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Middle Child at Work?

Some weeks ago I happened to be watching a programme on TV3 when an item came up the really piqued my interest.  Strangely I rarely watch TV3 and watch morning TV even less, so perhaps this was providence!!

The item in question was about families, and more specifically birth order in families.  

Alfred Adler first developed this theory – suggesting that birth order impacted on personality and thus behaviour.  Importantly though Adler wasn’t saying definitely that where you were born in the family is necessarily the decider but rather the position you fulfil(ed) within the family.  Many others have developed the notion further and equally there have been critics who disputed its relevance.  I have no doubt that this is something you have heard about before, even if on a sub-conscious level.  You may even have referred to others as “a typical first born” or “typical youngest child”.

It really made me think because here’s the thing – I am a middle child. But I am also a youngest and oldest.  Why?  Well for the first 10 years of my life I was the baby of the family – I have two older brothers who still treat me, to some extent, like the youngest.

Then another two siblings came along making me the middle child. WIthin 6 or 7 years my older brothers had left home and I became, de facto, the oldest.  To a large extent this is a role I still fulfil within our family. So how do I compare to the general theory?

First Born – They tend to be more educated and have a higher IQ than their siblings (in fact there is a suggestion that IQ decreases exponentially with each sibling.) They are often given or assume responsibility for younger siblings and essentially can often act as the surrogate parent. They are often over-achievers, striving to meet their parent’s expectations and always being required to set a good example. As a result of this position of leadership and power they are often bossy – think an autocratic management style. They get more attention from their parents, building confidence.  They are often “tutors”, sharing learning.  They can be very responsible and willing to help out others.
Second Born – Typically they are very independent and competitive particularly with the older sibling and sibling rivalry often develops in an effort to assert their position.  Constantly strive for equal treatment and can feel aggrieved where they perceive this hasn’t happened.  They may sometimes be seen as a rebel for trying to redress the balance.  They can be quite expressive and creative.

Middle Child – Also independent but tend to be more agreeable and accepting of situations. They tend to be caring and nurturing, take an objective view in family squabbles (seeing all sides of the argument) and are generally the peacemakers.  They are not attention seeking (mainly because they don’t see the point – they are resigned to their position).

They can be less decisive and less connected often with a tendency to secrecy.  They often keep their true feelings hidden because they don’t want to “rock the boat”.  They tend to be good listeners, good friends and are very flexible and adaptable.

Last Born – The “pet” – frequently spoiled by the whole family. Others tend to be protective of the youngest and regularly make allowance for behaviour, no matter how outrageous.  As a result the last born are accustomed to getting their own way and expect this to happen.  Consequently they are rule breakers, more adventurous, push or ignore boundaries and can be seen as irresponsible. They are often very charming and use this to their advantage.

Well personally I would say that I fulfil the roles of both first born and middle child within our family depending on the situations and that I certainly display most of the traits associated with those positions.   While I would not consider myself autocratic in terms of management style I can (somewhat shame-facedly) admit to having a tendency toward bossiness from time to time! I am definitely a leader and will often take the lead or steer something forward.  I am most definitely the peacemaker, the person who can look at both sides objectively and find a way forward. Perhaps this is why I am good at conflict resolution.  Truthfully I don’t see any Last Born traits now, although quite probably these were more identifiable in my younger years.

So why am I talking about this subject at all? Well it got me thinking that if Birth Order does indeed impact on our behaviour in one setting – family, isn’t it entirely possible or indeed likely that it impacts our behaviour in other settings like social groups and, more importantly, work.  And if that is the case, should we identify how this impacts on our ability to manage and lead, how it relates to the likelihood that a particular individual will be a good leader or manager, the extent to which it might impact our efforts to introduce change or apply procedures.  The list is endless.

I can’t help casting my mind back to the people I have managed over the years and matching this theory to their personality and behaviours.  It makes for some very interesting thoughts.

There is of course one other category, Only Child.

Only child – Only children are typically the centre of their parent’s world.  They are always the centre of attention and expect this as the “norm”.  They can be very spoiled and self-centred, have an “it’s all about me attitude”, lack concern for the needs of others and are often reluctant to compromise or share.  On the plus side they can be very confident and reach intellectual maturity earlier.
Now we have all known people who would reflect these traits, whether inside or outside work.  Whether these can, in some way, be attributed to Birth Order Theory I will leave to you to decide.  But think about this – if you were aware of an employee’s birth order, and (if you sign up to this theory) therefore the traits they were likely to display, could you manage them more effectively, play to their strengths, avoid conflict  and generally have a better and more successful working environment?  Perhaps there is even an argument for going back to asking some questions about family at interview…it could save you a lot of headaches!! (Wouldn’t stand up under equality legislation though!)

Look around you… how does the Birth Order Theory fit with people you know, work with, manage?

Jackie Prendergast is a dynamic and focused HR and business professional with over 15 years experience in both public and private sector environments. She is a firm believer in the concept of delivering excellence through, and with people and strongly supports an ethos of continuous learning and development in the achievement of goals. Jackie established her own HR & Management Consulting practice - Consulting Excellence - in 2007. Working primarily with SMEs and private clients Jackie provides a range of HR advice, support and services. She has written a number of articles on C.V. preparation and Interview Skills as well as a short Interview Guide (E-book). She is also a business mentor with Dublin City Enterprise Board’s Mentor Panel. In addition Jackie runs an online network for SMEs (and consultants / service providers operating in that space) on LinkedIn - SME Links Ireland.

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  • Nice post Jackie. We missed you!
    I just hope that my younger sister doesn’t read this post 🙂

  • Hi Jackie, great comeback! This post (controversial, I might add) has me thinking. I’m a first born but I let others make the judgments. I’m not sure I would agree with asking questions about family at interview, I think it might lead to a slippery slope. My own opinion is that yes, this is probably true to an extent but individually we all have choices, so there will be many exceptions. Some other studies I’ve read around genetics & behaviour are also very interesting.

  • Thanks Niall….and you are right about the interview questions – I am afraid I was being a bit “tongue in cheek” so just to clarify you absoultely should NOT ask any question around this at an interview. As I mentioned in the post Equality Legislation wouldn’t support it and you could find yourself in all sorts of hot water should someone decided they were discriminated against in the interview process on the basis of family status (this wouldn’t be the strict interpretation of family status but I can see the stretch!!) Nevertheless Psychometric tests are usable within the recruitment process so perhaps there is room to build it in?! Really though I just want to spark debate because I think it is a very interesting concept….does it really impact on our likelihood of being leaders, risk takers etc…

  • Feel like I have been “out of the loop” for ages – I blame it on a combination of a lot going on and “bloggers block”! Anyhow you have made me really curious now – might your sister view you in a new light if she reads this??

  • Hello Jacki,

    And what a topic!
    I think that there’s actually a lot of truth in this theory (I can certainly read a few of my traits as baby of the family), although there are many differences which I would put down to personal growth and development. We all learn the learning blocks of life early on, but when we put our ‘personal spin’ on them, thats when things become interesting. Also patterns can change due to circumstances for example divorce, remarriage, death of a sibling.
    An example is this: – my older brother didn’t respond to my Dad’s academic pushing, so he worked on me instead and now I identify with many first child traits.
    My partner is in many ways a typical only child, but instead of being spoilt, he pusued independance with vigor and valued paying his own way etc.
    As I say though, there is a definate consistant pattern and our position in the family does affect who we are and how we react in business.
    What an insightful topic….look forward to reading more.


  • Hi Jackie. Enjoyable post – and it’s so true for all the people I know who have been managers in some shape or form. I would be the first born – and while not autocratic, like you, the bossiness does pop in from time to time :).

  • No, not really. She would use the post as written proof that I’m a bossy older brother LOL

  • Sorry Jackie, of course you were, a bit slow on the old uptake yesterday 🙂

    Debate is always good!

  • Grainne Byrne

    Great article, Jackie – even though I’m a first born, not too concerned about it affecting my ‘management style’ as I work solo!!

  • Oh dear, I am now scrutinising everyone I meet, and asking them have they older or younger siblings. it can tell a lot about a person I am training or coaching 🙂
    Thanks for a great read Jackie.

  • Glad you enjoyed it Elaine…and if it raises some questions that help you understand the people you are working with, then great!

  • At least we know that we can be bossy Barney (doesn’t necessarily stop us though 🙂 )

  • Thanks Tina

  • Glad you enjoyed it….

  • Anonymous

    Absolutely fascinating post Jackie, I did some entrepreneurship research and found that first born females were far more likely to become entrepreneurs, which is interesting in the context of your discussion on leadership, etc. Really enjoyed that post, major food for thought !

    Thanks Jackie.

  • I have been following articles on QR codes and believe that already they are a minimum standard. It is a missed opportunity not to have them on every piece of collateral. Estate agents seem to get a great response by having them on billboards. They feel that it is an unobtrusive way for potential buyers to get information and get it fast.

  • Hi Beatrice, Welcome to Bloggertone. I had heard of QR codes with out really knowing what they are until now of course. Thanks for the explanation, they sound like they could/should take off. Thanks for sharing, Niall

  • Hi Beatrice, nnI think it’s your third point, ‘increase in the awareness of the smart phone user population about what QR codes are and how to use them’ that will make or break the uptake. nnYou’d be surprised (well, maybe not 🙂 ) at how far behind companies are in this regards. For example, over XMAS I went into a shop to buy a new mobile phone. The sales person didn’t know how to get me on the web. Honest to God. He said he needed to get someone more ‘technical’.

  • Welcome to Bloggertone Beatrice. I’d heard of QR codes from someone who is promoting them on smart phones and has been doing so for the last few months. Like you said until the smart phones become more popular many people won’t understand what they are.

  • Hello Beatrice and a warm welcome to Bloggertone!nnIt’s funny, only yesterday my partner and I were discussing the scanning function on his Android phone, but I never realised the potential in the marketing arena.nnThank you for the explanation and links. Definitely something i’ll be looking at in more depth.nnA great first blog..!nnTina

  • Like some of the comments here I have been following QR codes for a while. I have seen some people do it really well (Sherry Fitz used them nicely on press ads). However too many brands simply put them on packaging, materials, advertising etc and don’t explain to customers what they are or how to use them. At recent lectures out of 30 students, only 1 had heard of them and used them. Secondly it has to be worth my while scan and go to the link. In particular if your bring me to a website ensure it is a mobile website – I will be coming from a SmartPhone so the website should be easy to read and navigate on a 3.5inch screen. QR codes are very innovative but also very easy to fail at.

  • I think you’re right Beatrice, we are going to see alot more QR codes in the next year as smartphone use increases. It really connects the offline world eg. print to the online.nnIf you have the Google app on your phone you don’t need a reader, instead you can use Google Goggles to carry out an image search simply by using the camera icon on the search bar.nnI can see the QR code you have above is!

  • Facundo

    Welcome to Bloggertone Beatrice! I’ve only hear about them last year, can’t believe they’ve been around that long. I’m an Android user so will be paying attention to these more now.

  • Niamh Pedreschi

    Hi Beatrice, Nice to see you here on Bloggertone. Hope you had a nice Christmas. This is an interesting article and something I will be setting up on my new business card.

  • Anonymous

    Welcome to bloggertone Beatrice. I had no idea QR codes were around that long ! We were actually just discussing using these in our own marketing very recently. Great post, thanks!

  • Hi Kevin, nThat is a great point about bring the user to a mobile site. I think it is best to take the time to think about a whole QR code strategy for a marketing campaign rather than diving straight in.

  • Thanks everyone for the comments. There are some great videos on YouTube about QR codes and show them being used in a variety of context. I think the use of colorful codes with graphics in them will really help them get noticed as the standard back and white ones are often just ignored by people, who think they are just a bar code and not aimed at them. Perhaps if companies that use QR codes printed ‘scan me with your phone’ under the code it would help.

  • I should also say that OQ codes can also be scanned from the screen, so you can post one to your website or blog that users can from the screen with their phone, to bring them to a ‘hidden’ page with extra information or value for them. If you have a nice QR code or if you are using them in a innovative way, post a link to it here.

  • Lorcan Lynch

    Hello Beatrice I have not followed the history on QR codes but a friend of mine in the UK has launched a similar proposition called click2c have you or any of the bloggertone members come accross this product before. Ultimately it is all about a call to action but do you think the offline media industry in Ireland will engage with this channel? Regards Lorcan

  • Hi Beatrice. Welcome to Bloggertone. I’m not even going to pretend I knew what QR codes were :). This was an eye opener for me – thanks. Will see what type off applications it could be used for in my own business.nCheers for sharing.

  • Hi Lorcan,nI had not heard of click2c before but just checked out the website there now. It is something similar to the QR codes. I think the offline media industry in Ireland will engage if they think people will use and respond to it. All it really needs is for one company to have a really successful campaign with it and then others are likely to follow. Again, there has to be a good reason for people to go to the bother of scanning the print ad with their phone, maybe a chance of winning a prize for every person that visits the online resource.

  • Rob Leslie

    Having lived in Japan between 1985 and 2003 QR codes were commonplace in magazine advertisements as a quick and easy way to transfer information at the touch of a button. I do think there is going to be a big increase in their usage. Our company is using them to transfer address and lat/long coordinates from a browser map on a PC screen to smartphones in a new product we have just launched called the Trusted Business Passport. Anyone interested can check out a demo on how we’ve used them at Click on the thumbprint in the bottom right hand corner.

  • Hopefully we won’t have to wait on smart phones. I started using QR Codes a while back and figured Smart Phone Adoption shouldn’t slow QR Code Adoption. So I started to create it’s a QR Processing app that can process emails/mms messages with Images of QR Codes so any phone can use it. You can go to the site to tech out the demo. It’s still buggy but the bugs are being worked through daily. If any one has any Ideas on how to monetize it please let me know. I would love to release it for Free but one of the features actually cost me money per processed message which is why it’s on lock down for now.

  • It’s all in the use really. I used QR Codes a month back as a tech demo for We staged a Scavenger Hunt. Gave everyone the first clue and left it to them to find the rest of the QR codes. Each one leading to the next clue. All done with plain text and no redirect. This could be used in a store to reward people with a discount if they find the final QR Code. Like when you find the stuffed animal at Trader Joes you get free candy. It’s like all things the sky is the limit and you should be creative.

  • manu

    have a look to some designed qr code:

  • Yes Frank, I would agree – a sort of “how to” which also provides the opportunity to address common issues and questions.

    Thanks again

  • Great first post Adler,
    Very interesting point Niall makes below about mobile. And I agree that customisation is imperative, some time should be dedicated to research the targeted emails more.
    More business owners need to explore the email clients better too – and get away from traditional email from a desktop app.

  • Elaine Joli

    Good post Adler. I would like to add that there is a difference in sending (any kind of) templated email to a broad list of potential clients, to a narrow range of folks who have responded in the past but have not purchased, and total client list and the 20% of clients that typically make up most return sales. Unfortunately, there is no easy one size fits all solution, but the analysis of all outgoing emails is really the only way of figuring out what is working. Thanks for the post.

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