Much of what follows is very, very speculative—actually a blend of pure personal speculation, hunches, established theories, working concepts and observation, but I think I have just quite unexpectedly discovered (or confirmed) and explained two surprising patterns of employment psychology.
The first is that some people may be targeting or sticking with their chosen service careers because the jobs allow them to replicate, protect, project, validate, foster and otherwise promote some key aspects of their “locus of control” personality type and values in and among their clientele, while providing a safe haven for their own.
The second is that it may be possible to identify which type—”internal locus of control” or “external locus of control”—dominates their personality merely by asking one question (while allowing that they manifest the opposite type under certain circumstances). That question is, “What do you recall (valuing) being complimented for (or most often or most effusively) when you were a child?”
A key HR implication of this, if it is true, is that it may be wise to target or to assign jobs and tasks consistent with the dominant or operative personality control type.
From Intuition to Confirmation
Despite being about the same age, equally friendly and communicative, comparably fluent in English, equally well-traveled and good friends with each other and the birthday host, herself as genial as they, 30-ish “Jelly” and “Monica”, whom I had just met at a patio party in Hualien, Taiwan, somehow nonverbally communicated a deep and defining difference between their personalities.
What was it? Clear though the fundamental personality difference is, it can be formulated in several different, yet complementary ways:
- having an internal locus of control vs. having an external locus of control (this one being the core difference, to be explained below)
- a preference for playing celebratory vs. rehabilitory professional service roles (this being a spin-off manifestation of the core difference)
- a preference for providing “exterior” services vs. “internal” services.
To cut to the conceptual chase, what my observations and interactions (including questions) with them suggested is that they—and perhaps countless other service-industry personnel—seem to have sought and chosen careers that
1. Utilize, require, foster, protect, project, replicate and/or validate either an “internal locus of control” or an “external locus of control” as a defining characteristic of their personalities.
Roughly speaking, having an internal locus of control (ILOC) means preferring and believing (correctly or not) that you cause, control, cope with, validate (justify) and/or predict events and situations of concern to you more than “external” factors, such as peer groups, do. It also means that self-reward and punishment (e.g., blame) figure more prominently in your personality than in the lives of other people.
On the other hand, when you believe that these outcomes are primarily or substantially influenced by external influences or that self-reward and punishment play a lesser role in your life, you have, to that degree, an ELOC (external locus of control).
When you correctly believe you are principally responsible for these outcomes, I call your LOC a “strong ILOC”; when you are mistaken, a “weak ILOC”; an ELOC can likewise be strong or weak.
2. Allow them to create clientele clones of themselves, through mentoring, inspiring, etc., and otherwise creating or reinforcing the same personality type among their clientele.
3. Allow them to interact with clientele types that are their opposite, yet complementary type, e.g., to be in ILOC control of ELOC clients seeking or allowing themselves to be controlled. (I suggest that this seemingly paradoxical contrast with #2 reflects the difference between psychological “identification” with and “projection” onto clients).
4. Surround themselves with the same or opposite locus of control personality type (depending upon whether they identify with or project their control type in a given situation).
“Jelly”—a Complex Blend of ELOC and ILOC
Jelly has just started a job as an interior designer and decorator, having quit her previous hotel job as a reservation assistant. Despite that job title, her job accentuates “externals”, such as furniture, wall paper, lighting, color schemes and general home and office environment as important factors influencing or controlling clients (onto whom an ELOC can be projected or in whom it can be replicated or fostered), in the form of controlling their decisions, their contentment and status estimations, to mention but three forms of that control.
This means Jelly is supporting, projecting and/or promoting client external locus of control, to the extent that the externals of their home interiors are controlling some of their important life outcomes, including emotional ones. Yet, paradoxically, at the same time, she admitted that working with ELOC clients affords her the opportunity to exercise ILOC aspects of her own personality, by controlling or influencing client choices (consistent with projecting her ELOC onto them).
She revealed that she also prefers to date men who will not in any way control her or try to, preferring, as she put it, “to be the one on top”, suggesting a strong ILOC in her relations with men (with possible projection of ELOC onto them as well as on to clients)–in sharp contrast with the apparent identification elements of her ELOC relations with clients.
Monica’s ILOC Traits
Monica works as an administrator in a preparatory-school program for students who have failed to pass university entrance exams. In working to develop client academic competencies, Monica is, in effect, if not with conscious intent, focused on strengthening these students’ internal locus of control—control over their personal academic outcomes, their internalized skills and their internal motivations regarding study and academic success.
When I asked Monica what she hopes to contribute to these students, she replied that getting them over and past one set of exam hurdles so that they could jump new ones matters less to her than liberating their minds from parental, societal and cultural controls and demands that they conform and meet the conventional expectations of others.
Consistent with her apparent ILOC, Monica wants to help and encourage students to become more independent of the external aspect of the internal controls she is strengthening, including external pressure to develop such internal, academically-oriented controls.
Ideally, while strengthening students’ control over their academic outcomes, she would like to also strengthen their control over the life choices available to them, including the choice to travel or live overseas before starting university, or merely to allow themselves to be more spontaneous and independent of external pressures to conform.
This understanding of the difference between their careers is consistent with my initial very strong impression that Monica is professionally an ILOC type, while Jelly is professionally and socially a blend of both ILOC and ELOC types.
Clues to their respective types included, among other things, their level of animation, steadiness or fixity of gaze, effusiveness vs. alertness and attire (fashionable vs. practical)—Jelly being the more animated, effusive, queen-bee and fashionable “extrovert”, even though Monica was equally friendly (these being differences, all of which they subsequently agreed I’ve accurately described).
Both Jelly and Monica are very pleasant and engaging—but in rather opposite ways. Based on my “sample” and their eventual verbal confirmation, Jelly is clearly the bubbly, fashion-conscious extrovert, Monica the equally sociable, but more serene, reflective, somewhat more introverted observer. Each quickly convinced me that I had guessed the key form(s) of their LOCs.
As I proceeded to explain the concept of LOC and ask questions related to it, their answers all but clinched it for me: When I asked her about how she deals with issues and problems, Jelly said that she will not only ask for advice in the form of information, but also want to be told what to do—not always, but at least sometimes, i.e., assigned an important role to an ELOC with regard to decisions. That’s what I predicted she would say, given my hunch she is, in key social contexts, an ELOC type.
Monica, on the other hand, was very clear about this: She said that she will never want to be told or ask what she should do to cope with or solve a problem—classic ILOC. Also, Jelly likes to party, never read; Monica likes to read, rather than party. [MM: are her friends mostly ILOC?]
From the moment we began speaking, I had the hunch that Monica is a “problem solver” and that Jelly is a “play facilitator”—i.e., that Monica’s career commitment involves helping clients overcome discomfort (the way a divorce lawyer would), while Jelly’s task is more like that of a wedding planner: to present pleasant possibilities rather than, as Monica does, deal with unpleasant realities—characterizations of their respective jobs that they agreed were accurate.
How strongly this difference correlates with the differences between an ILOC and ELOC, I can’t say; but I suspect a connection, to the extent that, in general, responding to pleasantness by surrendering to it and letting it control us encourages an ELOC.
It is worth speculating that the strength of the correlation for ILOC and ELOC types may depend upon the degree to which one is solving problems for passive clients. Of course,either type can solve problems and/or facilitate play, but I would not be surprised to find a stronger correlation between ILOC and catalyzed problem solving than proxy problem solving (in which the professional does all the problem-solving work), unlike Monica, who facilitates client autonomous problem solving, e.g., in mathematics.
The LOC Cloning Hypothesis
It was at that point that the other key hypothesis jumped out at me: Some people—how many, I can’t guess—will choose careers that require, promote, protect and replicate their LOC type, just as Jelly and Monica seem to have.
In at least one of my own careers, the choice, content and performance have all been ILOC-based: teaching critical thinking and philosophy, which above all is dedicated to instilling and replicating an intellectual and moral ILOC in clientele, while having the opportunity to utilize, validate and defend it in oneself, as the instructor.
Note the theoretical possibility that just as the degree of LOC is likely to be situation or event-specific, rather than a blanket preferred or exercised degree of control over all outcomes, situations and events, the form or mix of LOC may vary with situations, circumstances and events as well, including whether or not we are utilizing identification or projection in a given situation.
For example, when I had gigs as a lounge pianist, a definite ELOC component (e.g., in the form of having to accommodate “external” patron requests) got prominently blended with the clear ILOC elements of my preferred LOC (such as choice of repertoire and style). Nonetheless, I suspect that a single LOC form will come to dominate individual personality and behavior, if only because I also suspect that we tend to choose careers, situations and circumstances that favor our preferred LOC style at the expense of the other.
However, this leaves unanswered the prior question, “What determines which type of LOC will dominate our personalities?” I believe that part of the answer to that question is another, psychoanalytic, question (posed above): “What do you recall (valuing) being complimented for (or most often or most effusively) when you were a child?”
The natural question about that question—”Why is that relevant?”—is explored and answered next, in “What Shapes Our ‘Locus of Control’?” But as a preview, I’d like to offer the hypothesis that if the most readily recalled, if not preferred, childhood compliments had something to do with “externals”, such as good looks, rather than “internals”, such as intelligence, they may have predisposed that child to developing an ELOC, with the reverse being the case for ILOC types.
However, to make that case, the distinction between “internal” and “external” has to be carefully examined and delineated, especially since apparently “internal” attributes, such as IQ are known by others only externally, even though not as readily and obviously as physical appearance.
One way to address this issue is to perhaps replace “internal” and “external” with “autonomous” and “dependent”…
…assuming there is a clear sense in which anything is every really or even relatively autonomous and independent of everything else.
Note: For useful background and supplementation, see my two previous articles, “Psychological ‘Locus of Control’: What It Really Means (for You and Your Jobs)” and “Costs, Benefits and Applications of Psychological ‘Locus of Control’”.