who are youIf you’re an extrovert, the latest research reported in the Journal of Cognitive, Affective, and Behavioral Neuroscience suggests your extroversion can take the form of either an assertive ‘go getter’ type or a more affiliative ‘social’ type.

I was alerted to this research on a post by one of my favourite psychology bloggers Dr. Jeremy Dean, and if you’re interested, you can read his post here explaining the neuroscience behind the research

It got me thinking about how we as humans tend to want to ‘pigeon hole’ and categorise things in our life… introvert, extrovert, assertive, affiliative, people person, task oriented, and the list goes on and on.

One of the advantages of course in our tendency to want to categorise things in our lives is that it helps us to understand our lives better… and this is one of the innate drives of human existence that Nohria and Lawrence reported in their excellent book ‘Driven’ – to comprehend or understand what’s going on in our world (the other three drives their research uncovered were the drives to acquire, belong and defend).

While in one way, categorising things in our lives helps us to understand our lives, in another way, they can inadvertently find us making judgement errors (sometimes referred to as the fundamental attribution error). These judgement errors is that we put people in categories, and then only find through our observations behavioural evidence to support our categorisation.

An example for people in a sales or business development or customer service role is where they’ve been taught, coached or advised to try and pick a person’s personality, and to ‘sell’ that person by matching their personality style.

The problem here is that when a customer is about to buy something that is really important to them, they may be hiding their natural personality, and actually be displaying a more cautious, suspicious, reserved and even competitive buying style… nothing like their natural personality.

While training and coaching resources like the Myers-Briggs profiling can certainly be of benefit in helping us understand why some people might behave, make decisions, react or feel in any given situation, the danger is that we pigeon hole them and don’t cater for each or our natural ability to choose how we think, feel and act.

Even if you’re an extrovert, whether an assertive go-getter or a more affiliative social type, you can still choose to shut up, listen, ask questions about the other person’s experiences, rather than just focus on your own.

We may not be able to choose our personalities, but we can almost always choose our behaviour and our reactions… not always, but mostly.