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: 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: I need help with my best friend who has really changed. Tammy and I have been close since grade school, but things are really different since she got married. She used to be a real carefree kind of girl, but when she started dating Fred, that changed. They just got married (I thought it was too soon, we’re all only 19), but they say they’re in love. Anyway, Fred is a super-serious person (personally, I think he’s a boring, demanding snob) and I’m afraid he’s changing Tammy. She’s withdrawn from me and seems cold and critical. I’ve only been invited over to their new apartment once. The Five Elements model is new to me (my mom shared it with me), but since Tammy is a great artist (and sometimes moody), maybe she’s a Water? Mom says I’m an Earth. Can you help me get my best friend back? Signed: Lonely in Louisiana
Dear Lonely:The transition from childhood to adulthood is rarely easy. I agree with you that 19 years old seems young to make the serious commitment of marriage, but I know dozens of couples that married young and grew old together. I also know many young couples that were unable to make marriage work and simply grew apart as they continued growing up. It’s understandable that you will feel “displaced” as Tammy’s closest connection now that she’s married; that is also part of growing up. However, if we are wise, we don’t replace people in our life when we marry, we make room for more. Hopefully, Tammy will learn this, but until then I do think there is something specific you can do to try to re-establish your connection with Tammy, who does sound like a Water person.
When we marry, we combine our energies with the energies of our new spouse. That means that Tammy’s Water is constantly in touch with Fred’s Metal. The good news for Tammy is that she and Fred relate on the Nurturing Cycle, with Fred’s Metal feeding Tammy’s Water. That probably feels pretty good to her and might be one aspect of her attraction to him. Interestingly, you and Fred also relate on the Nurturing Cycle, but it is your Earth that feeds his Metal, which could feel like a drag to you and be a reason you find him demanding. Another reason he might bother you – other than the fact that you feel he has come between you and your best friend – is that out of balance Metals can seem snobby and controlling, especially if they are in an excess energy place. Too much energy makes Metals inflexible and dismissive. How Tammy handles that is between her and Fred, but let’s look at what you can do to reconnect with Tammy.