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Taking a Meeting with Doc, Happy, Grumpy, et al

Although you have to stay grounded in reality when running a meeting, savvy leaders can learn a lot from a classic Disney tale, according to one psychologist. Sharon Livingston, Ph.D. says that by identifying which of the seven dwarfs each employee most closely resembles, leaders can maximize creativity, cooperation, and enthusiasm in group meetings.  

“Years ago after conducting hundreds of focus groups, it struck me that the personality types described in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs were the same personality types I encountered in my groups, day in and day out,” says Dr. Livingston, an expert in qualitative market research and president of the Livingston Group for Marketing in Londonderry, NH.

Intrigued, she began researching the personalities of the dwarfs, comparing them to personalities of three-dimensional humans. She was surprised at the sophistication of the Disney characters.

“Each dwarf personality represented one of the seven protective postures identified in the psychology literature—the ways that people defend themselves when they feel vulnerable,” she observes. “An astute leader who recognizes these personality traits can use this knowledge to great advantage in managing and advancing the team.”

There’s no one dwarf personality that’s better or worse than another, says Dr. Livingston. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, which can be enhanced or tamped down, depending on where the person sits in the meeting and the leader's ability to leverage the best characteristics of each type.

Here’s how Livingston identifies the seven “dwarf” types, along with tips on how a leader can best use what each has to offer:
  • Bashful: The bashful personality appears shy, blushes often, and looks down frequently. Bashful avoids eye contact with the leader, hoping not to be called upon, and wants to hear everyone else’s opinion before speaking. Bashful is highly observant, sensitive to the feelings of others, and hard-working. Leaders can draw Bashful out by asking an easy, neutral question first, pairing Bashful with someone else, and encouraging/allowing him to write down his answers first before speaking. The leader knows that Bashful succeeds best in a structured environment.

  • Dopey: Far from being “dopey,” these people are flexible, using humor to defuse group tension. They are good at finding practical applications and take life very seriously, even though they may appear lighthearted. Dopey sits in the middle of the group and speaks only when spoken to. He parrots anything the group expert says. Leaders manage Dopey by pointing out practical applications and benefits to others and by reassuring Dopey that “all responses are good responses.” Dopey needs to put ideas first to paper and will respond favorably when leaders laugh at his or her jokes.

  • Doc: A natural born leader who is highly opinionated, Doc positions himself at the opposite end of the table for easy eye contact with the leader and may try to take over control of the meeting. Doc wants everyone to know he’s an expert. He asks for consensus from others and can be intimidating. Leaders can keep control by acknowledging his special expertise, then taking the pressure off him by saying, “We don’t want you to do our jobs by doing all the answering.” They should encourage Doc to write down his ideas before blurting them out, avoid eye contact with him, and call on Doc last.

  • Grumpy: You can spot Grumpy because he says “no” a lot and may sit opposite the leader. His arms are often crossed, and he’s pushed back from the table. He looks annoyed and is critical. Grumpy values competence, efficiency, and quick results, is assertive and self-confident. He strives to meet expectations. Leaders can best leverage Grumpy by giving him specific assignments that require logical steps and by enlisting his help where a particular sales pitch or argument is required.

  • Happy: Happy smiles a lot at the leader, tries to make eye contact with the leader, and positions himself to the leader’s immediate right. Happy is warm, energetic, and very responsive to the leader’s requests. He promptly does anything he is asked to do. Happy may try so hard to please and provide the “right answer” that he is inauthentic in his input. Leaders can help Happy thrive by creating a fun, whimsical environment and by offering recognition and support. The leader can call on Happy first (he’ll be anxious to speak up), which will help convince less cooperative participants to become involved.

  • Sleepy: It’s easy to spot Sleepy. He’s bored, staring out the window, hiding in the middle of the group, and probably yawning. Sleepy is rational, logical, and comfortable with hands-on learning. Sleepy fantasizes frequently. Leaders can draw Sleepy out of his isolation by encouraging him to share personal reveries as possible unconscious approaches to solving the problem at hand, asking him about logical and practical implications, and encouraging partnering and the sharing of ideas about technical applications.

  • Sneezy: You’ll find Sneezy sitting to the leader’s left, possibly looking sick. He’ll let everyone know he’s unwell, constantly interrupting with coughs, sneezes, or other noises. He complains about the environment (“It’s too cold”) and says, “Yes, but…” a lot. Sneezy is organized and methodical with a strong sense of responsibility. He’s honest and respects the rules. The leader can get Sneezy involved by outlining the meeting’s objectives, referring to Sneezy for help remembering facts and details, and giving Sneezy some sort of responsibility in the group.

“Just changing the order in which people are sitting can also affect their dwarf personality,” adds Dr. Livingston, who says she’s a Happy or a Doc, depending on the situation. “If you don’t like how someone is behaving, have him change seats, and he'll take on more of the dwarf personality of his new seat position.”

To identify your dwarf personality for free, go to: www.SnowWhiteTest.com

Sharon Livingston, Ph.D. is president of The Livingston Group for Marketing, based in Windham, NH (www.tlgonline.com)