not merely an exponent of the aforementioned forces, but a causal agent thereof (Feist & Feist, 2006).

Functional autonomy (FA) is not an all-encompassing, cosmopolitan theory of human motivation. It does not explain the unconscious components of human psychology or the simple drive-reduction mechanisms of S-R interactions, rather Allport intended FA to explicate those human behaviors that are functionally independent of the original motivations that brought them into existence in the first place. For instance, the decision to start running every night might begin because of weight loss concerns, but after several weeks of exercising a general satisfaction in physical fitness might become the motivation that continues the exercise behavior—even after the desired amount of weight has been lost. Furthermore, Allport asserted that an identifiable organization of traits within each individual accounts for the unity of personality (Allport, 2010). It is this organization of intrapersonal traits which best frames his ideas on FA. Allport believed that functional autonomy qualified as an adequate theory of motivation because it: 1) takes into account the contemporary relevance of motives; 2) allows motives of many types; 3) lends weight to the future-orientated nature of cognitive processes; 4) will permit unique motives, quite separate from generalized laws of motivation (Feist & Feist, 2006). To put Allport’s idea of functional autonomy plainly, it is a motivation that occurs historically after an initiating motive, but operates on its own apart from the original motive. When applied to life development over many years—rather than simple short-term behavior—FA makes clear that the juvenile tensions of infancy are the seeds from which later motivations spring, but that these later motivations operate as mature motives with their own aims and ends (Oppenheimer, 1947). In sum, FA takes a practical, contemporary view of human motivation—taking into account organismic and unconscious motivational processes, but only as antecedents to the primary motivations of adulthood—while still maintaining that healthy adult motivation is unique, self-sustaining, and not dependent upon prior motivation.

In all probability the new GM did not start working at Autozone with the idea to become a district manager in the company. From the gossip that was shared among the employees I learned that the GM had been working for Autozone since his teenage years and that he was in his early thirties when he took over our store. When he started Autozone, all those years ago, it was probably because of a motivation to satisfy basal drives, such as the acquisition of food, clothing, transportation, etc… As he moved up in the company and got his own store the motivation that impelled his behavior probably began to change. He began to make enough money that most of his basal drives had been satisfied. His motivations turned to matters of self-esteem and self-actualization. He began to construct his idea of self, not on how much money he made, but his place within the hierarchy of the company and his store. Social comparison and the forces of social conformity motivated him to accelerate his advancement into the role that he anticipated would alleviate the tension caused between the incongruity between the ideal self and the self-concept. In all, the functionally autonomous motivation to achieve began as a goal to satisfy basal drives, but morphed into the independent motive of accomplishment.

Slide 8 Notes

There are a few assumptions that must be set in place before a proper understanding of Allport’s idea of the a mature or healthy personality can be addressed. First, the guiding principle of the mature personality is proactive behavior. Allport believed that we are not simply mindless automatons—reacting to external stimuli—but that we are causal agents in our own environment. Second, in line with his theory of functional autonomy, many behaviors begin as a result of basal motivations, but the healthy person acts more from conscious rather than unconscious processes, which are rooted in infantile struggles. Last, a healthy person must have had a relatively trauma-free childhood. With these assumptions firmly in place, Allport’s idea of the healthy person can be taken up.
In Allport’s view the healthy person must exhibit six tendencies: 1) to identify and participate in events outside themselves; 2) to warm relating of self to others; 3) to emotional security or self-acceptance; 4) to a realistic perception of the external environment; 5) to insight and humor; 6) to a unifying philosophy of life (Feist & Feist, 2006). When taken collectively, these tendencies paint the picture of an interactive personality, rooted in interpersonal interaction, sure of self and self-determined, and having a balanced view of the self and the external environment.

In many ways the GM at Autozone exhibited many of the tendencies that Allport mentioned as a requirement for psychological health. The GM was certainly self-determined and had a good sense of self, but his grasp of the external environment was skewed. He began to see his employees as a means to and end, rather than relating his self to them warmly. He had a unifying philosophy of life, but also had a crude sense of humor. He was fond of making jokes at other people’s expense, rather than using self-deprecating humor. In all, the GM had a good sense of self, but lacked the intrapersonal tools and autonomous motivation to relate that self to the external world in a mutually productive manner.

Slide 9 Notes

To bring everything together, the situation described above can be understood through Adler’s ideas about individual superiority and social success. He wished to further his own ends at the expense of everyone else’s schedule. The GM allowed his innately predisposed inferiority complex to cause him to choose a style of life that included his own personal supremacy or the collective interest of all of the employees. Moreover, the employees that the GM brought with him had developed many types of safe-guarding tendencies to cope with the anxiety brought on by the GM’s demanding management style. Some withdrew from the social interactions that usually compliment the workplace, in order to mediate stress. Still others chose to exhibit various forms of aggression—some making excuses and some accusing others in order to elevate themselves. As well, low EI, which is a good predictor of workplace behavior, can explain the exhibition of avoiding styles of conflict resolution in some of the employees. Lastly, team leadership and interdependence were wholly absent in the work environment, which inhibited social interaction and productive team behavior. All told, the great downfall of the new GM was that he did not use his creative power to overcome his innately predisposed inferiority complex; which would have alleviated the need for self-guarding tendencies among the employees and encouraged the development of integrative conflict styles and team interdependence.

Furthermore, since one of Allport’s most central themes was that a researcher must be able to make theoretical sense of the life they are describing, it is important to put the situation at Autozone into a comprehensive theoretical framework (Barenbaum, 1997). The GM’s impulse to extend his own success at the expense of the employees began with the infantile motivation to satisfy basal drives, but eventually took on the autonomous motivation of success. He had a good grasp of self and the fundamental drive towards self-determination, but lacked the motivation to relate that self to the external world. His motives were functionally autonomous—in the sense that his current motivations were not dependent of prior motives; however, without all of the tendencies and requisite characteristics of a healthy personality he was not able to relate this autonomous motivation to interpersonal development.


Allport, Gordon W. (2010). Britannica Biographies, 1. Retrieved January 19, 2010, from EBSCOHost Database.

Barenbaum, N.B. (1997). The case of Gordon Allport. Journal of Personality, 65(3), 743-755. Retrieved January 19, 2010, from EBSCOHost Database.

Chen-Ming C., Ying-Wen L. (2009). Personality traits and personal and organizational inducements: Antecedents of workaholism. Social Behavior & Personality: An International Journal, 37(5), 645-660. Retrieved December 27, 2009, from EBSCOHost Database.

Feist, J., & Feist, G. (2006). Theories of personality (6th ed.). Boston : McGraw Hill

Frost, R. (1920). The road not taken. Retreived January 30, 2010, from Bartleby Web site:

Godse, A.S. (2010). Perceived emotional intelligence and conflict resolution styles among information technology professionals: Testing the mediating role of personality. Singapore Management Review, 32(1), 69-83. Retrieved December 27, 2009, from EBSCOHost Database.

Kline, T.J.B., O’Grady, J.K. (2009). Team member personality, team processes and outcomes: Relationships within a graduate student project team sample. North American Journal of Psychology, 11(2), 369-382. Retrieved December 27, 2009, from EBSCOHost Database.

Oppenheimer, O. (1947). The functional autonomy of motives. Journal of Social Psychology,25(2), 171-179. Retrieved January 19, 2010, from EBSCOHost Database.


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