Dear Vicki: My brother Ted is having trouble with a co-worker who appears very hostile toward him. They work with a group of people in an accounting firm where no one has private offices. Everyone has cubicles, so most sound carries. Ted takes his job very seriously, and is really good at it, but he’s also a pretty caring guy who likes to socialize with his co-workers. The problem is that whenever he talks to anyone, this particular co-worker (I’ll call her Ann) gets furious that he’s making noise. Ann apparently wants the whole office to be deathly quiet so she can concentrate, but Ted says it’s bringing the whole place down. Do you have any suggestions regarding how Ted can he handle this situation? Signed, My Brother’s Helper
Dear Brother’s Helper: Bravo to you for stepping up to help Ted. Office dynamics are always interesting because, within reason, there’s no “right” or “wrong” way for co-workers to interact. Some offices have company events and encourage socializing, others much less so. But outside of the tone set by the company itself, how people get along at work really can depend on their elemental personalities. After all, a relationship is a relationship!
It sounds to me like Ted is a primary Metal personality who has a strong secondary Earth personality. This means he will be great at precision (thus his success as an accountant) but will also value relationships with his fellow co-workers. Whether standing around the proverbial water cooler chatting, or laughing at jokes with others, this form of connecting will be important to Ted. On the other hand, I suspect that Ann is a primary Wood personality. Wood people value doing the best they can and getting ahead. They also rarely like to socialize unless it serves a significant purpose. But what her secondary elemental personality is will also matter.
Dear Vicki: I’ve recently been introduced to the Five Element personalities and it really has helped me understand a lot of things about my family and several friends. However, I’m a bit confused by three girlfriends who each took a quiz to help them determine their elemental personality and all three came out as predominantly Fire personalities. I find that hard to believe because they are all calm, sensible, considerate, reliable people who tend to keep their inner thoughts to themselves. I would say they are content with their day-to-day lives, in particular their families, and are not ambitious in any way. None of them likes the limelight and they tend to have a few good friends, not a vast circle. I have several other friends who do tick all the boxes as classic Fire personalities, but I can’t understand how these three women (all in their 40s and 50s) scored so high for a Fire personality. Can you explain this? Signed: Confused in Conway
Dear Confused: It’s wonderful that you’re studying the Five Elements personalities and finding them useful! Clearly, I think they’re fantastic tools for understand all sorts of people. Your question about quiz results is an excellent – and not uncommon – one. There are many different Five Elements online quizzes available these days, but regardless of the one your friends took, there are several possible reasons why the results don’t seem to jive with their actual personalities. Let’s take a quick look at what might be going on.
First and foremost, the results of any personality test will only be as good as the test itself. This means that some personality tests will naturally give more accurate results than others. Focusing specifically on Five Elements tests, it’s important to remember that the Five Elements as a model comes from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) where it is used as a diagnostic tool to guide treatments of the physical form (as well as some emotional and mental issues). Because of that, many Five Elements tests include questions about physical illnesses or proclivities one might find in a person with an abundance of a specific element.
Dear Vicki: I work full time as a corporate accountant, have a houseful of teenagers, a busy husband, and now my widowed mother has moved in with us. On the surface it’s going well, but deep inside I feel a great deal of resentment toward her. She was not a good mother when I was growing up. She wasn’t warm and cuddly. She kept us clean and fed, and she read to us nightly, but beyond that we were on our own while she painted and pursued her career in art. She wasn’t like my friends’ mothers who baked brownies and knit them sweaters. I never felt mothered by her, but now she is expecting me to mother her. I’m having a lot of trouble with that. Signed, No Cuddles
Dear No Cuddles: Every child needs mothering, and everyone can mother in some way or another, but what that looks like will be very different depending on the elemental personalities involved. To manage all that you’re managing and succeed as a corporate accountant, I suspect you are a primary Metal personality. Metal people are usually very structured, very organized, and find it easy (and often necessary) to stick to schedules. The fact that your mother was an artist who didn’t bake brownies or knit you sweaters while you were growing up suggests that she is probably a primary Water personality. Water people are the artists of the world; they will devote hours to manifesting mind-blowing creations, but usually don’t have the structure (or interest) to run a household.
In the Five Elements model, Earth feeds Metal on the Nurturing Cycle, so an Earthy kind of mothering would have seemed attractive to you. However, as a Water person who prized time alone to create, your mother could have thought she was giving you an incredible gift by allowing you time alone, as well. I suggest you consider the possibility that, while your friends may have had mothers who focused a great deal of attention on them, your Metal personality might have found an abundance of attention pretty suffocating. I’m in no way suggesting that your childhood was perfect, but if you examine it from the perspective of what your elemental personality values, you may find that in some respects it was a good match for you. That said, what matters most is how you relate to your mother now, so let’s find ways you can improve that relationship.
Dear Vicki: Dory and I have been good friends ever since we met while volunteering at a local pet shelter three years ago. We are a good team there: I organize the ever-changing base of volunteers and Dory keeps everyone upbeat and motivated. She always makes me laugh, and when I get really angry about something – which I tend to do —she has a way of cajoling me out of it. Dory thinks of lots of fun things to do and I really enjoy our time together, but there’s one small problem. Dory has a sister named Katie and sometimes Dory just spontaneously announces that she’s asked Katie to join us when we go shopping, out to a movie, or whatever. I hate this because when Dory and Katie are together, they kind of whip each other into a frenzy. I can tell they are having the time of their lives, but lately it feels like total chaos and craziness to me. How can I tell Dory that I really don’t like it when Katie joins us? Signed, Fried in Franklin
Dear Fried: It is very interesting that you’ve signed your letter “Fried,” because I think that’s exactly what’s happening. I strongly suspect that both Dory and her sister are Fire elemental personalities and the two of them together are just too much heat for you right now. Usually everyone loves being around Fire people because they are fun, outgoing individuals who laugh a lot. But each elemental personality will react differently to prolonged exposure to Fire energy, especially a double dose.
In the Five Elements model, the two elemental personalities most negatively affected by Fire energy are Metal people (fire melts metal) and Wood people (fire burns wood). Given it was easy for you to organize a significant group of volunteers, I suspect you are a primary Wood personality. Spontaneous organization comes easily to Wood people. And for the record, Metal people organize too, but they look at the past and identify patterns of organization. Wood people organize on the fly. They also succumb to anger.
It’s understandable that Dory would want to spend time with you. In the Five Elements model your Wood energy feeds her Fire energy on what’s called the Nurturing Cycle. That usually feels great to the Fire person and not so great to the Wood person. However, given that you are both so dedication to the animal shelter, I suspect that you each have a lot of Earth energy in your personalities, too, and that is the key to the longevity of your relationship.
Dear Vicki: I’m writing about a problem I’m having with my husband, Scott. He’s an elementary teacher and a truly loving husband and father. As an attorney, I often work long hours and he is always there to take care of our children, and me. He’s perfect in so many ways, but he does have one trait that concerns me and I’m hoping you can help me understand why he does what he does. When we’re with friends, Scott tends to share aspects of our life at home that I would rather not have shared. It’s nothing incredibly personal, just little things that I feel other people don’t need to know. I’ve mentioned this to him before and he says he’ll change, but he hasn’t. I realize I’m becoming increasingly disturbed by this, so what can I do? Signed, Private in Pennsylvania
Dear Private in Pennsylvania: This is an interesting issue. On the surface, if Scott is sharing minor details with others, it shouldn’t matter. And it probably wouldn’t matter to many of the element personalities. But it’s no surprise that it matters to you. As an attorney, you are most likely a primary Metal personality, and Metal people really value their privacy. They also tend to compartmentalize aspects of their life – clearly delineating what is public and what is private – to keep them separate. Most of the other elemental personalities don’t see a need to compartmentalize nearly as much, and I think that’s at the root of the issue with your husband.
You say you want to understand Scott, so let’s start there. As an elementary teacher who is devoted to his family, it’s a good bet he is a primary Earth personality. For Earth people, life is all about connecting with others, and it turns out that sharing parts of themselves are easy ways to facilitate this connecting. They are also much less discriminating than some of the other elemental personalities, so are likely to share information in greater detail than others might find comfortable. For the Earth personality, a connection is a connection, no matter how it’s created or where it’s found. When your husband shares information or events from his life, it’s a mechanism for weaving a bridge between himself and others. And this can be such an automatic occurrence, he probably doesn’t ponder the issue of appropriateness before he speaks. So, what can you do?