Type A vs Type B Personality Theory
If you think about the people that you know well, you’ll likely find they fall into one of two personality types:
- Impatient, stressed, hurried and quick to respond (Type A)
- Relaxed, easy-going and happy to go with the flow (Type B)
Quite a bit of research has been done into Type A vs Type B personality traits, especially among employers and the psychometric-testing community.
This article will explain this strongly supported personality theory and the differences between Type A and Type B people.
The researchers who originally came up with the idea of two contrasting personality types were not psychiatrists but cardiologists: Meyer Friedman and Ray Roseman.
They stumbled across this pattern when realizing that their waiting room chairs needed to be reupholstered quicker than they envisaged. Further investigation revealed that many of their patients were irritable and stressed, causing them to fidget and wear away the chair fabric.
Studying human behaviour as a factor in heart disease in the 1950s, Friedman and Roseman observed that people with a more intense, stress-prone nature (Type A people) were more likely to suffer from heart complications than their more relaxed friends (Type B people).
The concept of Type A vs Type B personality has received plenty of criticism over the years, mainly due to the relatively small initial sample size and the fact that the tobacco industry initially funded the research.
However, Friedman and Roseman’s observations have had a profound impact on the field of psychology, where many studies have attempted to link an individual’s mental state (personality) to their physical health.
Following the theory, Type A and Type B personalities are like chalk and cheese.
However, rather than a fixed personality typology, most psychologists view Type A vs Type B as a ‘trait continuum’. Just as there’s an autism spectrum, there’s also a spectrum for Type A or Type B personality, with extreme types at either end of the continuum.
The spectrum end on which a person falls is based on how a person responds to everyday life and stress.
There are some striking differences between Type A and Type B personalities, and these are largely based on how a person responds to planned and unplanned events.
A Type A personality, for instance, will have no struggles in staying motivated and on task, yet they’ll feel stressed and anxious. Unlike Type B personalities, they fear failure and will do anything to be on top of their game, making them super competitive.
Type B personalities, on the other hand, are far more relaxed. In fact, a Type A person might even feel frustrated by the seemingly cool, calm and collected approach to life that a Type B person takes.
The main Type A vs Type B personality qualities tend to be:
|Type A||Type B|
|Time-obsessed||Less urgent, easy going|
As you’d expect, there is typically a clash between Type A and Type B personalities as their values and behaviors are at odds with one another.
Type A people will value ambition, drive, organization and a high-octane way of living. In contrast, Type B people feel at peace being laid back and tend not to stress over the little things.
It's important not to stereotype people when it comes to Type A vs Type B personality analysis, though. For example, someone who is a Type A personality may only get stressed by certain situations. Likewise, a Type B person may be calm yet still have the determination to succeed.
When people research the Type A vs Type B personality theory, they generally start by first understanding Type A, because the attributes are a little firmer and easier to grasp than those of Type B.
As a starting point, it’s helpful to review the American Psychology Association’s definition of a Type A personality. The APA refers to it as "a complex pattern of behaviors and emotions that include an excessive emphasis on competition, aggression, impatience and hostility".
This is more at the extreme end of the Type A continuum, but it’s fairly easy to understand the described personality.
Here are those qualities described in more depth:
- Aggressiveness – This is where Type A and Type B personalities differ the most. Type A people tend to dominate and be quite hostile if they do not get their way. This may be a sharpness in responding and can be overbearing for the person on the receiving end.
- Impatience – There’s very little room for ‘let’s wait and see’ with a Type A personality. They want immediate answers and a solution straight away, and if someone cannot provide it for them, they will actively seek the solution themselves. This can mean that they step on the toes of their colleagues from time to time.
- Competitiveness – A Type A person is restless – they are always looking to bring their A-game and be the best at what they do. This can make them competitive, which can be a real advantage in the workplace.
- Ambition – Despite their stress and hurried pace, Type A people are usually high achievers, working well as senior managers who stop at nothing until they reach that deadline or target.
Although Type A people tend to lead very successful lives, there are some adverse effects when we look at Type A vs Type B personality types. Thankfully this is entirely avoidable with the right self-care and awareness.
Here’s what you should look out for if you have a Type A behavior pattern:
- Hypertension – There’s been a lot of research into the link between stress, high blood pressure and coronary disease. Therefore, it’s a good idea for Type A people to recognize when they feel overly stressed so they can take breaks, exercise and eat a healthy diet.
- Mental health problems – High amounts of stress can lead to poor sleep, anxiety and even depression amongst Type A people. Keeping to a healthy routine and recognizing the early signs of declining mental health is essential.
- Social withdrawal – Wrapped up in their world and ambitions, Type A personalities can come across as rude to others, even if unintentional. This can damage their relationships and leave them isolated. However, making an effort to step back and observe the reactions of others before jumping straight in is possible, even for the most impatient Type A.
When people search for information on Type A vs Type B personality theory, they usually want to understand how to use their core personality skills in a positive way.
Here’s how a Type A person’s drive, ambition and competitiveness can be used to good effect in the workplace:
- Independence – They’re able to work autonomously and are not afraid to lead and speak out where needed. This can be incredibly useful when keeping to a deadline and being on task is essential.
- Determined – They’ll be the person who gets the project over the line, no matter what.
- Resourceful – A Type A person will always address a problem head-on with a problem-solving attitude.
- Competitive – They’ll see what competitors are doing and seek to outperform them, which can enormously benefit a company’s bottom line.
If you’re a Type A personality, it can sometimes feel as if you’re living and working in a pressure cooker. You need to find time to turn the temperature down and have a break.
Here are the top three tips for taking the pressure off:
- Be self-aware – Realize your impact on other people and how you make them feel, and you’ll become an inspiring leader – someone with drive and understanding.
- Stop thinking the worst – While Type A people are problem-solvers, they also tend to overreact. Force yourself to take a step back from a situation before getting heated or overly agitated, despite how frustrating the situation may be.
- Accept who you are – Being a Type A personality, you have the qualities that some Type B people really wish they had. You have a strong drive, determination and ambition. Don’t change yourself; look for ways to channel your energy most effectively.
When discovering more about Type A vs Type B personality traits, Type B tends to come across as the weaker, less dominant type. But it is not that straightforward.
Here are the foundational traits of a Type B personality:
- Passive – The opposite to Type A people, Type Bs are far more amenable and agreeable in their approach to work and life. They shy away from arguments and are often peacemakers.
- Patient – Due to their laid-back nature, they are quite happy to sit back and observe, making a plan rather than jumping straight in. This can, however, sometimes mean that they miss opportunities.
- Non-competitive – They are not bothered by what others are achieving and do not seek to be number 1.
- Creative – Type B people are thinkers and creatives. They enjoy the slower pace that gives their mind room to be imaginative and free.
While there is a tendency for Type B people to be more lukewarm in reactions and ambition, this does not make them any less valuable in the workplace. In fact, far from it – they have very strong interpersonal skills. Their patient, compassionate and creative approach can be a real strength.
However, they need to find a way of making themselves heard amongst the more assertive Type A personalities in their team. So, here are a few tips on how to achieve this:
- Offer solutions – If you have a great solution to a problem, don’t sit on it or talk yourself out of sharing it. Type Bs are known for their quiet ingenuity. You can be more assertive and proactive in pushing your idea forward without being aggressive.
- Give yourself targets – If you like to procrastinate (a big Type B trait), it’s a good idea to put in place a few realistic targets you must reach. Try them as part of your to-do list.
- Don’t put things off – As Mark Twain said, “Eat the frog” because it has to be done regardless of how little you like the task, so you may as well get it out of the way.
- Show your worth – It goes against the grain for most Type B people, but you need to practice singing your own praises; otherwise, you run the risk of getting overlooked for promotion. Something as simple as sharing customer praise with your line manager and providing regular updates on what you’ve achieved will help.
Imagine an office full of people on the extreme end of Type A. There would be no balance. It would be chaos with no Type Bs to mediate, bring people together and analyze the potential pitfalls of a project.
When employers look at Type A and Type B personality theory to help build their team, they’re not just looking for one person. They realize that a successful workforce relies on a mixture of different people and skills.
Type B people can add real value to a team by being:
- Meticulous – This trait may frustrate Type A personality people, but Type Bs may be able to see the flaws in an approach that others miss.
- Innovative – Spending time thinking creatively, Type B people can often offer a different perspective.
- Empathetic – They see when a colleague is struggling and will offer to help, making them excellent team players.
- Invested – They are invested in the overall outcome rather than their own goals and ambitions, so there’s no hidden motivation. As a result, they can be trusted to give an honest, unbiased opinion.
The jury’s out on an exact answer to this question.
Today’s employers see their employees more holistically than a Type A vs Type B personality.
If they are going to pre-screen a candidate for interview, they may use some form of personality testing loosely based on Type A vs Type B.
However, rather than deciding whether a person is a Type A or B, they are looking for specific attributes.
For example, the DISC psychometric test, which has its foundations in Type A vs Type B, is used by some employers to analyze an employee’s dominance, influence, conscientiousness and steadiness.
A candidate who scores highly on dominance, for example, could be someone the employer can rely on to push through tough decisions (more Type A). In contrast, a steady candidate will be friendly, empathetic and tend to the wellbeing needs of a team (more Type B).
However, the real benefit in understanding the Type A vs Type B personality construct is the insight it gives you as an individual. There’s nothing more powerful or liberating than seeing yourself through a critical lens and using this information to be more successful at work.
Whether you’re a Type A or Type B personality, there’s one thing you can be certain of: you have a lot to offer a potential or existing employer.
Having this level of self-awareness can be the one thing that makes you stand out from your peers and get hired!