Article

NextGen Know-How: How to Calm Type A Tendencies

Tired African-American business woman with headache at office
Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CPCC, PHR Photo
Executive Coach/Consultant
Envision Excellence

7 minutes

Embrace the strengths of your personality traits and learn to see the benefits of others.

I've often admired people who are flexible and laid back; who have a more carefree approach to life and live in the moment. I know I can benefit from a dose of that approach, although I'll admit those traits often trigger my Type A tendencies. I like to seize the day, get a lot done, check things off my list, and feel a sense of accomplishment.

When I took the StrengthsFinder assessment years ago, one of my top talents was "Achiever." An achiever is described as someone who is driven, has an internal fire, and has a need to achieve something tangible every day (yes, even on weekends). And while this talent has served me very well, it can also be a source of frustration and stress.

Indeed, any strength overused can become a liability.

Over the years, I've learned to manage the negative side of achievement and channel that strength in a productive way. Achievement is just one of the "Type A" tendencies I have that can rear its ugly head and send me into a state of overwhelm that can show up as snippiness and impatience.

So how do you know if you have Type A tendencies?

While this is in no way a formal definition, if the statements below sound familiar, you may be Type A.

  • If you get anxious when you are not early to an appointment (or worse, even one minute late), you are probably Type A.
  • If your mind is always racing and you don't relax very well (who has time to relax?), you are probably Type A.
  • If you've ever had your three-year-old tell you, "Mommy, you're always rushing!" while you frantically try to get her buckled into her car seat so you can make your 8 a.m. meeting, you are probably Type A.
  • If you've ever thought of sending one of your doctors a bill for your time because you had to wait well past your appointment, you are probably Type A.
  • If you have a stack of reading material in your office and feel behind (and guilty) for not reading every article, you are probably Type A.
  • If you have a to-do list on the weekends (because how would you get anything done otherwise?), you are probably Type A.

If the above statements resonate with you ... congratulations! You are most likely very driven, accomplished and respected. These traits are important for success and, when channeled in a positive manner, they can yield significant success. But if you have ever felt like these tendencies cause a great amount of stress and anxiety in your life, then read on.

From my own experience having these tendencies as well as coaching Type A leaders, I can definitively say that you can lead a fulfilling, semi-calm, enjoyable life. Although you may never be perpetually carefree and laid back, you can learn to dial down the negative effects and create moments of calm and stillness.

Below are six strategies for calming your Type A tendencies and channeling them productively.

Accept your gifts. Type A tendencies are a gift. Really. It may not always feel like it, and others may not see it that way, but when you channel these tendencies in a productive way, they can be extremely beneficial. Type A leaders are masters of organization and getting things done. They value time and productivity, and can keep a team moving forward toward organizational goals. So accept your strengths.

Start noticing when these traits create a positive impact and when they create a negative impact. By noticing your impact on others, you can direct these strengths in a positive way and avoid overuse before they become negative. For example, being on time is important to me. My husband, who is much more laid back, is not as time conscious. When I don't control my negative tendencies, I show up as a time Nazi who rushes my family out the door in a complete frenzy. I've learned to recognize when these tendencies are bubbling up and to approach situations more calmly. Half an hour before we need to leave, I will gently and calmly remind my family what time it is, and that we need to be ready in 30 minutes. The nicer approach almost always works.

Create rituals. I have found that people with Type A tendencies typically thrive when there is structure and order. Use this to your advantage. Create a morning routine that allows you to have some down time and space before you hit the ground running. Create an evening routine that allows you some time to decompress and relax before bed. Have a pen and a notepad in your bedroom, kitchen, car and anywhere else where you might need to write down the things that are swirling around in your head. Create your priorities list the night before so you know what to jump into when you arrive at work in the morning. Schedule recurring coaching sessions with each of your employees so they are in place for the year.

Creating structure or systems are ways that you can direct your energies in a positive way. Structure creates freedom; it allows you to compartmentalize what you are working on so your mind is not overloaded. Having a planner or notebook for capturing your thoughts and action items can be enormously helpful in keeping your mind clear so you can focus at a more strategic level.

Take a pause. Some of the best advice I've ever heard is to "slow down to speed up." These days, most people feel overwhelmed at work and feel like they need to speed up to get everything done. Yet that is the exact opposite of what works. Speeding up only adds to the chaos and leads to more mistakes and stress. Slowing down and taking frequent pauses to assess what you are doing helps you to be more purposeful about your work, so you can actually accomplish more.

Start your day by taking 15 minutes to review your goals and how you will spend your time. Pause before you start every meeting to set the intention and goals of the meeting. If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, it's probably because you have too many things racing in your mind. Stop and ask yourself, "What is the most important thing I need to be doing right now?" This question allows you to gain clarity so you can focus.

Create boundaries. Again, leaders with Type A tendencies tend to thrive with structure, so use your organizational skills to create boundaries where you know you need them. Have clear boundaries for when you start and stop work. I know one CEO who deleted access to her work email from her iPhone so she wouldn't feel the need to check it constantly. One boundary I have created is to never have my phone in my bedroom at night. When I go upstairs to start my evening ritual, which usually includes meditation (yes, Type As are capable of meditating!) and reading, my phone stays in the kitchen. This way, I am not tempted to check it or get pulled into Facebook for a half hour. If you do feel the need to do work on weekends, set aside a specific time each weekend that you designate to work so that you can focus the rest of your time on your family.

Prioritize what's important. If you have Type A tendencies, you may get caught up in checking small things off your list because you feel a sense of achievement. You may put off more important tasks that take longer and more energy. Many achievers struggle to fit in important areas like health, exercise and relaxation time. I used to prioritize work over my health until my doctor told me I was pre-diabetic. That was the wake-up call I needed. I now make exercise, yoga and meditation a priority, and I see the difference in my energy and stamina.

Recognize the gifts in others. When you have Type A tendencies, it may feel challenging to work (and live) with others who do not share the same traits. You may feel frustrated and annoyed when others don't have the same sense of urgency or stamina that you do. Yet it's important to notice the gifts in other personality traits. My more relaxed husband has taught me that not everything is urgent and that there is value in slowing down and enjoying life. My more flexible friend can give me perspective when I get anxious over something not going the way I wanted. Others have a lot to offer, and different traits can be very helpful in balancing ours.

This month is the 10-year anniversary of my first date with my husband. I remember standing in front of the restaurant when he texted me that he was running late. Twenty-five minutes late, to be exact.

Luckily I waited, because I would have missed out on something really great.

Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CPCC, PHR, is a certified executive coach, leadership consultant and founder of Envision Excellence, LLC in the Washington, D.C., area. Her mission is to create exceptional cultures by teaching leaders how to be exceptional. Maddalena facilitates management and executive training programs and team-building sessions and speaks at leadership events. Prior to starting her business, she was an HR executive at a $450 million credit union. Contact her at 240.605.7940 or lmaddalena@envisionexcellence.net.

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