When you have a problem with a group, it's easy to lump everyone together and not grasp the variability that is actually there. I call this the "all men are bastards" syndrome, which can become a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. On the other hand, trying to grasp the rich variety embodied in every single human being might simply be too overwhelming.
A middle - dare I say "third" - way is to use a framework as a way of classifying others.
Terri Bonar-Stewart and George Manning from Northern Kentucky University argue that one key failing of managers is an inability to change their leadership style to suit the kind of person they're dealing with. In a paper recently published in the journal Newborn and Infant Nursing Reviews, they suggest that workers can be categorised into three basic types:
"traditionalists", who value rules and procedures; "participatives", who like to collaborate and reach group agreements; and "individualists", who don't care what others think, although they like to do the right thing as they see it.
The traditionalist's first loyalty is to the historical way of doing things. In contrast, the participatives are driven by a need for inclusiveness. Loyalty is not a major consideration for individualists, although they can strike up alliances with like-minded people. When thinking of their job, the traditionalist imagines the reputation of the school. Service for the participative is based on ideas such as "teachers caring for each other", while the individualist's ideal is to preserve "my dignity and rights".
Bonar-Stewart and Manning, using their framework, suggest that if you have an argument with a traditionalist, realise the importance placed on responsibility and duty. If you develop conflict with a participative, realise that they value brotherhood and affection, whereas an individualist rates freedom and autonomy highest. Appreciating how management style has to alter depending on who is being dealt with would ensure less fruitless conflict and therefore reduce stress in our jobs.
A key lesson for teachers from this is how they may also think of which of the three groups pupils fit into so they can appeal to the values that will motivate them most.
Dr Raj Persaud is consultant psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital in south London and Gresham professor for public understanding of psychiatry. His latest book is The Motivated Mind (Bantam Press). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org