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Caroline Gourlay

Caroline Gourlay Consulting

Business Psychologist

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The ‘shadow side’ of personality brought to life – part 2


In the first part of this series, I examined the individual characteristics typically seen in people when under pressure, focusing specifically on the ‘moving towards’ and ‘moving against’ types. In this final part, I look more closely at those who ‘move away’ from others, bringing them to life as characters attending a company away day.

The moving away types

Estelle Excitable arrives at the away day feeling very enthusiastic. She’s got big plans for a regional expansion, which she’s looking forward to presenting. She travelled up with her colleague, Laura. They’ve been getting on really well lately and they’re both in a great mood. But things don’t go to plan and Laura is not nearly as supportive of her ideas as she was expecting. Estelle thought they were on the same wavelength so now she’s disappointed and annoyed. Laura isn’t the person she thought she was and she was stupid to have had such faith in her. She’s starting to lose her enthusiasm for those expansion plans and her mood has completely turned. Laura’s in for a very tense journey home.

Sean Shrewd is a smart guy. No one pulls the wool over his eyes and he won’t be taken advantage of. He’s a bit cynical about these events because, let’s face it, everyone’s playing politics. He still hasn’t forgotten the last away day, when Bob blatantly stole one of his ideas and presented it as his own. In the run up to this one, Michelle has been trying to get him on her side but he’s tangled with her before and can see right through all her talk about ‘mutual interest’ and ‘synergy of ideas’. Sean’s playing his cards pretty close to his chest for the moment, as he doesn’t know who he can trust. Even Julian, who’s usually pretty dependable, is acting a bit weird. What’s he up to and who’s he siding with?

Rose Reserved is very independent and likes to do her own thing. She’s got masses of work back at the office and would really rather be there, getting on with it, than attending a talking shop. Frankly if people just got their heads down and got on with their jobs the company wouldn’t be in the mess it’s in. Still, she’s relieved that they’re focusing on business issues. She was afraid it was going to be one of those ghastly team building events where everyone’s expected to tell each other how they really feel. It’s none of anyone’s business how Rose feels and, when she comes to work, she aims to leave her feelings at the door. Some of her colleagues seem to be using the breaks to ‘get to know each other better as people’. Rose uses them to check her emails on her Blackberry.

Keith Cautious never puts a foot wrong or at least not if he can help it. He is terribly sensitive to criticism. He finds this kind of event stressful as there’s nowhere to hide; at some point he’s bound to find himself in the spotlight. He’s prepared very carefully but right now he’s weighing up which of his ideas to present. He’s got some pretty radical suggestions for how the company could move forward but he’s not sure how they’ll be received. He can just imagine Bob or Michelle shooting him down in flames or Imogen asking him one of her weird questions that he couldn’t possibly anticipate. He’s not sure he can face it. Maybe he should just put forward his ‘safe but steady’ ideas instead?

Laura Leisurely always seems like such a co-operative team mate. Actually she’s very focused, concentrating on her own priorities. She can feel quite annoyed when people ask her to do things, but she hides it well. Sometimes she agrees to things just to make the person asking go away, which is what happened recently when Estelle starting enthusing about her regional expansion plans. Sure there were some good ideas in there, though frankly not all of them, and Laura was happy to smile and nod in all the right places. But she doesn’t recall committing to actually doing anything. OK maybe she did agree when Estelle said something about ‘taking a joint approach’ but it was all pretty vague as far as Laura was concerned and she had her own priorities. She can’t understand why Estelle’s getting so huffy about it now. It’s hardly Laura’s fault if Estelle’s plans weren’t good enough.

The serious bit

These characteristics are on display in workplaces all over the country, all year round. And, of course, many of us have more than one shadow side characteristic. It’s not unusual to find people who are bold, mischievous and shrewd, for example, or cautious and reserved. I sometimes come across more unexpected combinations – imagine the inner turmoil of being imaginative and cautious, full of creative ideas but nervous about sharing them in case people think you’re weird.

We all have times when we don’t act from the best in ourselves but, at the extreme, these characteristics de-rail people’s careers. It’s worth getting to know your shadow side – you can’t control what you don’t know about.

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Caroline Gourlay

Business Psychologist

Read more from Caroline Gourlay