Lots of people notice their personalities are a little different at work than at home. You hear people say, “I’m an Extravert for my job, but really I’m an Introvert” or “I’m pretty assertive with friends and family, but I can’t seem to act that way at work.”
If you feel similarly, you’re not necessarily two-faced or insincere. It’s just necessary to change roles when we clock in and out of work. As a result, we draw out personality traits at work that we don’t need at home.
Sometimes, though, it’s just plain difficult to let our real personalities show at our jobs. This has very little to do with us, and a lot to do with the environment we work in. Here are four reasons why work could be killing your natural behavioral style.
1. Society Judges Female Assertiveness More Harshly Than Male Assertiveness
I know a woman who’s an open-and-shut case for the ESTJ (the Supervisor) personality type. She’s assertive, expressive and unyielding. I sometimes picture her as a high-earning, briefcase-slamming financier on Wall Street -- the kind who is always on her work cell at brunch, but you don’t mind because she pays for the mimosa rounds.
Nevertheless, she scored as an ENFP on the personality test. Why? I reckon it’s because she based her responses off her work personality, which is significantly more easy going than how her friends and family know her. If you zoom out from this case, you’ll notice that a lot of women clamp down on their assertive nature at work for fear of coming across too aggressively. On the flip side, women with easy-going personalities often have to act tougher than their male coworkers so they don’t come across as too passive.
In a healthy environment, men and women aim to strike an assertive middle ground and keep their behavior from tipping towards passivity or aggression. But the range of latitude for women is smaller than it is for men.
Put simply, women cannot get away with the types of behavior that men get away with. Unless they balance their behavior perfectly, women are often seen as too aggressive to work with or too soft to be a leader. In the language of personality, women with highly assertive TJ personalities may feel pressured to acquiesce more than men just to appear like a team player. Genial and accommodating NF females have to act tougher than NF men to prove their leadership potential. These societal pressures screw with our natural behavioral styles.
Thankfully, social expectations are shifting away from outdated gender bias. Hopefully, the need for women to overly alter their behavior style will soon be a thing of the past.
2. Clash of Work Cultures
Some workplaces value and demand a type of group culture—especially since we entered the Google-ized, value-driven, millennial era of shared authenticity. If you are on the payroll, you’re expected to hit the Kimchi Burrito food truck with everyone at lunch. Participating in Margarita Fridays is a non-negotiable. It’s okay to miss office yoga if you have a deadline, but you have to express “it’s for the client.”
The surge towards constant team-building activities is challenging for some Introverts and other less sociable personalities. Let’s face it, at least half the working population prefers to unwind and eat lunch alone. Yet, I’ve seen these people labelled as “not being a team player.” These poor employees whose only crime is to be an Introvert are forced to drain their energy and join the circle, just to boost their quarterly job review. It’s no wonder they’re getting confused.
Now, I’m all about team-building environments. But surely a better way to build up a team is to build up each individual teammate, and let them be his or her best self?
3. The Double-Edged Sword of Promotion
Managing people who used to share your old job title is complicated. Your new role stops you from acting the same way around your colleagues. You can’t cover for your old coworker in front of the boss anymore because you are the boss. Unless you’re a low-key Dwight K. Shrute, changing the way you treat your colleagues is difficult. You might feel like you need to don a whole new personality just to because you received a promotion.
Dr. Herminia Ibarra, leadership development guru at London Business School, would urge you to discover new facets to your personality when you get promoted. Your true personality is a frontier to be explored. You understood one side of it in your former position, but you may need to discover a new side to it as a manager.
According to Dr Ibarra’s research, “acting like your old self” will not help you excel as a burgeoning leader. When you try to act like a boss, you might feel like your behavior is insincere. That feeling is signaling that your behavior is inconsistent with old patterns, and what is necessary for assuming a managerial role.
Your true personality is multi-dimensional and constantly evolving. Take your promotion and allow yourself to expand. But don’t be surprised if your personality test results go a little crazy in the meantime. You’re probably answering the questions from a point of view of how a manager should be, rather than who you actually are.
4. The Crippling Fear of Not Fitting In
Workplaces can be intimidating, especially when you’re new at a job. For instance, talkative personalities may be quieter at work because they’re too afraid to chat with the smart people by the water cooler. (Do people still have water cooler moments? I think they just ping each other now.)
On the other hand, some people feel more respected at work than at home. They’re gregarious and confident with their co-workers, but they cower in front of their spouses where the power balance is different.
Fact is, insecurity is not intrinsically part of anyone’s personality. We need to shed it in order to show our true colors. Our most authentic selves lie beneath the shroud of self-doubt. You, my friend, have an authentic personality and a unique journey towards confidence. I can only wish you the best of luck with it and affirm we all go through insecure moments—even the smart people by the water cooler.
Adapting to your work environment is necessary for growth (and sanity), but also telling of other concerns. Perhaps you struggle with unfair social expectations that you weren’t aware of? Or maybe self-doubt hinders you from being yourself? Whatever the reason, we all have an opportunity to learn more about our intrinsic personalities, even when it’s difficult to be ourselves.
The triggers of insecurity teach us where we must grow internally, and unfair cultural expectations show us where we need to effect change socially. Don’t be afraid to look for a work culture in which you’ll thrive, the next time you apply for a job. Pay and proximity to the train is important, but so is meshing well with co-workers. Work isn’t just where we get paid. It’s also where we grow.