How To Do Life

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The Angry, Intense, Rushed Person

Coping with a Type A Personality

Whether it’s you, a coworker, or a loved one, it can be challenging to deal with an angry, intense, rushed person, a so-called Type A personality.

I know because I have that predisposition but I've learned how to manage it. Here's what I do and what I think someone who has to cope with a Type A might be wise to do.

What is a Type A?

First, let’s be sure we’re clear on the kind of person I’m talking about. It’s a physiological tendency to overreact to stress. For example, if ten people were seated in a room and suddenly, an unexpected buzzer sounded, I’d be the one who most jumped out of his seat. That means that when something goes wrong, I secrete more adrenaline than most, I go from 0 to 60 in two seconds. That puts me at risk of unnecessarily saying something angrily or too bluntly. Fortunately, I’m not physically aggressive, so I don’t hit people, but I’d guess that a powerful adrenal gland is at the root of much physical violence.

Ironically, I exacerbate my physiological predisposition to impulsivity by endlessly craving more stimulation. I don’t take that so far as to do anything dangerous but I will, for example, tend to keep at an argument longer than most people would. I always drive in the left lane and, if I’m two minutes behind schedule, rush to make it up. That doesn’t take a toll on anyone else but no doubt does on me---I’m scared to find out what my cortisol level is—it’s probably bad.

Type A behavior has its advantages. For example, I get a lot done. But I certainly feel embarrassed when I say something impulsively, am intense enough to make people want a break from me, or my rushing leads to a mistake.

Managing Being a Type A

I’ve chosen a life that minimizes unpleasant surprises so few events are likely to trigger anger. I work at home, am my own boss, and have comfortable routines, which I follow pretty faithfully. I have chosen a wife and friends who are calm and reasonable so they rarely trigger me—and I stay with them: I know my best friend for more than 50 years. I’ve been with my wife for 41.

I’m aware of my risk times. For example:

  • I can get angry with a caller to my radio show who demeans me for something I said when in fact he’s wrong. So I prime myself in advance. I think, “The calmer I am with a foolish caller, the more respect I’ll earn from my listeners.” I also rehearse in my mind: I imagine myself responding authoritatively, crisply, but calmly.
  • Being late. While my adrenaline addiction gives me a silly pleasure—racing to make up the time, I realize that’s both unhealthy and depriving me of needed down time, so I try to leave a few minutes early---Alas, I often fail at that.
  • Lazy people. They used to drive me nuts. But I’ve grown more sympathetic to the human condition. I’m now better able to accept that just as I am physiologically predisposed to intensity, others—because of genes and/or environment---are, for example, torpid.

Dealing With a Type A

Understandably, most people avoid angry, rushed, intense types. But sometimes, you have to deal with one, at work or at home. Here are some thoughts on how to deal with a Type A like me:

  • Understand me. It may be reassuring to know when my voice is tinged with annoyance, I'm not as annoyed as I sound. That's just the physiological reaction. Occasionally--and now it really is just very occasionally--my adrenal gland gets the best of me but I calm down quickly. One other thing: I get bored when you ask me to chill. Please give me a little slack, just as you might want me to give you a little slack for your weaknesses. 

Of course, I’m not recommending, for example, that you tolerate violations of human decency, for example, verbal, let alone physical, assault. But often the Type A person’s intensity is more annoying than damaging. That’s also true of less obvious personality characteristics such as passivity. Justice will have been done if you give the Type A the amount of tolerance you’d want in response to your failings.

  • If you’re my boss, you might be wise to leave me alone to do my own work rather than put me on a team. I can get frustrated with teammates. The good news is that, left alone, I really work hard and can produce without supervision. If I need help, I will ask; I’m not reluctant to ask for help. But if you don’t micromanage me, we’ll both be happier.

We all deviate from the norm in some way. Especially in today’s tough times, maybe we should all be a little more tolerant of others’ and our own deviations.

Marty Nemko was named “The Bay Area’s Best Career Coach” by the San Francisco Bay Guardian and he enjoys a 96 percent client-satisfaction rate. In addition to his articles here on PsychologyToday.com, many more of Marty Nemko's writings are archived on www.martynemko.com. Of Nemko's seven books, the most relevant to readers of this blog is How to Do Life: What They Didn’t Teach You in School. His bio is on Wikipedia.

Marty Nemko is a career and personal coach based in Oakland, Ca. and the author of 7 books. 
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