Unfinished Tasks: Do “P”s Just Not Care?

We all have managed or worked with them. That certain type of team member who says they finished a task when the reality is they didn’t. The “i”s weren’t dotted and the “t”s weren’t crossed. They finished 80%, 90%, 99% of the work, but not 100% of it. These team members end up slowing progress and requiring others to wait until they truly finish. It’s frustrating. 

Because of their ways, this type of team member receives a lot of judgment. “They’re lazy; they don’t care; they’re liars; they can’t be counted on.” No matter what the exact words are the judgment is always negative – “they need to change and that’s that.”

OK, now that that’s out of our system let’s take a look at the problem from a different perspective by stepping into the world of human dynamics and discussing how people interact with the world at hand. Myers Briggs tells us people are either (Judging) or P (Perceiving). For our purposes we’ll forget about the specific words that go along with these personality types and focus on the behaviors they describe. “J” personalities prefer structure, plans, and achieving closure. “P” personalities prefer flexibility, spontaneity, and keeping their options open. Roughly one-third of the US are “P”s and two-thirds are “J”’s.

When it comes to completing work “J” personalities like closure and “P”s don’t. “J”s find it easy to keep their attention level high on tasks, making sure all the details are completed. They are the ones that send you a thank you note after you sent them a thank you. But, because they like closure they struggle with flexibility, spontaneity, and leaving things unresolved. 

“P” personalities lose interest when the core of a task is finished and then move on to the next thing. They are the ones who take the trash out from under the sink when asked but leave it sitting next to the trash can instead of in it. But, because of their nature they handle change well and can operate in an environment where they need to fly by the seat of their pants.

Both “J” and “P” personalities act from the core of who they are but in different ways. They can’t drastically change who they are because they are who they are. This provides a greater perspective of why “P”s don’t always completely finish their work before they say they are finished. It’s not because they don’t care, are lazy, or are liars, it’s because they have a “P” personality.

If you are managing a “P” personality then you have to manage them differently than you would a “J” personality. “P”s need to know exactly what has to be accomplished for a task to be completed. Sometimes these details have to be documented for them to refer to later, such as a checklist for when they say they are done. These are called coping mechanisms. They help “P”s deal with the task-driven world they normally would not do well in.

This may seem like extra work for a manager. But, the benefits “P” personalities contribute to a team because of their flexibility and spontaneity outweigh this extra effort. If we were only surrounded by “J” personalities we would have glaring weaknesses. Having people on our team with different strengths is a plus even though at times it can be frustrating.