Birth Order's Bottom Line

Oldest, youngest, middle, only...theories abound about how a person's place within the family birth order affects intelligence, ambition, personality and future relationships. 

Birth Order in the Workplace

Birth order in the workplace.

Research shows that birth order has a lot of influence on how we behave in the workplace. Whether we like it or not, we unconsciously create a family environment at work. Sometimes it resembles our personal family dynamic and sometimes it resembles the ideal family dynamic we never had.

In the May/June 2011 issue of Psychology Today, the Insights section covered the Power of Birth Order. In summary, "Parents tend to pour their resources into the first born, ensuring that they have the best in life. Thus their IQ is 3 points higher then their siblings...Middle born tend to be unbiased and levelheaded, leading them to careers that involve negotiation. They are well-suited for positions in management and politics...Last born in families with three children typically are tender and altruistic, perhaps because he or she gets babied."

I study humans in the workplace and have come across many individuals that fall into the typical scenario of First, Middle, and Last born children; however, I wanted to gain a deeper understanding on the science behind birth order.

I've heard of Dr. Kevin Leman's research and decided to read his book titled The Birth Order Book.  Dr. Leman spent over thirty-five years as a psychologist studying birth order and is the world-renowned expert on this topic. His book provided insights on how one can predict an individual's birth order. 

Having the ability to predict someone's birth order provides you with a competitive advantage in understanding how to work with the individual. For example, first born tend to be governed by punctuality, structure, and power whereas last born are more comfortable with ambiguity and tend to go with the flow. Neither is good nor bad but it allows you to know how to best approach each individual at work.

The following will provide you with an overview of how your birth order impacts you at work. For further information on birth order, I highly encourage you to read The Birth Order Book. It's easy to read and doesn't follow the traditional academic writing style.

First-born (or Only Child)

First born are perfectionists, reliable, conscientious, list makers, well-organized, natural leaders, critical, and serious. These qualities are typically attributed to mom or dad unconsciously placing the firstborn into a leader role by saying, "You're a big boy now and you have to look out for your younger brother." - like my mom used to say to me.

Conversely, only children are very thorough, deliberate, self-motivated, black-and-white thinkers, fearful, and cautious. Only children never have to compete with siblings for personal attention, which makes them more confident and articulate; however, they struggle with the concept of having brothers or sisters resulting in being self-centered.

In the workplace, first born and only children have strength in being known as straight thinkers, organized, and goal setters.

The Middle Child

Tends to be a mediator, diplomatic, avoids conflict, loyal to peers, has many friends, and is independent.

At work, they are skilled at mediating disputes, willing to work things out, and can be trusted with sensitive information.

Last-born

Typically are manipulative, charming, blames others, attention seekers, natural salesperson, engaging, affectionate, etc.

In the workplace, they are able to read others well and know how to work well one on one or in small groups. They are caring. Always wanting to help, and are easy to talk too.

Most of what I just shared really depends on the family unit. Dr. Leman explains that if siblings are born 5 or more years apart, the Firstborn status gets recycled. In part, it has to do with the amount of years the parents had to take care of a newborn. 

He further explained that first born characteristics may be suppressed if a first born has a first born mother and father; as a result, the first born may rebel and act like a last born and the last born may take on the first born characteristics.

Overall, whether we have siblings or not, the dynamics we experience as a child tend to manifest itself in the workplace. Many studies have shown that people would prefer to make less money and work with people they like versus making more money and working with people they dislike. What do you think?

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Bernardo Tirado, PMP
    @thePMObox

Bernardo covers leadership and technology for PsychologyToday.com.   In addition to being an industrial psychologist, he’s certified as a Six Sigma Blackbelt, Project Management Professional, Body Language Expert, and is a Train-the-Trainer in Analytical Interviewing.