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What Online Dating Can Teach You About Being a Better Boss

It may sound like a fluffy topic, but insights about personality discovered by online dating companies can be helpful to business owners, according to the MIT Sloan Management Review.

Online dating may be a good source of anecdotes to entertain your friends, but meeting people online hardly sounds like the sort of weighty subject that could help you better your business.

But the folks at the MIT Sloan Managament Review Improvisations blog beg to differ. A recent post by Renee Boucher Ferguson argues the insights into personality types and compatibility developed by a scientist (yup, there is such a thing) can actually benefit business owners looking to be better leaders.

The post outlines the work of biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, who put her expertise on how people pair off to work at, developing a questionnaire to help daters find compatible partners on, a division of Match. The questionnaire is based on the four basic brain systems—dopamine, serotonin, testosterone and estrogen—and determines which of these systems is dominant in an individual. Using this data, test takers are sorted into four types:

  • Explorers are curious, novelty seeking, spontaneous, creative and open-minded, expressive of the dopamine system.
  • Directors are analytical, tough minded, decisive, focused and independent, expressive of the high testosterone system.
  • Negotiators are contextual thinkers, imaginative, intuitive, empathetic and nurturing, expressive of the estrogen system.
  • Builders are conventional, orderly, concrete, respectful of the rules and loyal, expressive of the serotonin systems.

So far, so similar to a fun quiz in Cosmopolitan. What does this have to do with entrepreneurs? Fisher claims that your team falls into the same basic biological types. And while you're not looking to fall in love with them, by identifying which system dominates for each employee, you can better motivate and manage them. Boucher Ferguson explains using quotes from her conversation with Fisher:

Explorer: You should present your ideas in an exciting way. "They don’t want 10 slides. They want the big idea right up front." Explorers are willing to go with the flow, take risks and be very theoretical.

Director: You need to get to the point, even be skeptical. Sit in a relaxed position that expresses power, since Directors want you to be powerful the way they are. "I wouldn’t express a great deal of emotion. I wouldn’t be overly nice; I wouldn’t smile too much. They’ll think you’re weak if you’re too nice."

Negotiator: You should look them in the face, lean forward, be authentic. "They tend to see the big picture. They have a holistic, long-term synthesizing view that tends to be imaginative, mentally flexible. They can tolerate ambiguity. They tend to seek harmony, and they have what I call diplomatic intelligence."

Builder: You should present material in an orderly fashion. They need all the charts and tables; they need to be meticulous. "They don’t want drama or exaggeration."

This approach has apparently been used by Fisher at big companies like Deloitte, Procter & Gamble, and Harpo Entertainment. And Fisher isn't the only expert peddling the idea that personality types are key to better interactions—blogger Penelope Trunk, for example, is a huge proponent of knowing your and others' Myers-Briggs personality type.

Do you think these sorts of personality systems are actually useful or are you skeptical that they have much practical value?

Last updated: Jan 30, 2013


Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.

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