Love, Analytics and The Biology of You at Work

Romantic love, big data analytics and. . . your personality at work? There is a correlation.

Romantic love, big data analytics and . . . your personality at work? There is a correlation. And understanding it could help you communicate better with colleagues, bosses and clients -- and get ahead.

A biological anthropologist and professor at Rutgers University, Helen Fisher has studied romantic love for thirty years. A leading expert in her field, by 2005 she’d written four books on the subject. That was about the time she was approached by the executive team of the online dating site, The CEO’s question to her: “Why do you fall in love with one person and not the other?”

Fisher was stumped. In her research, she puts people in brain scanners to study why we’re all alike. She knew that we tend to fall in love with someone from the same socioeconomic background, with the same level of intelligence and good looks, the same religious and social values. “But you can walk into a room and everybody’s from your ethnic and socioeconomic background, with the same general level of intelligence, same values, and you don’t fall in love with all of them,” Fisher told me. “So there has got to be more to it.”

That’s what was asking: Why are we all different (in love)? The answer led Fisher on a path to map personalities at work.

First, she designed a questionnaire that (a division of customers could answer to determine whom they are best suited for an introduction to, utilizing a basic understanding of the brain’s systems. That is, while there are many that govern basic functions like breathing or blinking, there are only four systems that are linked with personality traits: dopamine, serotonin, testosterone and estrogen.

Twelve million people have taken the questionnaire in 40 countries (domestically on and internationally on and about 30,000 people take it every week, says Fisher, who has utilized analytics to determine broad behavioral categories. “With so many people taking this questionnaire, I’ve really been able to apply all kinds of algorithms to my understanding of the brain -- my understanding of neurotransmitters and hormones -- to measure aspects of personality.”

In graphing the personality traits of 178,000 people -- a subset of the survey takers -- Fisher found a correlation between certain personality traits and the four personality-linked brain systems:

  • 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

How do these categories apply to your role at work? Fisher believes that once you get to know some of the basic biology of a colleague’s personality, you can use your understanding of that style to reach them in places where they really live.

The Biology of Our Leaders

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She calls it the Biology of Leadership and Fisher has used it in her work with a number of companies -- Deloitte, Procter & Gamble, Harpo Entertainment -- to help them understand themselves, their colleagues and their clients.

Fisher’s advice: Understand who you are, and whom you are dealing with. If your boss, employee, client or colleague is an:

  • Explorer: You should present your ideas in an exciting way. “They don’t want ten 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.”

Some of the challenges in business are in understanding who you’ve hired, who you are putting in various positions, and who you are working with, according to Fisher.

“We tend to take everything personally,” she says. “ ‘Oh, he doesn’t like me because he’s an impossible person.’ Well, he doesn’t like you because he doesn’t understand who you are. If you could make some changes, at least when you’re around that person, he’ll understand you and in the long run, you’ll be more effective -- and he or she will be more effective too.”