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 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: In your blog posts you’ve discussed control and what it means relative to the Five Elements model. I understand the theory that control is important to maintain balance and that each element has an element that is meant to control it. But in reality, this control stuff can be a problem. I’m a Fire person and whenever I’m around a Metal person, (someone who seems uptight and rigid to me), I can’t help getting super fiery with them. Sometimes that means I panic, but usually it means I flirt or go overboard with sharing way too much, too soon. I know Fire is meant to control Metal, but can we sense that we’re “meant to control” someone and react without thinking? This has become a real problem lately because my new boss is a Metal guy and I’m having a hard time not coming off as inappropriate. Help! Signed: Fire in Frisco
Dear Fire: The quick answer to your great question is yes, we can sense when we are around someone on our Controlling Cycle. But we can also sense when we are around someone on our Nurturing Cycle. And we can oftentimes sense if either are manifesting a balanced version of their primary element, or are out of balance. This is usually very unconscious and is part of the apparent mystery behind instantly liking or disliking someone when we meet them. The state of their primary element, and how it relates to our primary element, are very subtle aspects of the like/dislike dynamic we have all experienced.
Our elemental wiring is a core part of our personalities. As we discussed in a post last February, our primary elements are just like tuning forks. Ting a tuning fork and other tuning forks will always respond. At an elemental level, we will resonate in harmony with an element on our Nurturing Cycle and can sense a slight disharmony around an element on our Controlling Cycle. And honestly, sometimes what we sense around someone on our Controlling Cycle can be more than a slight sense of discomfort, depending on whether they control us or we control them.
Dear Vicki: In your recent post to Angry in Alaska, you mentioned that if a Metal person senses too much Wood energy in someone, the Metal will automatically want to “prune” that Wood. Is this true for all Controlling Cycle relationships? I’m a Fire and seem to have fallen in love with a Water. Jenna is serious and can be moody, but she’s also an amazingly creative author who has several published novels. We’ve been together for a few years now and I’ve noticed that when I’m dancing and having a great time at a party, Jenna does seem to throw water on my flames by saying something mean or cutting. It’s like she can barely tolerate me. When I ask her about it later, she acts like she doesn’t know what I’m talking about. I love her, but it feels bad to be insulted in front of friends, even if I might have been a bit wild. Is this something Jenna does automatically because see thinks my Fire is out of control? If so, how do Controlling Cycle relationships ever last? Signed: Drowning in Downey
Dear Drowning: The quick answer to your question is that Controlling Cycle relationships last because we all need the balancing affect of control in our lives. Too much of anything, even something as wonderful as fun and laughter, isn’t good for us. Too much of anything is, by definition, a loss of balance and the Five Elements model is all about maintaining balance. The Controlling Cycle is the way the model addresses too much of something, while too little of something is addressed via the Nurturing Cycle. These reducing and building tendencies translate to our relationships, too. But in a culture where more always seems better than less, Controlling Cycle connections can seem harsh. Yet they are just as great a gift as a Nurturing Cycle connection. Sometimes, even more.
In your case, too much Fire can and will burn you out. In nature, fire has very little structure; it’s actually just heat made visible. At a personality level this lack of structure manifests as a tendency to have fewer boundaries than the other elements. Interestingly, as a Water, Jenna doesn’t have great boundaries herself. But water in nature is definitely more solid than fire, so Jenna will have more structure than you do. And her gift to you is to cool you down before you burn yourself out. She may do this in ways that seem mean – and we will come back to that in a minute – but she really can be acting in your best interest.