What is it about her that I don't like?

Feb. 13, 2015
In last month's column, I started a series about the office "drama queen." What is it about certain personalities that you love or just cannot stand? Dealing with certain personality traits in the workplace can be challenging sometimes. None of us are perfect, and we all have traits that may grate at others' nerves at times.

BY Jannette Whisenhunt, RDH, BS, MEd, PhD

In last month's column, I started a series about the office "drama queen." What is it about certain personalities that you love or just cannot stand? Dealing with certain personality traits in the workplace can be challenging sometimes. None of us are perfect, and we all have traits that may grate at others' nerves at times. Most of us can say that dealing with those traits can be the most emotionally draining part of the day. Staying on time with a busy office schedule and trying to give patients the quality care they deserve can be hard, but dealing with the office drama queen can put us over the edge. Why do we let people get to us? How can we rationally deal with people who can be irrational? Dealing is a skill that can be learned, but it does take some effort and a lot of patience.

This month, we are going to continue our discussion about different personality tests and how some offices are using these when they interview for new employees. You may see these out there while searching for a new job. I believe these profiles can be used to help us learn about ourselves but also to learn how to understand others better.


Other articles by Whisenhunt


We should all respect each and every professional in the dental field. It's important for hygienists to learn how to deal with all types of people and the personalities that go with them. When you start working, you realize that people skills have a place in any work situation or career field. I want to go over a few qualities that show themselves in others' personalities that may need some extra understanding, and I will add in a few suggestions about how we can deal with them.

Last month, I discussed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), and how the MBTI types show different personality traits. "MBTI results identify valuable differences between normal, healthy people, differences that can be the source of much misunderstanding and miscommunication."1 This month, we will look at another personality profile called the Enneagram, and next month, we will complete the series by looking at the DiSC Profile. Each of them has a unique way of looking at how people behave and may help you understand others a little more.

The Enneagram fits nicely with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and is similar in some respects. I learned about the Enneagram during graduate school, and it's something that I studied in leadership classes. It started in the Middle East and Far East during the 10th century and arrived in the United States during the 1960s. The basis of the Enneagram is that nine basic "types" come from our natural talents and abilities. People who share a type have the same basic motivations and view the world similarly. Every person feels comfortable with two of the main "types" - one when s/he is relaxed and one when s/he is stressed. Each of the three main "centers" of the Enneagram - the Heart Center, the Thinking or Head Center, and the Gut Center - houses three of the nine types. Although there are names associated with each type, the names can vary, so numbers are usually used to describe them. It's easier, for example, to say someone has "traits of a One."

People who identify with types within the Heart Center of the Enneagram - Twos, Threes, and Fours - may tend to have issues dealing with the images they present to others. Twos can be called "altruists," "supportive managers," "helpers," "enablers," or "caretakers." Twos believe strongly in loving and being loved, and they view other people as being very important. They get upset when people or organizations are more concerned about business, as opposed to people. They have talent in understanding others and spend a lot of time and energy mending relationships. To get along with Twos, we need to make sure we are fair and considerate and that we help them relax. We need to help them stay on task, avoid procrastination, and reassure them that they do not have to be perfect. Some may view this type of person as having a martyrlike personality.

Threes might be called "achievers," "motivators," "role models," "status-seekers," or "arbitrators." Threes are hard workers who cannot bear the thought of failure. People who identify with this type appreciate praise and attention for a job done well. They believe that what one does in life is more important than what one says. They are naturally organized and prefer to be in charge in order to control the tempo. They have little patience with people who waste their time or who do not stay busy. They do not like to deal with tiny details or work with those who procrastinate. Threes prefer a peaceful environment and do not like negative emotions or people. Ask them for their opinions, but try not to argue with them because they will want to win!

Fours, the last in the Heart Center, can be called "artists," "romantics," "individualists," or "melancholics." Fours love the artistic side of life and do not view themselves as ordinary. They believe that many people do not understand them and get frustrated when they are misunderstood. People in this category can have difficulty relating to others and are sometimes accused of being snobbish or shy. They can be supportive friends, but they need plenty of compliments. We should try to support their feelings and help build their confidence. Sometimes they just want to be left alone, and we need to allow them that. They are very creative and have a compassionate, warm side that they show through the arts.

The Thinking or Head Center includes Fives, Sixes, and Sevens. These types may have issues dealing with fear. They may fear for their safety, shun unpleasantness, or need approval from others. Fives are often called the "theorists," "investigators," "thinkers," "questioners," or "observers." They believe knowledge and understanding are the keys to living successfully, and they seek wisdom and truth. They are curious and love to learn and admire people who are experts in their field. While they do not like to be overloaded by strong emotions from others, they like to be appreciated for their scholarliness. They value independence and do not like clingy people. They work well on their own but also like being around creative, imaginative people. We can get along with a Five by letting them do their work, putting them in charge of gathering data for projects, and realizing that they are not going to be buddy-buddy with everyone (which is OK with them).

Sixes are also in the Head Center, often called "loyalists," "guardians," "traditionalists," "doubters," or "troubleshooters." People of this type believe in being loyal and in good teamwork. They like stability and avoid large-scale changes. They believe that leaders are important to teams and admire good leaders. Sixes value organizations that take care of people. They always do their best and expect the same from others, although they may not get it. They can show some anxiety when things are in disarray. If they overreact, you should gently push them to new experiences and try not to overreact in response to them. When you tell them that they are dependable, it goes a long way. They can sometimes be worrywarts, and it is hard for them to trust themselves. We can get along with Sixes by being direct and clear and reassuring them that they are OK with us.

Sevens are the last in the Head Center, and those who fit this type can be called the "entertainers," "adventurers," "enthusiasts," and "multitaskers." A Seven is often someone who is a fun lover and that person in the office who is everyone's friend. The Seven is lighthearted, fun to be around, outgoing, and caring. They are spontaneous and free-spirited and can be impulsive at times. They believe that life is short and that it should not be taken so seriously, and as a result, they find humor and fun in most situations. They tend to avoid serious or laborious tasks, preferring instead to do many things at once - although they may not finish all of them. They prefer to imagine and create strategies, rather than enact them. Sometimes they create the impression that they are not serious about their work and do not like to listen to others. We can get along with Sevens by giving them companionship and freedom and by stimulating them with laughter and exciting conversation. They do not like clingy, negative people, nor do they like to be told what to do.

The last three types in the Enneagram - the Eights, Nines, and Ones - make up the Gut Center. These types have difficulty dealing with anger, as they tend to bottle it up, ignore it, or express it in the wrong way. Eights can be called "controllers," "leaders," "challengers," or "protectors." An Eight is usually a take-charge person who makes a good leader. They believe that they have a better handle on what is going on than others do and that they know what needs to be done. They can come across as bossy because they can be intimidating. Strong and confident, they like to stay on task and do not have time for whiny people who want to complain. They can be direct, bold, and blunt, often hurting others' feelings without realizing it. Although Eights can be tender, they think it is a weakness to show it. To get along with an Eight, we have to understand that they can be blunt and not assume that they intend to seem bossy. We can help them share their feelings but realize that they do not mind arguing a point. If we disagree with them, we need to disagree with the idea and not with them personally. We can also get along with an Eight by not carrying our feelings on our shoulders.

Nines can be called "harmonizers," "healers," "comforters," or "peacemakers," and they are the one type able to get along with almost all the other types fairly well. As an easygoing type, Nines dislike negativity and conflict. A Nine is more likely to be a follower than a leader. They do not like being in the spotlight and are happy around others or on their own. They like security and stable situations, and they are able to relax and enjoy life. They tend to hide their feelings and stuff their anger, which makes it hard for them to open up to others. We can get along with Nines best by laughing with them and letting them know we like what they have done or said. We can help them talk out their feelings, encouraging them to ask for what they need and not to feel guilty about not fulfilling others' expectations. They need to know they are important and valued.

The Ones are the last type. The Ones can be called the "perfectionists," the "organizers," the "crusaders," the "activists," or the "reformers." Ones are organized hard workers - almost to a fault. Instead of just being content, they might organize things and reorganize them, thinking they can do it better. They have difficulty relaxing and are always busy. One attach a great deal of importance to being right and doing things right, so misunderstandings can occur when they expect others to be the same way. Ones hate to make mistakes and have high personal standards, which often can be stumbling blocks. They can insist on perfectionism from others and expect others to follow the rules too. We can get along with the Ones by realizing that they need to work hard, and we can tell them we appreciate their thoroughness. We need to take on our share of the work and be fair and considerate of them. Try to help them relax more, and reassure them that everything does not have to be perfect.

I hope that, after reading about the different types, you will be able to understand those personality traits that grate on your nerves better and realize that you can react differently. Only we can control our emotions and reactions, and we are ultimately in control of whether others get on our nerves. It is easy to forget that basic fact and to let someone else's actions or behavior bother us. We have to take our control back and realize that we are the only ones who can give someone else the power to upset us or ruin our day. Have the emotional maturity that you need to keep control over your reactions. I know that this is easier said than done many times, but throughout life and with practice, it should get easier to do. Happy scaling! RDH


1. Beesing M, Nogosek RJ, O'Leary PH. The Enneagram: A journey of self discovery. New Jersey: Dimensions Books. 1984.

2. Briggs Myers I. Introduction to type: A guide to understanding your results on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. 6th ed. Palo Alto, California: Consulting Psychologists Press, Inc. 1998.

3. Baron R, Wagele E. The Enneagram Made Easy: Discover the 9 types of People. Harper San Francisco 1994; Harper Collins Publishing NY, NY.

4. Riso DR, Hudson R. The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types. 1999. Bantam Books, New York.

Jannette Whisenhunt, RDH, BS, MEd, PhD, is the Department Chair of Dental Education at Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem, N.C. Dr. Whisenhunt has taught since 1987 in the dental hygiene and dental assisting curricula. She has a love for students and served as the state student advisor for nine years and has won the student Advisor of the Year award from ADHA in the past. Her teaching interests are in oral cancer, ethics, infection control, emergencies and orofacial anatomy. Dr. Whisenhunt also has a small continuing education business where she provides CE courses for dental practices and local associations. She can be reached at [email protected].