You bugged? We all bug!
You've got a bunch of different personalities buzzing around your clinic, but that doesn't have to mean a lot of stinging and biting.
"MAN, I HATE WORKING WITH HER. SHE BUGS ME."
Have you heard this recently in your clinic? Maybe you said it yourself. So what do we do when the people we work with really irritate us? The busybodies. The bleeding hearts. The walking encyclopedias who insist on being right all the time. It sure would be easier if other folks were just like us, seeing things our way and not being so, you know ... different.
But that's life. People are different. In fact, psychologists commonly agree that people are born with one of four general personalities. If you add in all the other traits that contribute to our individuality, suddenly there are lots of ways for us to drive each other bonkers. Life, however, already drives us crazy—who needs co-workers to help? Luckily, we can learn to tolerate other people's temperaments and even see the strengths in their differences.
Just for fun, let's pretend that people are bugs. As veterinarians, we're always talking about animals, so let's talk about insects for a change! I'm a bug. You're a bug. And for the sake of our foray into entomology, let's imagine our veterinary clinic is a garden. Four kinds of insects work in this garden—each representing a different personality type.
Water Bug: The life of the party
This is the "live it up now, pay later" insect who skips across the pond of life. Water Bugs make up about one-third of the population and—besides being adventurous—are highly verbal and artistic. Water Bugs are also resourceful, flexible in changing environments, and capable of handling a crisis. They're excellent negotiators and problem solvers.
On the downside, Water Bugs can be self-centered, irresponsible, and superficial. They may become easily bored and are often impulsive. Other bugs often see them as indecisive. They need emotional connections and enjoy being noticed.
Ant: Loyally pulling her own weight
Ants make up almost 40 percent of the population and are the Boy and Girl Scouts of life. Kind, courteous, trustworthy, and loyal, they consider life to be a serious endeavor and insist on playing by the rules. Marching one by one, they do what must be done and much of what they do is for others. Intimacy and deep friendships are important to them, and they seek to love and be loved. They thrive on details and organization, and they glory in imposing order over chaos.
Ants, however, are prone to melancholy and deep insecurity. They can be critical of others and become flustered when plans change. They're notorious for revealing their inadequacies to others and can be perfectionists.
Wasp: Flying to the top
Wasps are the movers and shakers of the bug world. While they make up just 10 percent to 15 percent of the population, they create quite a buzz in the garden with their love for verbal argument. Because these insects learn by challenging, they question others about everything and are convinced only by pure logic. Analytical, resourceful, and self-reliant, Wasps fly high over the garden and easily see the big picture. They have a talent for developing and planning, an insight into the inner workings of systems and organizations, and the ability to speak and write clearly and precisely.
On the downside, Wasps don't like to express themselves emotionally, and other insects may consider them aloof, intellectual snobs. Wasps can be critical of others' shortcomings and impatient when confronted about problems. They insist on being right, can make things more complicated than they need to be, and are often unaware of others' hurt feelings.
Butterfly: The social glue
Butterflies value relationships above all else, and they want everyone to just get along. They find conflict painful, so they keep morale up with their superb interpersonal skills and friendly nature. They affirm folks freely and easily and excel at bringing out the best in others. They're great team builders.
Butterflies, though, may not make good supervisors because their need for harmony can make them too lenient. They're less concerned that co-workers are skilled than that co-workers like them. Butterflies can be overly sensitive and dramatic, and they often hold grudges.
Meet the swarm
Now, imagine these four kinds of bugs skittering, marching, buzzing, and fluttering around your hospital garden. How would they react if you suddenly introduced, say, new practice software?
Keeping odd hours
Well, the Ants would be cross and out of sorts because the new program was different than the old one. The Water Bugs would be trying to show the Ants all the cool things they could already do with the appointment screen. The Wasp would be buzzing, telling the Ants to stop moaning and explain the problem. The Butterfly would be flitting, giving backrubs to disgruntled Ants and politely suggesting to the Wasp that more training might do the trick.
As if things weren't chaotic enough, let's throw more personality traits into our garden party, starting with extroversion and introversion. (Check out "A Bug's-Eye View of the Garden" on the left to see which bugs are which.) About 70 percent of all insects—no matter which of the four groups they belong to—are extroverts. Extroverts get their energy from the outside world; they think while they talk. They bounce ideas off co-workers, bring conflicts out into the open, and need loads of praise and feedback.
A bugs-eye view of the garden
Introverts, on the other hand, get their energy from within. They reflect on information and are more aware of internal influences. They need to think before they speak, and extroverts may perceive them as shy and withdrawn.
In addition to extroverts and introverts, insects are also either thinkers or feelers. Thinkers, who make up about half the population, are more analytical and problem-oriented. They strive for objective clarity by using cause-and-effect logic. They want minimal emotional influence on their decisions.
Feelers, on the other hand, are more interested in solutions that bring about harmony. They make decisions based on relationships and human values, and they tend to be warm and personal in their interactions with others.
And there's yet another difference between personalities: scheduled or spontaneous. Some insects want everything structured. They plan their work and then work according to the plan. They're good at meeting deadlines and making quick decisions.
Other insects are flexible and spontaneous. They go with the flow, taking a wait-and-see attitude and keeping their options open. Their easygoing nature can drive schedule-oriented insects crazy, yet they are often more open and adaptive to changes.
One crazy garden
No wonder we drive each other buggy! We all have certain personality traits, and they affect the way we perceive reality and process information. But just as we can use both of our hands even if we're born right-handed, we also have varying degrees of personality traits. For instance, while one insect might be highly extroverted, another might be a little extroverted with a developed introspective side. Personality tendencies mean we tend to do things a certain way; it's not a defined way of acting.
So now, my fellow veterinary entomologists, how do we take all of these insects and expect them to work together in our veterinary hospital garden? "Impossible!" you say. "You've just explained how everyone is so different."
Indeed, and that's the first rule in learning to work with others: recognizing that not all insects are the same, but they're all valuable. No one kind of insect is better or worse than another. No one individual trait is always an advantage or disadvantage.
If the veterinary garden were full of Wasps, clients would leave thinking no one cared about their feelings. If it were full of Ants, the clinic would have a difficult time adjusting to change. Being aware of differences is necessary for us to be tolerant of differences.
We must also remember that we don't need to be friends with people in order to work with them. We tend to flock to insects whose personalities are similar to ours. But the bottom line is that we need mutual trust and respect, even if other insects take in and process information differently than we do. Not incorrectly, remember. Differently.
Different strokes for different antennae
Keeping these differences in mind can help you adjust your style to maximize communication. For instance, if you're working with a Wasp, present things as clearly and factually as possible. When delegating responsibilities to a Water Bug, keep in mind that this insect loves freedom and will do best if given some leeway with the job. Ants like to follow the rules, and they're excellent at detail work and administrative tasks but resist change. Butterflies excel at working with people and often make great receptionists but poor supervisors.
If you're extroverted, take turns and don't talk over others. If you're introverted, try to be more animated and assertive; others may take your silence for consent. Extroverts might want to allow for more time before finalizing decisions so introverts can fully reflect.
Thinkers want and need minimal emotional reaction. Thus, they need to remember to make an effort to compliment others on a job well done, even if they wouldn't need such feedback. Feelers, on the other hand, must work at not taking things too personally. If a thinker makes a decision that seems uncaring to a feeler, it will help if the feeler can calmly point out how that decision might affect office harmony.
The highly structured insects—who need definitive answers—may make statements that sound like there's no room for negotiation. These insects also tend to complain about things, but this doesn't mean they're rejecting new ideas outright. It behooves other insects to drop new information on them and run. Come back the next day after all the moaning is over. Open-minded insects, on the other hand, may seem flighty as they keep generating new solutions to the same problem. While suggestions are helpful, a time comes when these bugs need to accept a final decision and move on.
The most important piece of this insect workplace, of course, is you. You are responsible for your own behavior. Your personality traits may influence what and how you do things, but they're not excuses. You can't say, "I'm an Ant and I don't like change, so don't expect me to learn to use that new piece of equipment," or, "Hey, it's not my fault the client wasn't called back—I'm a Water Bug and I don't follow through." It just doesn't fly.
So go forth, my fellow veterinary entomologists. Recognize that insects (you and I!) have varying personalities but different temperaments don't have to bug you. It's those differences that make the garden of life such an interesting place to live.
Dr. Karen Wheeler is a writer and an associate practitioner at Companion Animal Hospital in Eagan, Minn. Please send your questions or comments to email@example.com