Take a Number: How your Personality Type Affects your Business – Part 1

eggsContrary to popular opinion, not all translators are introverted bookworms, and if we could ever tear ourselves away from the page we would totally speak up and prove it to you. But seriously though, while some of us certainly fit that description, the profession attracts a wide variety of strange and wonderful people, and this week I thought I’d take a stab at categorizing them for your enlightenment and convenience.

The descriptions below are based on the nine personality types of the Enneagram, which I think is one of the most insightful and interesting systems out there. The headings are borrowed from Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert’s book The Enneagram, but I wrote this specifically for translators. This week we’re looking at the first five types; read on and see if you recognize yourself (or your colleagues) in one of these vignettes.

1. The need to be perfect

Ones are driven idealists who strive to make the world a better place, both in a moral and practical sense. They are always looking for more effective ways to do things, but never by taking shortcuts or engaging in shady practices. They are early adopters of CAT tools, push for the implementation of ISO standards and ask pointed questions at ATA board meetings.
Ones are perfectionists whose internal critic is always on duty. They would never submit a document without careful proofreading and running the spellcheck at least twice. Their office is clean, and their administration is perfectly organized. No receipts stuffed in a bulging envelope to be dumped on a poor accountant at the end of the year, and most definitely no sketchy tax deductions.

Frustration: nothing ever lives up to their inner standard of perfection, and this can turn Ones into fearful faultfinders. Woe to the translator who falls into the hands of an angry One editor.

Defense mechanism: control.
Delegating is difficult for Ones who are senior project managers, for instance, because they feel it’s easier to just to a job themselves than having to explain everything to a new intern who probably won’t get it right anyway.

Strength: the input of mature Ones is invaluable, because their thoughts have already passed through the fire of the inner critic. Ones who have learned to laugh at themselves and who have learned that different does not necessarily mean wrong, are effective and tireless fighters for innovation and growth.

2. The need to be needed

Twos are givers. They enjoy helping others and have a gift for discerning and meeting needs. Agencies with a Two on staff are well-run, pleasant places to work, because the Two thinks three steps ahead and has a solution in mind or even in place already, before the others become aware of the need.
Twos are rocks in the midst of chaos, always willing to stay up all night to finish an urgent project, type up the minutes of the meeting or pick up the speaker from the airport. Freelance Twos usually have a long list of happy, long-term clients because they are reliable and an unfailing pleasure to work with.

Frustration: They have a hard time saying no, and the need to please others can lead to resentment when they feel taken advantage of. When a Two starts slamming doors it’s time for an honest conversation.

Defense mechanism: repression
“It’s Nice to Be Nice” is the motto of Twos, and it’s very hard for them to admit they might be angry or upset.

Strength: when Twos learn to say no and set boundaries, they are able to give freely and become effective encouragers and problem solvers who make organizations and teams function more harmoniously.

3. The need to succeed

Threes live for competition and winning. They are also charismatic, natural networkers and social chameleons who intuitively know how to relate to anyone. They are excellent speakers, promoters, and strategists. At agencies they either move to senior positions or they leave to start their own business. Freelance Threes are enthusiastic marketers and self-promoters; you don’t have to convince a Three of the use of social media; in fact, she’s probably a Top Contributor on several LinkedIn forums and has 1000+ followers on Twitter.

Frustration: No one wins all the time. When faced with failure, Threes have a tendency to reinterpret the results, blame others, or leave the scene of the accident as quickly and quietly as possible. Immature Threes need to practice the phrase “the buck stops with me”.

Defense mechanism: total identification with their organization or the project they’re working on. They tend to oversell projects or proposals, which elicits skepticism or resistance from more cynical types.

Strength: When Threes learn to get real with themselves and others, and when they replace mere appearance with genuine substance, they are extremely effective leaders and motivators. They push companies and businesses from good to extraordinary.

4. The need to be different

Fours are intuitive, creative, idiosyncratic, moody, and not that interested in material gain.
At agencies they tend to be designers/IT techs rather than project managers. Translator Fours are often brilliant, but their relationships with agencies and clients are fraught with difficulties because they are liable to get upset and offended at the least (perceived) provocation. They are often prolific bloggers and use their blogs to vent and write insightful and entertaining posts.
Fours do not focus on business skills and networking. Invoices may or may not get sent, e-mails are sometimes not phrased very tactfully, and they might walk out in the middle of a presentation to go work on something more interesting. Fours can thrive at agencies with a relaxed culture or with an organization devoted to a cause they are passionate about.

Frustration: they strive for authenticity and are annoyed with what they perceive as mindless conformity or stupidity, yet this attitude can come across as posturing. A project with a Four translator and a One editor can only end in tears.

Defense mechanism: artistic sublimation
Their creative expression becomes a substitute for the more challenging task of constructive person-to-person communication.

Mature fours have learned to balance feelings with actions and to place their talents in the service of a greater good. This outward focus helps them contribute beauty and excellence without wallowing in their feelings. Mature Fours help companies break out of predictable molds.

5. The need to perceive

Fives are original thinkers, researchers, inventors and explorers. They are introverts who guard their personal space; they avoid drawing attention to themselves and they hate being put on the spot and into forced social interaction. If you start looking for the exit when a speaker tells you to “turn to your neighbor and share one fun fact about yourself” you are probably a Five.
Fives are both intuitive and analytical, with a natural insight into people and situations. In meetings they tend to wait until called upon, but their contributions are usually insightful.
They are self-starters but do not like to organize or lead others, so many Fives thrive as freelancers. Translator Fives prefer to under-promise and over-deliver to avoid stress and disappointment. Clients love them because they will go the extra mile to do the research and get the terminology right.

Frustration: they love gathering knowledge, yet they never feel they have a true grasp on a subject. Speaking at conferences or creating video courses are not natural Five activities because they never feel like they’re ready, plus of course they don’t like being in front of people.

Defense mechanism: withdrawal
When they feel threatened, offended or put upon, Fives retreat to the safety of their ivory tower. If you approach them in private to address the issue, however, it is usually resolved quickly.

Mature fives have learned that speaking up and confronting issues is more effective than withdrawing. The most healthy thing for Fives is to get out of their head, take action in the real world, and start sharing some of that their knowledge with other people. Fives who decide to get out of their comfort zone are effective, insightful communicators.

15 thoughts on “Take a Number: How your Personality Type Affects your Business – Part 1

  1. A very interesting article. I’m definitely a 5 – like many freelancers apparently – with a bit of 4 thrown in. 🙂

    • Thanks Nicole! Yes, I’m in the Five camp as well. I didn’t think of it earlier but I should have added that like Threes, Fives love social media, but for different reasons: communicating via computer is totally within our comfort zone 🙂

  2. Great little (read as concise) article, Marie.
    Personality is definitely a key element in how we go about our business. Putting a mirror in front of one in an attempt to define one’s personality traits is not always a pleasant exercise, but it is very important. Without it we wouldn’t be able to play to our strengths and avoid (i.e. minimize the effect of) our weaknesses.

    That said, sometimes it is essential to go outside our comfort zone, uncomfortable as it may be. Quite often, after the initial awkwardness and fighting the urge to flee, one might discover that one’s comfort zone can expand to some degree. Having a good professional (and personal) support system can make stepping out and testing the water much more painless.

    • Yes, that is exactly how it has been for me. I’m a Five, so it was quite confrontational for me to be faced with my tendency to withdraw and not share. So I have been working on speaking up and being more straightforward, and on interacting/sharing with others. Joining Twitter and starting a blog have been great ways to get my feet wet, because it’s still somewhat safe from my computer and the responses tend to be very constructive and encouraging. My next hurdle is attending an actual conference in person, and maybe eventually even doing a presentation (I get nervous just thinking about that one!)

      • Your blog is great.
        There will always be people that just like to criticize, for the sake of empty criticism, and they do seem to like to be rude about it. Then there is a constructive criticism (or mere exchange of opinions) that I think even a five won’t have difficulty dealing with.

        For me the biggest “fear” was that I might be called out as a “phony”. I was concerned that people will dismiss what I have to say as nonsense because they are more experienced/successful/knowledgeable, etc., thus seeing right through what I see as my weaknesses and/or areas I need to improve on.

        I found out that this fear was really unfounded.
        Sure, there are rude people, but they seem to be a vocal minority. If anything, I thank them in a way. They helped me develop a thicker skin, and learn how to ignore the noise and focus on the essence. Those refined skills are great assets to have when navigating life in general, and the business world in particular.

        This is a process, I’m sure that you will be circling with confidence conference floors in no-time.

  3. You’re right, fives enjoy exchanges of opinion and even constructive criticism because it appeals to our love of analysis. Aren’t our fears strange things sometimes; especially the one you mentioned about phoniness, because if there is anything you’re not it’s phony. You are obviously knowledgeable and passionate about what you do, with strong, well-argued convictions. I have learned a lot from you exactly because of your willingness share from your experience. Of course none of us know everything and we’re all continually growing (hopefully), but only a phony would call that phony, right? 🙂

    • Thank you for your kind words, Marie.

      Yes, our fears are strange things at times. We put it in our heads that we can’t do this or that, we bargain and argue against ourselves for no apparent reason, and often anguish about it instead of just doing something. Sometimes doing something is more easy, quick and eventually pleasant than the self-questioning that precedes and accompanies it.

  4. I can’t figure where I would fall in that scheme, Marie, though it’s definitely not in your first category. I used to encounter frequent threads in certain fora where some idiot would ask the tortured question of how one could possibly ever turn in a job when it might not achieve some ideal of Platonic perfection. I just roll my eyes at that and wonder if they’ll ever get a life. And God save me from the ones that try to call my attention to the “outrage” of a missing comma or a word they aren’t comfortable with because it’s from a regional variant of their language that they do not know.

    So what would 6 through 10 in your classification scheme be? Maybe I can find the other 80% of myself there 🙂 Good piece anyway, because I can drop a good number of people in the slots offered….

  5. Hi Kevin, yes I’m with you: I check my work as carefully as possible but I don’t lie awake about it. I also don’t like it in a discussion when someone makes a sarcastic remark about the other person’s spelling/grammar rather than offer an actual argument. The other four types (Loyalist/Enthusiast/Challenger/Peacemaker) will be the topic of my next post, so I’m thinking one of those might be a type you can identify with!

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