Type A and B personalities

08 Apr 2014

Are you like this or do you know someone who is like this?

  • Do you walk, talk, work and even eat quickly?
  • Do you hate waiting or queuing?
  • Have you experienced road rage?
  • Do you prefer reading summaries, to reading the whole material?
  • Are you heavy handed or careless with equipment?
  • When listening to someone else do you find yourself thinking of other matters?
  • Do you find it hard to engage in small talk?
  • Do you always do several things at once? Read while you eat?  Make phone calls when you drive?
  • Do others tell you to slow down or take it easy?
  • Do you grind your teeth or clench your jaw, tap your fingers or feet?
  • Are you always on time or early for meetings?
  • Do you find it hard to delegate and yet always feel over-committed?
  • Do you feel guilty if you are relaxing or doing nothing in particular?

If you are nodding in recognition at the above description then one could probably be defined as a Type A personality.

The term “Type A Personality” was invented by the late Dr Meyer Friedman, a Californian cardiologist, who insisted that you can make changes to your health by changing your attitudes and behaviours.

He identified Type A personalities as having a tendency to be compulsive workers, perfectionists, never feel good enough and in a permanent state of hurry!  They drive themselves towards unattainable standards of excellence, which they are guaranteed never to reach (of course!)   They see signs of stress as further evidence of their not being good enough and in an attempt to disguise personal vulnerability, deny or ignore signs that they are suffering burnout!

Also (to make matters worse) the very high standards they set for themselves, they also expect of others.  When others, too, fail to live up to their exacting standards, they feel frustrated and let down by them.

Much research has been done on Type As and they are found in occupations with high prestige and status and high salaries.  They tend to progress quickly in their careers, which brings up the worthy point that Type A behaviour, for all its adverse effects, exists for a reason - they are successful high achievers.

Type As often fear losing their leading edge and most would rather burn out than fade away.  Convincing Type As of the need to slow down and change their behaviour is difficult as they have no desire to become the laid-back, relaxed, Type B personality, as defined by Friedman.

So what of Type Bs?  Do you relate more to this description?

Type B relaxes easily, needs time to reflect and is slow paced and easy going.  A typical type B will be a great listener, is patient, will queue happily and remain calm.  They do one thing at a time and focus on the quality of their lives.  They tend to hold back in groups, be interested in others rather than themselves and demonstrate compassion and empathy.  

Type Bs are not prone to overworking or pushing themselves to their limits and consequently are far less at risk of heart disease and other stress related conditions.  However, they are at risk of being late, not always performing efficiently at work, not finishing work, missing deadlines and never getting to the point in conversations.

How then, can we learn from one another so that Type As remain just as effective and successful but less stressed and Type Bs remain just as calm but more focussed? Also how can we learn how to deal with one another’s different behaviour styles?

It is a question of re-programming ourselves to respond differently.  Type As and Bs were not necessarily born but made.  It is true that people have innate differences- physical characteristics for example but in most cases differences in behaviours, attitudes and responses are the manifestation of certain ways of thinking and perceiving , and were learned - though not necessarily intentionally.

Type As could benefit from weighing the price of their success and achievement against the potential harm they are doing to their minds and bodies and look at better ways of accomplishing their goals without the excessive physical and mental costs.

The first step towards this is taking a long hard look at yourself and examining the beliefs and attitudes you have held dear for a long time.  Maybe you think that you have to be perfect and anything less than that is failure?  Maybe you believe that if you want a job doing well, then you should do it yourself? Maybe you think you have to know everything and are not allowed to make mistakes?

Consider where you learned these beliefs, from whom and when.  As you begin to examine them you will probably discover that they originated in childhood and are in need of updating.

Maybe it is time to upgrade your beliefs to more reasonable, adult thinking: giving up on perfectionism and accepting that everybody makes mistakes.  What about considering the idea that if you relax, far from losing your edge, you might even make a more meaningful contribution and get more from people around you.  Or what about realising that the only person you are hurting when you get so stressed and angry is yourself?

When you change your perspective, you change your behaviours and feelings.  Change what you say to yourself each day, too.  Make a point of stopping the voice in your head which nags and chides you to “hurry up” “don’t waste time” and follow some of these pointers:

Set aside time for relaxation, fresh air and exercise.  

Learn to delegate and ask for support.  This is the sign of a good leader.

Find the humour in stressful situations.  You may not be able to change the situation, but you can change how you react to it.

Most importantly, realise that making these changes will not cost you anything you need.  You stand only to gain.  Feeling relaxed, confident, worthwhile and in control are totally compatible with success and effective performance.

Type Bs sometimes suffer from hidden stress or repressed anger and resentment because their very laid back and passive natures can result in them feeling “put upon”.  Too nice to refuse a request, or tell people how they are really feeling, deep down inside they can be like a volcano ready to explode whilst they show the world a smiling compliant exterior.  

Type Bs who are looking for more recognition, success or promotion should consider the following changes: 

Get some assertiveness skills so that you can say “no” without feeling guilty and learn to consider your needs as much as other peoples’. 

Establish clear boundaries for yourself and make it clear to others just how far you are willing to go and what your limits are.

Manage your time and learn planning and prioritising skills.  Build in time for both routine and unforeseen activities.  

Get into the habit of setting goals for yourself so that you do not just drift aimlessly through life.

When dealing with one another, As and Bs should remember the golden rule “people like people like them”.  

To improve communication between you, you need to behave a little more like the other person.

A type B who becomes even more laid back when a type A is in full stress mode will anger them even more.  Type Bs should try to up their pace a bit and acknowledge the As need for speed and let them know that you realise it is important to them.

Conversely, a type A who becomes even more frenzied with a slow-paced B will bring them to a state of paralysis.  As should slow down a bit here and not bombard Bs with too many choices or pieces of information all at once.

If you are committed to making a change and really want to experience life from another perspective, why not try to “walk a mile in another man’s shoes?”  If you are a type B, take the list of characteristics at the beginning of the article and spend a week living like this. Type As should experiment with doing the exact opposite of everything in the list.  How different might you feel at the end of the week?