Multiple Personalities

A study by Glasgow University and Paisley University in the UK that revealed one in three office workers regularly suffer from quot;e-mail stressquot; as they are swamped with messages leaving them tired, frustrated and even unproductive. Who'd have guessed that without years of research?

I recently endured another team-building, personality-rating exercise that again tagged me as an Introvert, which explains why I dislike team building exercises. This feeling was not improved when I got back to my desk to trawl through another half day of e-mails that accumulated in my absence. E-mail is, to paraphrase a quote from that great American philosopher Homer Simpson about alcohol, "the cause of, and solution to, all life's (communication) problems". E-mail is also, I have discovered, the truest indicator of personality type.

Like psychologists such as Myers, Briggs and Goldberg, my Personality Type E(mail) theory has been developed over many long hours mdash; well, at least four, anyway.

The E-type Index, which I won't call EI due to confusion with Equine Influenza or lawsuits from the Emotional Intelligence crowd, comprises three ratings based on how individuals respond to, handle and use e-mail.

Response to E-mail

How a person responds and reacts to e-mail provides the first indicator. Its traits are Stress, Power, Attentiveness and Necessary evil mdash; or SPAN, since it's mandatory to have a catchy acronym.

Stress is the most common trait, according to a study by Glasgow University and Paisley University in the UK that revealed one in three office workers regularly suffer from "e-mail stress" as they are swamped with messages leaving them tired, frustrated and even unproductive. Who'd have guessed that without years of research?

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Power response people are those who use e-mail to assert their sense of importance, adding the word Urgent irrespective of its relevance and copying the world whenever they do anything good.

Attentive people are those who constantly monitor their inbox, looking immediately at each e-mail as it arrives, though doing nothing with it. Attentives assume everyone else is similarly glued to their computer, so frequently send e-mails about events occurring in the next hour, like last minute meeting cancellations and cakes arriving in the tearoom.

The Necessary evil people regard e-mail as another life admin task, like brushing teeth or washing the dog, and therefore check e-mail only when other useful, valuable activities allow time. They realize that anything important will be communicated in person or by phone, so regard e-mail only as background or historic information.

Handling of E-mail

Handling traits give information about a person's organizational orientation, indicated by the PATH used to file e-mails.

Personal-oriented users file e-mails by the sender's name Activity-oriented users file according to the subject or topic Time-oriented users file by the date sent Holistic-oriented users keep everything in one big folder, which includes those who leave all e-mails in the Inbox.

Those who delete every e-mail as soon as they're read are both Holistic and Envied. I did hear of one user who didn't know how to create folders, so filed everything in the Recycle Bin. He's in the subclass Dis-oriented.

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Use of E-mail

Usage traits are determined by the types of e-mails that an individual sends. These traits are Conversation, Recreation, Avoidance and Protection, but I may need to find new names due to the unfortunate acronym.

Conversational users are those who use e-mail in the same way as talking to someone. They send long chatty e-mails, each containing smiling, frowning or winking emoticons, plus send immediate replies to replies, treating e-mail as an instant message system.

Recreational users forward jokes and Web pages created by people with a sense of humour. It is this group that sends those earnest 4P e-mails (Positive / Powerful / Poignant / Prayers), keeping alive the chain letter tradition, even though to everyone else these e-mails resolve to a single P: Pointless.

Avoidance individuals use e-mail as a barricade to fend off the world. They exploit the passive aggressive nature of one-way communication by demanding actions and answers while avoiding taking action or giving answers, other than forwarding e-mails for others to answer and action.

Protectionists treat e-mail as a source of evidence to cover themselves in case something goes wrong. These users can be identified by their passive writing style (it was revealed to me that . . . ) and by sending confirmation e-mails after every conversation.

E-Type Index

Clearly, no single trait fully describes an individual, as everyone's type is a different proportion of all the above groups. This statement is always added to personality tests as a disclaimer of why none of them exactly fits anyone, relieving its proponents of having to justify the inherent inaccuracies.

The Personality Type E(mail) Index is displayed as three pairs in Upper and lower case combinations using the form Rx/Hx/Ux, as this looks the most scientific.

The combination of Response SPAN, Handling PATH and Usage CRAP yields an impressive 64 possible traits, far outstripping Myers-Briggs with only 16 preferences or the paltry Five Factor Model. The benefit of my system is you are likely to be the only person with your combination in the office, so can feel unique and therefore special. As is everyone.

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Dealing with Other Types

Contrary to how poorly instructed facilitators attempt to teach them, personality tests are not primarily designed to tell you about yourself. If you want to be told that you're a thoughtful, caring, sometimes amusing person with occasional bouts of stress and self-doubt, buy a cheap astrology book. If you identified at all with that previous description, you can see how easy it is to write cheap astrology books.

The real purpose of any such test is to help you interact with and relate to people of different personality types. It would be far more useful (to me) if everyone else could learn his or her E-type to work out how best to relate to me. My E-type Index is Rs/Ht/Ua (which I mention only to compel you to reread this article, since these terms are impossible to remember). In the absence of your training, I'm happy to offer a few tips on relating to my Index type.

Urgent means urgent to an Ra (Responder Attentive). So, if an e-mail is urgent, punch my number into the phone and tell me the urgent news rather than sending me an e-mail marked Urgent. Don't ring me to ask if I got the e-mail mdash; ring to ask the question you planned to e-mail me about.

Don't request a Read Receipt from a Up (User Protectionist). I won't accept your responsibilities by clicking Send Receipt, leaving you wondering why I never seem to get your e-mails.

Before you send jokes to an Ur (User Recreational), make sure they are funny, original (as opposed to Ronald Reagan jokes recycled as Bush jokes), contain YouTube links rather than 12MB attached videos and not littered with the >> indent symbols.

Space doesn't allow me to fully cover all aspects of the Personality Type E(mail), however, I will be developing it into a full training course coming soon to an office near you. For $3000 per participant, this course will not only reveal your E-type Index, but provide a companion student workbook containing numerous colourful pie-charts, all E-types described in single snapshot paragraphs and a complex, incomprehensible matrix which is the key to the whole theory. That warm glow of knowing who you really are (in 100 words or less) will linger with you as you file your workbook next to all the other untouched workbooks from previous courses.

Now, I really must get back to my Inbox to read my new e-mails, forward them to someone else and file them under Today.

Bruce Kirkham is a veteran IT satirist and professional speaker ­specializing in leading edge technologies and scepticism, who views the IT industry not so much as "dot com" as "dot comedy"

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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