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PERSONALITY: Pleasure vs. Accomplishment

On most Saturday mornings, my husband and I sit down together to figure out what needs to get done over the weekend. High on my list are all the household chores, lawn mowing, gardening and paying bills. High on his list is figuring out when golf is going to fit into the schedule. For years I couldn’t understand why I was so focused on getting the chores done first, while his focus was how to fit pleasure in first. I thought maybe it was my New England Puritanical upbringing where my mother had always required us do chores before anything else. But then, he grew up in a military family and doing chores was required of him also. In some ways I wanted to be like him, but my very nature wouldn’t allow me to put pleasure first. In order to feel satisfied, I needed to have something tangible at the end – a pile of stuff done. He, on the other hand, found achievement in creating a very different To Do list. Why couldn’t I be more like that? Or why couldn’t he be more like I was? Sometimes, truthfully, I saw him as a goof-off and he saw me as overbearing. Needless to say, it made for some rough Saturday mornings.

Then I began to look at people in the workplace, and I saw the same differences. People come to work wanting to do what they like first; it’s just that the “doing what they like” is different. One employee begins the day getting a cup of coffee, chatting with a co-worker about American Idol, taking a look at his/her Facebook page, instant messaging a friend and then settling down to work. Another employee does just the opposite: a quick sprint to the desk with barely a hello for anyone, checking emails from overnight and starting right away into the tasks for the day, with the To Do List or daily Outlook calendar prominently displayed next to his/her work area. It seemed like this dichotomy in style and approach affected a lot of other things as well including effort, the degree of anxiety toward change and other projects, even curiosity about trying new things.

Ironically, in many cases we end up marrying or in a relationship with our opposite and quite frequently working side-by-side with our opposite in the workplace. It can create a lot of tension and cause us to think one is right and the other wrong. But is that really the case? I thought it might be interesting to look at these style differences from a couple of different perspectives and see if any new insights emerge.

Possibility Thinkers vs. Necessity Thinkers
There are typically four drivers that affect the way that people view the world. The first driver is the difference between possibility thinkers and necessity thinkers (Unlimited Power: the New Science of Personal Achievement, Anthony Robbins, pg. 266). Possibility thinkers are motivated less by what they have to do than by what they want to do; they seek options, choices, and new experiences. They have a tendency to be optimistic and focus on gains. They like spontaneity and an unstructured environment. As a possibility thinker my husband often tries to fit much more into a timeframe than the time will actually allow, and then is surprised when it all doesn’t fit in. So in his mind, the chores will get done and the golf will get done – it’s just a matter of which comes first. For him, the present possibility of golf will usually win.

On the other hand, the necessity thinkers are motivated to do something because it’s known, secure and they must do it; they are not looking for a wide variety of experiences. They are persuaded by the impact not doing something will have on the future – or the potential of loss. It’s imperative for the necessity thinker to take immediate action in order to avoid some negative future result. As a necessity thinker, I often can’t see beyond the immediate tasks in front of me and can easily miss something exciting or spontaneous. In my mind, if we become distracted from Saturday chores by an activity like golf, then we’ll never get the chores done which means the next week will be problematic – no food, no clothes, and a dirty house.

Self-Focused vs. Externally-Focused
The second driver is our tendency to either be self-focused (how things affect us) or externally-focused (how things affect others). Externally-focused individuals are more aware of the needs of co-workers, a boss or customers, and adjust their approaches or priorities with others in mind. The self-focused individual places his or her own needs as top priority and can appear completely insensitive to the needs of others. Imagine if we have either a necessity or possibility thinker who is highly self-focused; it would either create an obsession for work (workaholic) or an obsession for fun (irresponsibility). Recently, we saw this in a woman on a team who kept asking for definitions of common terms like scope, charter, and team just as a way to control the outcome of a discussion. There was no sensitivity on her part to the effect her behavior was having on the other people in the room and how frustrated they had become.

Pleasure-Seeking vs. Pain-Avoidance
The third driver is the pleasure-seeking or pain-avoidance factor. People either move primarily toward pleasure (gain) or away from pain (loss). One sees the cup half full; the other sees the cup half empty. For one the clock is ticking down; for the other the clock is counting up. Both may take the same action, but for very different reasons. For example one individual joins a team for the sheer joy of being with others, while another individual joins the team so the boss won’t label him a non-team player. Both join the team: one for gain, one to avoid loss. The same might be true of exercise: one person loves to run for the sake of running; another person runs to avoid a heart attack.

My externally-focused, possibility thinker husband is motivated by pleasure. His externally-focused, necessity thinker wife is motivated by avoiding pain. To avoid pain, I feel better when I can check off tasks on a to-do list; to have pleasure, he feels better when he can put on the list something whose sole purpose is fun. Now here is an interesting twist: when presented with a positively-framed choice (let’s play golf), people will choose a more conservative response (let’s get the chores done first). But when presented with a negatively-framed choice (let’s do chores), they will take a more risky strategy (hey, how about golf first). So how something is framed really does matter. If we see playing in the workplace, we’ll choose a more conservative approach (better get some work done), but if we see only the conservative approach (workaholism), we’ll talk about the need to have some fun at work.

Field-Dependent vs. Field Independent
Our final driver is based on how much we are influenced by what others think – what is called field-dependent (strongly persuaded by others around us) or field independent (not persuaded by others at all) (Witkin, Moore, Goodenough, & Cox, 1977). If I’m field-dependent, I’m more socially-oriented and responsive to reward and punishment (Ferrell, 1971). I allow others to exert more control over my decisions and therefore might be influenced by a friend asking me to go golfing. If I’m field independent, I’m more likely to self-structure the day, compartmentalize the tasks and be less influenced by social norms. I’m more likely to focus on the principle that Saturday is reserved for chores.

While managing the home front is a private and personal matter, these drivers have much influence on the culture at work. A necessity-driven, pain-avoidance, field-dependent culture is going to cause considerable problems for a possibility-driven, pleasure-seeking, field-independent individual, and vice versa. Take a moment and think of yourself – what are your primary drivers? Now think of your boss – what are his or her primary drivers? Does this give you a new insight in terms of areas of agreement and areas of tension?

I’d love to hear some of your thoughts about this blog as it represents some unchartered territory in the discussion of human behavior. Do you see it like this, or something quite different?


Check out an in depth conversation with Deborah on how this topic came about and why some of us enjoy pleasure activities while others enjoy accomplishment activities – Listen on NDCPodcaster

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