The Zoo: Taming and Training Personalities

I met with a management team last week that was concerned about poor morale in their organization due the stress of the workplace.  Although the organization was doing fairly well overall, it was starting to “fray around the edges.”  When we are stressed, tired, or overburdened, many of us revert to more “basic” personalities or core attributes.  

Over the last half century, most people became acquainted with the idea of the “Type A” personality and default to its simple classification of workplace behavior.  Most of us think of a “Type A” personality being impatient, aggressive, competitive, achievement focused, and stressed.  When things are bad, these characteristics become more pronounced.  The less well known other “type” is “Type B” and is commonly thought of as being accepting, more understanding, willing to delegate, handle things one at a time, and not easily frustrated.  Although this dichotomy presents a tidy way of describing workplace behavior, most of us would include a few more dimensions.

So we could move beyond simple types, we discussed what “fraying” looks like among different employees.  Several managers referred to the above Career Builder commercial as a good synopsis of their experience.  A Director smiled and made the statement “everything about our workplace can be observed at the local zoo.”

As we went around the room each manager built on his comment and described how one unit is as aloof as giraffes, while another group of employees seem to just pace back and forth like caged cats that never relax, but look fierce when someone comes near their “cage.”  The funniest group by far was those employees that are like the monkeys “throwing poop at each other” at the slightest provocation. Their behavior was characterized as slowing de-evolving into “junior high mode” with backbiting and arguing over the smallest things.

As I spent some time thinking about this wonderful illustration, I realized how well it summarizes the different personalities we can take on when we are troubled and stressed in the workplace.  Over the next several posts, I want to build on the zoo comment to reveal a few of the details of the stressed workplace.  Specifically, we will consider each of these animals:

  • Giraffes
  • Big cats
  • Monkeys
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