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Night and Day – When Home, Work Personalities Differ

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By Marcia Heroux Pounds

RISMEDIA, April 12, 2008-(MCT)-At work, Roberta Young uses humor in communicating with colleagues at the Fort Lauderdale accounting firm, De Meo, Young, McGrath.

“Accountants are supposed to be dour and serious. … I try to make accounting not painful,” says Young, the firm’s managing partner.

But when Young gets home, she likes quiet. She prefers to sit by the pool with her two dogs instead of chatting. Her two children, now in their 20s, sometimes wonder what’s up.

“I kind of go into my shell. I just need to unwind,” she says.

Some people appear to have a split personality: At work they may act one way and at home another.

It’s not that their personality changes, but different aspects may come out at work. At work, they also may act differently to adapt to the workplace culture. At home, they may need down time.

“What changes is the organizational culture they’re working under,” says Alan Griffin, a consultant for Right Florida, a career transition and organizational management firm. We adapt to our jobs and what the workplace culture dictates, he says.

Someone who is an introvert may learn to be more assertive in the workplace than in his or her personal life. An extrovert may tone down gadfly tendencies to meet expectations at the office.

For example, the extroverted employee can be misinterpreted as rude, and so can try talking less in a meeting and become a better team player.

“They have to modify how they act or they won’t make it in the culture,” says Dick Clark, a South Florida management consultant.

It’s Acting 101, says Dr. E. Carol Webster, a Fort Lauderdale clinical psychologist. “A certain amount of acting is encouraged in order to adapt to the particular type of work you’re in.”

If your personality doesn’t suit a job, you either have to change or get out of that particular line of work, Webster says.

Some people’s jobs bring out a different part of their personality, he says. Clark has met celebrity speakers who appear dynamic on stage, for example, but are quiet and reflective in person.

Another factor may be a changing workplace culture, when a worker’s employer merges with another company or is undergoing a significant transformation.

When a workplace culture is changing, people react differently, often based on their personalities. “Some people thrive on change. They get bored if things are not constantly changing. Some prefer no change at all,” he says.

If a boss, for example, is respectful toward employees, workers are likely to act respectful toward the boss and each other as well.

“The golden rule is treat people like you want to be treated. Today, we have the `platinum’ rule: Treat people like they need to be treated,” he says.

When workers’ needs are met, it helps promote a high energy level in the workplace.

Griffin uses work-style assessment tools such as Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or the Birkman method to help workers understand the source of their energy. Myers-Briggs focuses on personality, while the Birkman method looks at stress behaviors and underlying needs and motivations.

People need an even greater understanding of themselves when they move into high-profile positions in an organization. How well they manage their success is often reflective of their work style or personality, says Webster, author of “Success Management” and “Fear of Success.”

Some workers react badly to what she calls the “fishbowl” effect. “People have trouble accepting the fact they can’t do anything they want,” Webster says.

As a result, some powerful, highly successful people “thumb their nose at those preventing them from being themselves.” This is where risky behavior, perhaps in their personal life, often takes hold.

“People will act out: `I can’t have a private life? I’ll show you,’” Webster says.

© 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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