Thursday, February 11, 2010

Backtracking for a second

Chapter 5 of the brilliant and magical work by Kreitner and Kinicki sheds light on identity and personality as important facets of organizational culture and cohesion. Because I lack any semblance of a social life, I re-read chapter five to reapply my lackadaisical brand of wit and caustic humor to the content of the chapter, only this week I want to focus on a different aspect of personality: resilience.

A resilient man is more likely to be proactively focused in his career. According to the page-turning masterpiece Organizational Behavior, "Employees with a a proactive personality typically exhibit resilience, a desirable trait in today's fast-changing world. 'Individuals with high-level resiliency skills hold up well under pressure, orient quickly to new demands, adapt to changing circumstances, and can work without an updated job description.'" -Pg. 135

Now, a resilient man is probably that guy in accounts payable that you hate because he keeps getting promoted instead of you, the guy who looks at lolcats and all day and constantly needs to be reminded of his job. On top of that, you probably crack under pressure, forcing your superiors to take constant breaks from their usual routine of lying on piles of money to render aid, or split your work with another employee. That guy from accounts payable that you hate probably looks like this.

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Yeah, he looks like that all the time because he's upwardly mobile, has a hot wife, drives a Lexus (only 9 months left on his lease), and his credit score is 781. He's superior to you in every way, making you consistently feel bad about yourself because he has everything you wish you had and that's why YOU'RE that guy who keeps pranking him on April 1st by filling his cubicle with packing peanuts, because that gives you a slight glimmer of happiness in your otherwise depressing and lonely life.

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But you're missing the point entirely. Yes, you're a loser, but it's not his fault. It's yours. Personality traits, while ingrained in our psychological makeup, and very important to our development as human beings, are learned traits. You aren't born afraid of spiders. You learn to be afraid of spiders because they make you crap your pants and run in terror as soon as you actually see one. that's a learned behavior.

Chances are that the time you spent in elementary school getting kicked around by that fat kid who was two grades above you contributed more than you realize to your psychological makeup. As the kid getting smacked around, you learn a number of very important skills, such as self-reliance, assertiveness, and most importantly, resilience (both physical and mental). That fat kid who was burying his fist in your dome learned some things as well, like the impact velocity at which the skull will crack, socially irresponsible ways to deal with his parents divorce (abandonment issues), and the fastest way possible to ensure a life of unemployment and loneliness. That impact velocity skull thing could translate into a job in physics, although it's unlikely, because your name isn't Sonic the Hedgehog and that fat kid's name isn't Dr. Robotnik, with a PhD in craziness.

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Handling pressure, whether it be the skull-crushing schoolyard kind or the trapped-in-a-cubicle-about-to-go-insane kind, is important in life. But some people don't have a personality profile that is conducive to stress management. Some people react to stress logically, by meditating or squeezing those stupid foam balls your company gives you at team-building exercises. Others manage stress by picking up hitchhikers and harvesting their organs. To eat them.

People who developed along paths that lead to low resilience are disadvantaged in the workplace. People who are resilient and proactive are better employees because they require less supervision and tend to be creative and ethical. In short, it's good to have more of these people around. People who aren't proactive and resilient probably cut corners, steal post-it notes from the supply closet, and harass the cute receptionist.

Unfortunately, there's no Konami Code (up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, Start) for changing how you respond to stress. Because these are learned behaviors that coalesce over years and years into what you affectionately call your personality. You can work to change your relationship to your surroundings, but remember that changing your personality can take as long as formulating it.

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