Type A or Type B: Which one are you?

Are you one of those highly driven, goal-oriented, tightly focused , ambitious, controlling, competitive Type A’s? Or are you a more laid back, patient, “live-and-let-live” Type B?

All of us probably know exactly the type of officer that Tim was talking about and can name example after example from among our colleagues.  In fact, I’m sure a lot of you readily admit to being just that officer yourself and probably wonder how a cop could be any other way.  I have heard said many times the belief that, “All cops have type A personalities… they have to in order to be successful at this job“ from inside the profession and out, or that if an officer wasn’t a Type A to begin with then the characteristic traits would surely develop soon enough, or even that there is no room in this job for the far more easy-going Type B’s.  I completely disagree with all these sentiments. 

As someone proudly and comfortably of the predominantly Type B persuasion – and who does pretty well as a cop despite the affliction of this terrible “handicap” – I take exception to the belief that only Type A’s can succeed as LEOs.  Moreover, I know plenty of others like me who do just fine in this job.  The truth is, ours is a profession that can encompass varied and eclectic personalities.  There is certainly a value in the hard-charging Type A’s among us, without a doubt, but what price might they pay if they are not careful?

Type A or Type B:  Which one are you?

The practice of dividing personalities into two categories of “Type A” and “Type B” originated over 50 years ago after two cardiologists, Drs Meyer Friedman and Mike Jordan, had conducted a decade long study of healthy men between the ages of 35 and 59 to examine coronary risk factors.  One group of men, whom they categorized and labeled Type A, was found to be at twice the risk of developing heart disease.  Now, it should be noted that Friedman and Jordan’s research methodology and conclusions have been widely criticized – their sampling was poorly conceived and executed, their conclusions too broad, and confounding factors received scant attention among, other concerns – and are actually considered obsolete insofar as the original intent of the research.  Further, there exist well-constructed and far more scientifically sound and comprehensive personality inventories (such as the Jungian-based Myers-Briggs test that was developed contemporaneous to Friedman and Jordan’s work, and that divides personality typologies into sixteen categories).  Nonetheless, their work did help usher in the important field of health psychology and their terms “Type A” and “Type B” have become part of our cultural lexicon and still maintain value as easily understood, if rough, categorizations of personality archetypes.

The Type A personality is typically characterized as ambitious and achievement-oriented, businesslike and focused, competitive and often aggressive, controlling, and status-conscious.  They hold high standards for themselves and the people around them and can be intense in their insistence these standards be met.  Of course, being ambitious or focused on achievement is not, in itself, a bad thing.  There is value to being businesslike, and competition has certain intrinsic value.  There is nothing inherently wrong with possessing these Type A personality traits as long as they do not become dysfunctional!  The problem is their tendency toward inordinate stress and anxiety and the negative impact they can have.

In a subsequent book (Type A Behavior: Its Diagnosis and Treatment) Friedman reports three common and significant symptoms of maladaptive behavior associated with this personality type.  These are: free-floating, easily triggered hostility, impatience causing frequent irritation, and an overdeveloped competitive drive resulting in stress and an “achievement-driven” mentality; they will even invent competition with others where none existed.  When these symptoms appear they can have a wide-ranging negative impact on both physical and emotional health, interpersonal relationships, job performance, and even unrelated people within the Type A’s sphere of influence.  Friedman and Jordan’s research may not have been perfect in making their original point, but they may have prescient in other ways, as those who’ve been caught up in the wave of destruction an out-of-control Type A can leave behind will attest.

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