Do you struggle to understand your boss? If you’re working for someone whose actions and demands are a source of frustration and confusion, the problem likely lies not in their behavior, but in your lack of understanding of the personality traits that influence their behavior.

For nearly a century, psychologists have been studying the science of personality. They’ve concluded that five traits, known as the Big 5, can be used accurately to understand people’s personalities and behaviors. They are:

  1. Openness
  2. Conscientiousness
  3. Extroversion
  4. Agreeableness
  5. Neuroticism

An easy way to remember the Big 5 is using the acronym OCEAN. Each of these traits are on a spectrum, and how high or low someone falls on these spectrums determines their personality. Learning your boss’s personality is the key to knowing what they need from you. To help me explain how, I asked my wonderful employee Danielle to decode my personality and share how you also can use personality science to better understand your boss.

Check it out:

Breaking Down Your Boss’s Personality

Openness

is your feeling and tendency to like new ideas. People who are high-open are curious and thrive on change. High-open bosses love brainstorming ways to improve, but can be side-tracked easily. So, you may want to focus on making sure they finish things.

Low-open bosses love structure and are resistant to change. To avoid overwhelming them, limit how frequently you share your new ideas, and when you do share them, focus on how they integrate into the systems that are already in place.

Conscientiousness

is how dependable you are and how much you like organization. If you have a boss who demands that every little detail is exactly as they want it and who is obsessed with to-do lists, they’re high conscientious. When working for this type of leader, you must be organized and detail-oriented to stay on their good side.

However, if you have a low conscientious boss, spare them any information that isn’t essential for them to know. They are big-picture oriented and would much rather focus on long-term growth than the specific steps you’re taking to complete a project.

Extroversion

is how your energy level is affected by people. Extroverts become more energized when they are around others, while introverts often find social situations draining and need alone time to recharge.

If you have a boss who frequently stops by your desk for light chats, they are likely an extrovert who depends on those interactions to feel their best. On the other hand, if you have a boss who keeps to themselves, know that they are probably an introvert who needs to be alone to focus. Only interrupt them during work hours for conversations that are relevant to what you are working on.

Agreeableness

is based on whether your gut instinct response to someone asking you for something is “Yes” or “No/I need to think about.” Highly agreeable bosses want to cooperate and make people happy in the moment. This often leads them to agreeing to things that they don’t always follow through on because they later realize it is not the best decision. To get an honest answer from a highly agreeable boss, give them the opportunity to disagree.

Low agreeable bosses are the exact opposite. They are hesitant to accept ideas that are not their own and have no problem shutting people down. If you want them to agree to something, support your requests with information proving your request is valid and give them time to think about your evidence before demanding a response.

Neuroticism

is your tendency to feel anxiety and how you process being worried. High neurotic bosses take longer to relax after stressful events and they constantly are worried about what-if scenarios. The best gift you can give a boss with this personality trait is thinking ahead and solving potential problems before they become a source of stress.

If you rarely see your boss stressed out, it’s likely they are a low-neurotic. Instead of doing things to keep them calm, focus on your own emotional stability at work. Since they are less emotional themselves, they may struggle to understand your anxiety and/or find it irritating.

Want to know your personality type?

Take the official 44-Question Test. You also should ask your boss and coworkers to take it so everyone on your team understands each other’s personality traits.

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About Vanessa Van Edwards

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Lead Investigator, Science of People

I'm the author of the national bestselling book Captivate, creator of People School, and behavioral investigator.

I’ve always wanted to know how people work, and that’s what Science of People is about. What drives our behavior? Why do people act the way they do? And most importantly, can you predict and change behavior to be more successful? I think the answer is yes.

More about Vanessa.

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