Dear Vicki: Last fall I hired a new salesman for our small tool and die company. Ivan came with a stellar track record, so I felt lucky to get him. And for the most part, he has proven to be excellent; our sales are way up. He is funny, very outgoing, and what in the old day we used to call a “live wire,” which I guess is part of what makes him so good at his job. Initially, he was well liked by most of our employees, but as time has passed, several people have come to me privately complaining that Ivan is “too much” or “demanding.” We’ve all ignored it, but lately I’ve considered firing him because he often exhibits inappropriate behavior and doesn’t seem to take the job seriously. There’s a right way and wrong way to do things, and making a sales call dressed like the Easter Bunny isn’t right. At least not for me. I discussed this with my wife, who studies the Five Elements, and she suggested I write you. She said she thinks Ivan is a Fire/Wood. I hate to lose the sales he generates, but he is starting to wear us all down. Signed: Bothered Boss
Dear Bothered Boss: Your wife has done you a great service by identifying Ivan’s elemental personality. Once we understand someone’s priorities based on their elemental personality, their behaviors make more sense. We can also begin to understand why they bother us, or in some cases, thrill us. Your wife didn’t pass along what she thought your primary element might be, but based on your letter I suspect you are a Metal personality. So let’s take a look at what might be going on between you, Ivan, and your staff.
As a Metal personality, you value order and propriety. In your letter you said: “There’s a right way and wrong way to do things.” This is pure Metal, as is a desire for structure and boundaries, and a need to honor them. But Ivan’s Fire won’t care one bit about boundaries or protocol. His Fire can be all over the map, often for the sake of being entertaining. Fires have very little structure. Think of it: In nature, Fire isn’t really physical; it is heat made visible. Trying to rope in a Fire can feel like an impossible task. So why is Ivan able to manage the structure necessary to keep a steady job? His saving grace is his secondary Wood energy. Wood is the second most structured element (after Metal), so that is what helps Ivan keep his act together, so to speak.
Dear Vicki: I’m writing about my husband. He’s a great guy and a good provider, but he’s always been a workaholic. He wanted to get ahead in his job and he did. He’s been the CEO of a small accounting firm for years, but now it’s in the midst of being taken over by a larger firm. Dan fought it, but the Board thought it was a good move, and it probably is for everyone except him; he’ll be out. Dan has always been a fighter, and his anger was a force to be reckoned with, but a few months ago that changed. Instead of an angry bull, now he’s sullen and withdrawn. I could manage his anger, but I’m not sure what to do with this. I’ve studied the Five Elements some and always thought Dan was a Wood personality, but now I’m not so sure. How can I help him? Signed: Worried Wife
Dear Worried: Dan is blessed to have such a caring wife. And while there is much you can do to help him, it goes without saying that he may also need the help of a professional counselor, so please do keep that in mind. Dan does sound like he has a Wood personality. The need for personal accomplishment accompanied with some form of recognition (title, financial rewards, visibility, etc.) does matter a great deal to Woods. They are most happy when they can keep moving toward that goal. But if something gets in their way, an out of balance Wood will succumb to anger. For them, the outward expression of anger still feels like movement, although it’s rarely very productive. In fact, the prolonged expression of anger usually ends up being counter-productive for the situation and harmful for Woods and the people closest to them. Few Woods actually want to be angry all the time and I think this is what’s driving Dan’s behavior right now. Let me explain.
When a Wood expresses anger, it’s usually because something they want to do or see happen isn’t unfolding as they would like. Woods in positions of authority often learn that the occasional angry outburst will motivate employees (and family members) to get things going to avoid additional outbursts of anger. Not a great management technique, but sadly successful in many cases. Fortunately, most Woods eventually come to the understanding that their anger isn’t doing anyone any good. When that happens, and the Wood realizes that nothing they do will get the desired results, if they are energetically balanced they will assess the situation and change tactics. But if they are unable to do this because they are either unbalanced or unable to find an alternative tactic, to avoid the continued expression of anger, a Wood can shut themselves down. And yes, this can look a lot like depression.
Dear Vicki: I work at our family car dealership and put in long hours. I’ve done what it takes to be the top salesperson most months and as the oldest son, I plan to inherit running the business when my parents retire. My sister also works here, but only part time, and does well selling. Frankly, selling comes more naturally to her (she’s outgoing and funny), but I work harder. Recently, her new husband lost his job managing an art gallery and started working here. No surprise, he’s failing miserably. He isn’t an outgoing person (which I find an absolute necessity for selling), and I’ve caught him reading at his desk instead of working his files. I don’t like him all that much – I have no idea what my sister sees in him – and now having to work with him every day is driving me nuts. He’s a slow, pondering guy who isn’t particularly charismatic (also important in selling) and seems to have brought the whole sales team down. Everyone’s sales are off, even mine! How do I get rid of him without upsetting my sister? Signed: Top Dog
Dear Top Dog: Well, you certainly are clear regarding what does and doesn’t work for you. Success and accomplishment clearly matter, which suggests that you’re a Wood personality. Woods are very much into individual accomplishment. They are also great planners and corporate ladder climbers. Your “plan” to inherit leadership of the family business also speaks to a Wood’s tendency to cast themselves in the lead because leadership equates to success in their worldview.
I suspect your sister is a Fire because the outgoingness and enthusiasm Fires have for almost everything makes them natural sales people. Your quiet, inner-directed brother-in-law who loves to read is probably a Water. And you are correct, Waters are rarely naturally good at sales; they really don’t like engaging with other people that much. Your desire to get rid of him is understandable, but that probably isn’t going to go over well with your sister, and possibly your parents. However, there are ways to help with your frustration, which by the way, is a very typical Wood response to something that isn’t going well. Let’s look at what’s playing out in your dealership relationships from a Five Elements perspective.
Dear Vicki: I am so lucky to have the greatest brother in the world. Jimmy has always been there for me and now I want to be there for him. He is a nurse at our local hospital and had been dating Tina (a lab tech there) for over a year. They seemed like total opposites to me – she’s hysterically funny and always ready to go out for a good time, Jimmy is a gentle, quiet homebody – but I guess they must have completed each other in some way. The year they were together was the happiest I have ever seen my brother. He mentioned he was going to propose to Tina, but the next thing I knew they had broken up. I’m not sure what happened, but Jimmy is super depressed and talking about leaving the hospital. What can I do to help him? Signed: Caring Sister
Dear Caring Sister: The end of a relationship is a difficult time for everyone involved. It will be especially hard for someone like your brother because, although you don’t mention it, I suspect he’s an Earth type of person. Most nurses have a lot of Earth energy and the fact that he is gentle and likes to spend time at home also suggests that he is a primary Earth. Caring for people and home are two big priorities for Earths. Long-term relationships are something else that matters deeply to Earths and I think this may be where Jimmy and Tina got into trouble. Tina sounds a lot like a primary Fire person. They usually laugh a lot and enjoy fun times out with friends. Connecting and creating relationships matter to Fires, too, but they don’t expect – or usually need – them to last. So while Jimmy and Tina both cared about connecting and relating, their expectations for the relationship would have been very different from the start.
What this means is that while Jimmy and Tina clearly enjoyed the time they spent getting to know each other, the purpose of that time together was likely very different for each of them. As a Fire, Tina would have seen the time as a fun connection with someone who was there for her and accepted her as she was. Earths do this for everyone, but it is very natural for them with Fires because, in the Five Elements model, Fire naturally flows to Earth via the Nurturing Cycle (the big circle in the model). In nature, the earthen hearth has always been the perfect receptacle for fire and it is no different with people. Earths usually find it especially easy to accept Fires for who and what they are.
Dear Vicki: For the past three years I’ve worked really hard to build my interior design company. We have had some pretty lean years but finally, during the last six months, the orders have started flying in. We have gone from not enough work to too much work seemingly overnight. And while that’s a great problem, my assistant has suddenly changed. Geri has been wonderful at keeping the office streamlined and tidy, paying bills (not always easy in bleaker times), and researching successful ways to promote our company. We used to joke back and forth in the office and even enjoyed occasional lunches together. Lately, however, her sense of humor is non-existent and she has taken an almost adversarial position with me. If I ask her to order something, she either ignores me or suggests something else that looks cheap to me. I’m really trying to ramp up my work as we grow and take on more clients, but I feel like she’s sabotaging me. I hate the thought of firing her, but what choice do I have? Signed: Frustrated in Franklin
Dear Frustrated: First, congratulations on the success of your business venture. These can be difficult times for start-up companies. It takes vision, determination, and hard work to create something out of seemingly nothing, traits that describe the Wood element perfectly. You don’t mention what element you think you are, but you have to have a good amount of Wood to do what you are doing. A key attribute of a primary Wood element is the need to succeed. And while that’s part of what kept you going during the hard times, you will probably not be satisfied with the success you have now. Your comment about “ramping up” your work suggests that you are hoping to keep things growing. A “bigger, better, more” approach to work is a very common Wood perspective.
On the other hand, Geri sounds like she could be a primary Metal element. “Streamlined and tidy” absolutely describes Metal people, as does the ability to research better ways of doing things. Metals are generally kind and supportive people who enjoy intellectual repartee as long as they feel things are under control. And therein lies what I think is your problem: the incredible growth of your company has probably created a work environment that feels a bit out of control for Geri. Metals need to feel in control, so they tend to clamp down to create the control they desire. And while this works well for Geri, it won’t feel good to you because of the dynamic between you.