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Corn+Soybean Digest

Personality Paralysis

Who you are helps determine how you market grain It's personality, not prices, that determines when many farmers sell their grain, believes Plattsmouth, NE, farmer and marketing strategist Roy Smith. And no amount of logic, lectures or magazine articles about marketing is going to change that, he says.

"I know a lot about marketing and I still have trouble doing it," Smith says. "That's bothered me for a long time."

Smith's wife, Sharon, started him thinking about the importance of personality when she told him how she used it to help predict behavior among the high school students she teaches. The more he thought about it and studied personality types, the more sense it made to him.

"There's been a lot of research on personality types, but not a lot done on personality and farming," says Smith. He researched one study done at the University of Nebraska in 1986 during the tough economic times of that decade. He also attended a Myers-Briggs workshop, one of the standard personality type evaluations that's widely used in industry.

Smith uses a similar personality evaluation program, the Keirsey Temperament Sorter, when he delivers the marketing message to farm groups. Like the Myers-Briggs evaluation, the Keirsey program divides personality types into four main categories, with two personality preferences in each category.

To determine your personality, you answer a series of questions about how you act in different circumstances. The result is a four-letter score that defines you as one of 16 personalities.

Using the Keirsey system, you'll find that you're an extrovert (E) or introvert (I), intuitive (N) or sensing (S), feeling (F) or thinking (T), and either perceiving (P) or judging (J).

For a better explanation and to take the test yourself, you can click on on the Internet.

Once you've determined your personality type, read a full explanation of how that affects your behavior. In most cases, the test is amazingly accurate. However, an individual may be borderline in a preference, and a preference may change over time. Remember, it's a four-letter personality type designation, not a four-letter word.

So, how accurate are these personality evaluations? Depending on which one you use, they will accurately assess your personality 55% to better than 85% of the time, according to Gary Maas, president of AgriCareers, Inc., an ag personnel recruitment company in Massena, IA. "They're neat tools that help you understand why you and the rest of the world go about doing things the way you do.

"There is a dramatic difference in the way people approach the tasks they do, although you can put too much emphasis on them," says Maas. "As a group, farmers have style types that cause them to be cautious. As you get into the executive level, however, you find personality styles closer to the general population."

Smith's style, according to the Keirsey test, falls into the ENTJ category. The E means he's an outgoing guy who depends on other folks for inspiration and energy. Actually, whether you're an E or an I personality type doesn't affect your marketing skills much, according to Smith. If you're an I personality type, which many farmers are, it just means you're less likely to tell anyone if you come up with a good marketing program.

"Eighty-four percent of farmers surveyed in the Nebraska study are S, as opposed to N, personalities," he says. "They tend to look at what's happened in the past to predict the future, put more value in perspiration than inspiration and, as marketers, tend to sell for cash when the grain is in the bin.

"It's a personality preference that's not adapted to using futures and options. It takes a conscious effort to overcome that mind-set when marketing. But we may need to change some things as we strive to be as good at marketing as we want to be."

Smith shares with most farmers the characteristics that are least able to function easily in the grain markets - the TJ designations.

The T personality type works best in a world where everything happens rationally. Grain markets, of course, spin this type of person around like a top.

"The market isn't rational. It's emotional. It's driven by psychology," says Smith. "When I'm forced out of my rational cocoon into an emotional situation, I don't do well."

But, he stresses again, that doesn't mean you can't be a good marketer. It's just more difficult for you than for other personality types.

The kicker here is that most farm women are F personality types, rather than T. They deal well with emotional situations. The fickleness of the market isn't as devastating to them as it is to their male counterparts.

Finally, the judging, or J, personality type wants to see all the facts before making decisions, wants low-risk results and wants to know what those results will be before making a decision. That sure sounds like a farmer, but not much like a grain marketer.

"Speculators tend to have the P personality type. They can get in or out of the market without getting heartburn. They see it as a game," Smith says. "The downside to that is a very strong P personality tends to lose control of his business. It's not unusual for highly successful speculators to make a lot of money and then lose their businesses by losing control."

Ideally, from a marketing standpoint, a farmer would be a J personality type in terms of his business orientation but a P personality type with marketing, according to Smith. The P side of the personality would provide the ability to work successfully in the markets while the J side would prevent him from losing control.

The good news is you can be a good marketer, even though it's against your nature, says Smith. He suggests taking a number of steps to improve your marketing ability, in spite of your mental makeup.

"If you're paralyzed by fear of failure, it's tough to make good marketing decisions. The first step is to take a personality profile test and find out what personality type you are. Read the literature so you understand the characteristics of your personality type. And start planning on how you can overcome those characteristics that limit your marketing ability."

Even if you better understand why you do and don't do certain things, there's no quick fix.

"It takes time and a lot of work to change the way you respond to situations," says Smith. "You need to start slow, consider a support group so you can discuss the issues with other farmers and start creating some sort of structure in your marketing plan that creates a comfort level to help you make decisions."

Wouldn't it just be easier to let someone else do the marketing? Not really.

"You still know your business and needs better than anyone else," says Smith. "While it may be difficult to be a good marketer, it's still better than letting someone else do it. If you look at the track records of most market advisors, you'll see they don't do much better than average."

You can get started by logging on to and finding out what personality type you carry around with you. You can also check out Smith's own Web site ( for more of his marketing ideas.

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