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July 28, 2015 // 8:00 AM

Type A vs. Type B: Does Personality Type Matter at Work?

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Organized, ambitious, competitive, and sometimes a little impatient. Laid-back, collaborative, creative, and sometimes a little messy. Does one of those sentences describe you better than the other?

Most of you probably already associate with either the "Type A" or the "Type B" personality. Or, perhaps you associate with both in different contexts -- like those of us who schedule our time and write to-do lists like maniacs, and yet have never made our beds once in our lives.

Here's how the two types tend to break down:

  • Type As are the "go-getters." They tend to be more ambitious, organized, time-oriented, impatient, and tend to stress themselves out by taking on more than they can handle.
  • Type Bs, by contrast, are more relaxed and low-stress. They tend to be more patient, steadier, more creative, enjoy achievement more, and don't get wrapped up in details.

Before we get to the nitty gritty, check out the following graphic to see personality type you identify with.

A-B-Personality-Infographic.png

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While most of you could probably guess which of the options above might be associated with Type A vs. Type B personalities in the workplace, many of you probably found you were identifying with a little bit of both.

That normal. It's hard to check off all the boxes for one category.

You could call that graphic somewhat of an A/B personality "test," although it doesn't even scratch the surface compared to the original A/B personality test.

The Original A/B Personality Test

While the classic A/B personality type dichotomy has been around since the 1950s, it wasn't always just a way to distinguish between people who squeeze their toothpaste from the middle of the tube and those who don't. In fact, it was originally created to test how likely it was that you'd develop coronary heart disease -- indicating that people's mental states can have a significant effect on their physical health.

The Jenkins Activity survey, a multiple-choice questionnaire that was the precursor to the modern A/B personality test, was created by two cardiologists in 1950s to detect behaviors that lead to heart attacks. An eight-and-a-half-year-long study found that what we know as "Type A" personality is associated with a higher risk. As someone who considers myself more Type A, I was happy to know that the study also found it didn't prove to be a risk factor for mortality.

While the Type A or Type B labels can apply in all areas of life, people often use them to describe working and collaboration style. But in the last few decades, we've seen much more complex personality assessments emerge. From Myers Briggs to DiSC to Thomas-Kilmann, it seems the ol' A/B dichotomy doesn't seem to be enough anymore. Even the introversion vs. extroversion dichotomy's been blighted by its hybrid cousin, ambiversion.

With all this talk about these detailed assessments nowadays, we began to wonder: Is there still room for the good old fashioned Type A vs. Type B personalities in the office, or are those personality types defunct? Or, do all the elaborate profiles really just map out to Types A and B in the end?

Does the A/B Personality Construct Have a Place in the Office?

The fact that many people identify with both Type A and Type B depending on the context is exactly why these more elaborate personality profiles exist.

For example, DiSC is a personality test that maps someone's personality based on four behavioral drivers: dominance, influence, conscientiousness, and steadiness. Someone who scores high for steadiness tends to be friendly, relate to people easily, place high importance on being well liked, and avoid risk. Sounds kinda like Type B, right?

Someone who scores high for influence tends to be outgoing, spontaneous, enthusiastic, unfocused, and optimistic. Wait ... that also sounds like Type B.

Despite both erring on the side of Type B, the steady person and the influential person still sound like they'd have very different personality types, working styles, and collaboration styles. And that's precisely why these more detailed personality profiles exist.

Now, take the person who scores high for conscientiousness. That person tends to be a data-driven problem solver who works deliberately and at a conservative pace, wants to be correct and accurate, and tends to be more of a non-verbal communicator. Which are they: Type A or Type B?

Well ... the value this person places on accuracy screams Type A, but the "conservative pace" part is much more Type B. I have a hard time placing this person in one camp or the other.

So, again, this is where those detailed personality types come in handy: I'm willing to bet a large number of people identify with both A/B personality types depending on the task or project, and might find a profiling system like DiSC more accurate overall.

How Much Does It Matter?

The A/B personality constructs only exist because of the human compulsion to categorize everything. By categorizing things, we attempt to better understand the things and people around us. 

But sometimes these categories feel lacking. If you don't fit neatly into one bucket or the other, what should you do about it? 

Ultimately, fitting neatly into one bucket or the other doesn't matter. What matters really matters is how you work in day-to-day scenarios.

Which systems help you stay organized at work? How many unread emails do you feel comfortable having in your inbox? How far in advance do you care to plan out your lunch? There's no need to pressure yourself to uphold one personality type or the other -- whether it's Type A versus Type B, introvert versus extrovert, ENTJ versus ENJF.

Frankly, you can call yourself whatever the heck you want, as long as what you're doing works for you.

What do you think? Do the Type A vs. Type B personalities have a place in work? Does any personality type? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

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Topics: Pop Culture Office Life Professional Development

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