Integrating Seemingly Opposite Personality Traits for High Performance and Success

Last Saturday, I published a post about “being” goals. These are the personality traits that you cultivate to achieve your “doing” and “having” goals.

In the same post, I shared the big five personality traits, the 13 virtues of Benjamin Franklin, and a list of 600+ primary personality traits. Those lists should help you come up with your own list of personality traits to cultivate.

Today, I’ll discuss two approaches to personality traits, duality and integration. Our default approach is duality. Learning and using integration will significantly enhance our success with our “being” goals.

Let’s discuss both approaches and see their impacts on our personality.

Duality

Our default thinking is based on duality. In this pattern, we see the world in opposites.

  • Black and white
  • Light and dark
  • Good and bad

If we look at the big five personality traits, we would see two opposites in each category.

  • Openness: curious vs. cautious
  • Conscientiousness: organized vs. careless
  • Extroversion: introvert vs. extrovert
  • Agreeableness: friendly vs. challenging
  • Neuroticism: nervous vs. confident

Studies show us that conscientious, extrovert, and non-agreeable people are more successful in their careers.

An average career consultant would tell you to be conscientious and extrovert, and stop being so agreeable.

They’d think that you can be either organized or careless, an introvert or an extrovert, and friendly or challenging.

The world is more nuanced than that.

Integration

In the integration approach, we define qualities independent of each other. We don’t describe them as opposites of each other.

The best analogy to explain integration is music. You can define tones as bass or treble. You might think that they are the opposites of each other. In reality, they are tones with different frequencies.

Would you call a song bass or treble? You wouldn’t. A decent song includes sounds from a wide range of frequencies. The volume of the sounds from each frequency range varies throughout the song. A song is a composition of a variety of volume and frequency over time.

Now, let’s use the same analogy in personality traits.

Agreeableness

Agreeableness is a great example to explain integration.

Let’s say you’re friendly and compassionate and not challenging and detached. In this case, your approach would be like a song that includes only treble sounds and no bass sounds. Would you like to listen to such a song? I wouldn’t.

If you go to your average executive coach, they’d tell you to stop being friendly and compassionate and become challenging and detached. What kind of a song would that be? All bass sounds, but no treble? Who would like that?

The art is to add the traits of being challenging and detached to the mix as needed. If you’re a manager, you need to be detached once in a while and make the decision of firing someone. That doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly and compassionate when you share this decision with the related person.

Being friendly doesn’t mean not challenging someone when they’re making a mistake.

Extroversion

A challenging example to grasp is extroversion.

When I was in the college, I’d like to have a team of introverts and extroverts in our project team. The introverts would develop the project and the extroverts would do the necessary presentations.

The same approach is used in companies. On the one hand, you have the introverted engineers and on the other hand, the extroverted salespeople. You need both groups to succeed as a company.

If you could integrate both traits and use them whenever they’re necessary, you’d be unstoppable in your career.

Neuroticism

Integrating neuroticism is a hard example to grasp.

  • Who would like to be nervous?
  • What kind of a value would nervousness would add?
  • Isn’t nervousness the exact opposite of confidence?

To understand this, think about your typical college class. You have a professor who isn’t a bit nervous, because they know the topic inside out and gave the same lesson a dozen times before.

How would you feel at the end of such a class? Back in the day, I’d be bored and sleepy, because there wouldn’t be a bit of tension in the class.

In contrast, think about a student giving a presentation about their term project. They’d fail or pass as a result of this presentation. How would you feel during such a performance? It would be intense, wouldn’t it?

We need nervousness at some points in our lives.

Being nervous 24/7 would be an overkill, but at critical moments like giving a presentation or a meeting, being nervous increases the amount of energy our body produces. It’s up to us to channel that energy constructively.

Nervousness isn’t the opposite of confidence. It’s a physical state when your body gets into overdrive and produces high amounts of energy. You can be confident and nervous at the same time.

You need to be confident and nervous at the same time at critical moments.

You need to believe that you can succeed at the challenge at hand and at the same time, you need all the energy that your body can produce.

The next time you feel nervous, stop trying to calm down. Instead, focus on increasing your confidence and focus the energy that your body produces on the task at hand.

Conclusion

We tend to see the world in opposites. This perception of reality doesn’t serve us when we cultivate our desired personality traits.

Integration is a better approach than duality. In this approach, we cultivate the desired traits without trying to suppress our existing traits.

We see our personality as the composition of a variety of traits. We use each trait whenever it is necessary without trying to suppress others.

As a result, we develop a strong personality that performs well in variety of situations and success becomes inevitable.

Burak Bilgin
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly roundup of my latest posts.

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