The goal is to find the motivation, whether it be for the character on stage, or the character in the boardroom. But are we just looking for labels? Is that just some simplistic mindset to determine the motivations of a character in a story? Or do we just want a quick assessment of our own motivations and of others around us?
If the results are to be very effective, I doubt the process will be all that simplistic, would it? But if we take simplistic shortcuts, what might be at risk as far as our conclusions are concerned? I suppose it depends on how simplistic we go about it. Sometimes the recipe isn’t always successful by what we put in, as it is a failure because of what we’ve left out.
Since so many social labels tend to be judgmental and prejudicial, focusing on those could be counterproductive. Instead, we want to look at some different ways of assessing observable behavior characteristics, and identify them with non-judgmental adjectives. The point of doing that is so that we can make sense out of what a person’s behavior tells you about how they wish to be treated.
Please keep in mind that the utility of it is not just in the information or data being looked at, but why it is important. It’s about what you can do with it that will make a difference on how you might productively read the behavior of others, and become more aware of how they are reading yours.
In order to do this effectively so that we all might easily recognize the characters, let’s take a look at some fairly familiar literary figures. For some, this might change forever how you see them, and especially how you might see yourself interacting with them.
Perhaps more important than just about anything else you could do with this kind of information is to understand why their motivation could be so different than yours. I don’t think I can emphasize the importance of personal and individual motivation too much.
Many of you are likely to be somewhat familiar with Mario Puzo’s literary masterpiece, “The Godfather”. Perhaps more of you saw the movies than read the book, but either way, I’m sure you’ll recognize the characters representing the four sons of Vito Corleone: Sonny, Fredo, Michael, and the informally adopted, Tom Hagen. As grown men, each of them had taken on distinctively different styles.
As I’ve said before, in drama, what makes a tragic flaw so tragic, is that the character often doesn’t recognize it as a flaw. To understand the tragic flaw of each of these men, we have to identify their style. And not just their overall personality, but the specific style they wore within the culture of the “family”. Doing so will point out their greatest need they want from the group.
In order to be realistic, even for fictional as well as real characters, we must understand the thing that they feel the greatest threat of losing. I prefer to focus on positive things, but these four men, just like the rest of us, have some primary fear that influences what they want. Once we’ve identified that, we’ll better understand what drives them; what is their motivation.
Sonny is the oldest son. He asserts himself. He is emotionally responsive. He lets people know how he feels, and even what he thinks. His father called him on that kind of behavior, when Sonny, in an emotional outburst, allowed potential enemies to have insight on thoughts that would have been to his advantage to keep private.
(Sonny) “Whoa, now, you’re telling me that the Tattaglias guarantee our investment without…?”
(Later in private, Vito says:) “Never let anyone outside the family know what you‘re thinking.”
Sonny has a strong need for approval, is oriented futuristically, loves an audience, likes his work to be exciting, he makes fast, intuitive decisions, his first question is “who”, makes a great effort to be involved, willingly accepts leadership roles, prefers not to be isolated, perhaps his greatest strength is his enthusiasm, and his greatest weakness is his impulsiveness. This weakness, along with his primary fallback behavior being to attack, was his signature. When his father was shot, Sonny’s anger was almost uncontrollable:
“No, no, no! No more! Not this time, consigliere. No more meetin’s, no more discussions, no more Sollozzo tricks. You give ’em one message: I want Sollozzo. If not, it’s all-out war; we go to the mattresses.”
Though he probably didn’t recognize that tendency in himself, his observable behavior often made it very clear to his enemies, and that was his downfall. He operated around a fear of not getting applause, which is a little bit different than needing approval. Sonny’s greatest need in life was applause. Everybody wants some approval.
Many have used the MBTI to profile Sonny as ESTP. That would be equal to a Driver/Driver, thus highly assertive and extremely emotionally controlled. I can understand how they might use certain parts of the Myers Briggs pattern to arrive at that conclusion, but they would be wrong. Sonny’s emotions were NOT what I’d call controlled. Sonny was certainly assertive, but he was not a Driver.
He was an Expressive. But he was a Driving Expressive. The MTBI pattern equal to that is ESFP. Some would call that the “Performer”, a temperament that is far more into a world of feelings than the driver/driver ever would be. I am not saying is it wrong to be expressive, but it was a tragic flaw for Sonny to not recognize it about himself. But his enemies could easily see it: that’s what got him killed.
Fredo was a sickly child. His mother was constantly vigilant about how he felt. Much of his early childhood revolved around how he was feeling. To some degree he was pampered, and concessions were made for what was expected of him. As he got older, he was less and less happy about the way he felt others perceived him. For a long time, he was quick to give in and go with the flow. When made tense, his first fallback was to acquiesce, even when being slapped around by Moe Green in Las Vegas:
“Aw, now that, that was nothin’, Mike. Moe didn’t mean nothin’ by that. Yeah, sure he flies off the handle every once in a while, but me and him, we’re good friends, right Moe?”
But as the story develops, we see that Fredo never felt accepted in a way that validated his own self image.
“It ain’t the way I wanted it! I can handle things! I’m smart! Not like everybody says… like dumb… I’m smart and I want respect!”
And so it is for that reason the tension he felt from a lack of “respect”, though not exactly hatred at all, seldom went away as he got older. Because of that, acquiescence wasn’t working for him, though it was his primary fallback. So, he tried the fallback behaviors of the other styles, and the tension still didn’t go away. When he moved to over to the fallback behavior of the Driving Expressive (ESFP), the “What’s in it for me” he felt no one seemed to care about, drove him to attack, thus betraying his own brother.
This reaction, plus certain flamboyance in social behavior while trying to fit in, caused some critics to assume Fredo was a Driving Expressive, or ESFP. Yes, Fredo wanted approval, but it wasn’t the fear of not getting him applause that drove him; it was the fear of not being liked, and worse, the fear of being hated. In the end, just wanting to be liked and be accepted back into his family, he was hanging around to take his nephew fishing. It was predictable that he would be willing to do that, so it was easy to plan his demise.
So within the framework of the “family”, he was not an Expressive. In this culture, Fredo was an Amiable, although no doubt, he was a very Expressive Amiable. It was his need to be seen in the company of physically attractive women that drove him far more than any emotional attachment he might feel for them.
In a scene where men were shooting at his father, Fredo was incapable of taking any positive controlled action to defend him, or even retaliate. He just cried. In spite of this ineptitude, his own self image was that he was capable of handling great responsibilities, thus a bit “Idealistic”. And so, the MBTI that would closet match to his style is INFP.
Tom Hagen was not Vito’s natural son, but as he grew up, he became more and more the one whose “information” could be trusted. Tom was thorough, a detailed thinker, and oriented to detail. He was generally never seen as impulsive, and less likely than some to make mistakes, or leave out necessary action steps. While others are focussed on actions and reactions, Tom does his homework, and focusses on what to consider before taking action:
“I found out about this Captain McCluskey who broke Mike’s jaw…Now he’s definitely on Sollozzo’s payroll, and for big money. McCluskey has agreed to be the Turk’s bodyguard. What you have to understand, Sonny, is that while Sollozzo is being guarded like this, he is invulnerable. Now nobody has ever gunned down a New York police captain — never. It would be disastrous. All the Five Families would come after you, Sonny. The Corleone Family would be outcasts! Even the old man’s political protection would run for cover! So do me a favor — take this into consideration.”
Even though eventually the “family” did act to retaliate by killing McCluskey, they did take what Tom said into consideration. But it was Michael that went from that to the idea of some benefit to pointing out the Captain’s involvement in corruption, drugs, and organized crime. And as his father before him would have done, Michael turned to Tom Hagen for confirmation that the family had people in the media that could help make McCluskey look dirty in the public eye. And of course it would be Tom that would arrange things.
One of the reasons he was often seen as correct in his assessments of things, was that he had an overwhelming desire to not be wrong. It was this same obsession in another piece of literature that seemed to drive Dr. Watson to distraction when dealing with Sherlock Holmes’ painstaking habits. Sherlock always seemed to want to put every single piece of evidence under intense scrutiny before making a decision. Sherlock Holmes took great pride in this, for he believed it to be the way to avoid impulsive, and thus possibly erroneous decisions. Nothing was more important to him than that.
And so it was that the very likelihood of wanting to not be wrong, and therefore with a tendency to be slower to action, was why Michael (under the advisement of Vito) removed Tom as the Consigliere when faced with an imminent war with the other families. Since Tom didn’t necessarily see himself in the same way Michael did, he didn’t understand the decision, and it hurt his feelings at first. But Tom was not a man to dwell in his feelings, at least that others would be able to notice, for very long.
Although he was “out” as far as the war council was concerned, he was placed in another position. Since his powers of accurate observation and details of accountability would be put to profitable use, Tom was able to fit in well with the assignment without further conflict or controversial behavior about the organizational restructuring. The justification of this move, perhaps more than anything else revealed in the story, as far as the culture of the family was concerned, establishes that Tom was an Analytic.
But he was a Driving Analytic. Though perhaps more in a world of his perceptions than needing quick closure, Tom regularly used objective judgement to make decisions. His logical MBTI would be ISTP. He was the “Mechanic”; he knew how to fix things.
This brings us to Michael. Early in the novel he showed signs of wanting to be in control of decisions that effected him. He enrolled in college to not allow the family business to determine his role in life. Yet even as the family presumed his student status might protect him from the draft, Michael joined the Marines. And he did so without consulting his father, or anyone else. He surprised some of his family when he took a controlling role in avenging the assassination attempt on his father. He asserted himself that he be the one to do it.
“It’s not personal, Sonny. It’s strictly business.”
Later, after being out of the country for some time, his reputation for taking calculated risks instead of impulsive ones like Sonny had, prompted his father to turn more of the business over to him. Michael tended not to allow others to read his emotions. When made tense, emotions seemed to show, but it was a part of his fallback to become autocratic whenever “control” might be at risk.
After his father’s death, Michael took the calculated risks he felt were necessary to insure that he was unquestionably in complete control of all of the family business. It was quick, decisive, and goal oriented.
So though maintaining more emotional control than the others, he was almost, though not quite as assertive as his brother, Sonny. Remember, Sonny was an Expressive, but Michael Corleone was a Driver. Specifically, an Analytical Driver. The MBTI comparable to that would be ENTJ, the “Executive”.
And how about Vito himself? A tremendous range of experiences and circumstances helped mold his style. Vito was an intelligent man, and thoughtful. His thinking and planning abilities helped him to connect with even the most analytical. That he had a vision of the future, accepted leadership, and could fight when he had to made him understood by expressive people. And even more so that he understood them. He built relationships based on respect which was his bond with amiables, and his ability to manage change and be decisive earned him the respect of drivers.
There was a bully in the community. He was a well connected extortionist, and therefore commanded great fear, as well as being the powerful one who could grant favors. Don Fanucci was called The Black Hand. Vito, without waiting for any other authority to approve of it, took care of Fanucci. He didn’t need to take credit for it, as it was assumed quietly that no one else but Vito could have been that assertive and kept his cool about it.
In the story, a husbandless woman in the neighborhood was being evicted because her little boy had brought home a puppy, an action that would prove to be in conflict with the landlord’s inflexible “no pets” rule. She shared her fearful frustration of not knowing what to do or where she and her son would live with her friend and neighbor, Mrs. Corleone. Vito’s wife brought the lady to her husband. She believed he might be able to at least advise her, if not intercede on her behalf, but it was the intercession which he took on with a controlled determination that was the cornerstone of establishing his image in the community. Vito would be seen, not just as a replacement for the extortionist “The Black Hand”, Don Fanucci, but in very much so a matter of deep respect, as “The Godfather”.
As Vito negotiated with the landlord, he did so with some genuine feeling and empathy for the woman’s situation. And it because his wife had arranged for the lady to ask for a favor, that he additionally felt it would have been dishonorable to refuse to help her. When the lady’s landlord seemed unbending, abrupt, condescending, and rude, Vito did not lose his temper. Though he was a man of action, he maintained a very controlled disposition. He knew how to allow the man to understand who he was:
“Do me this favor. I won’t forget it. Ask your friends in the neighborhood about me. They’ll tell you I know how to return a favor…”
Vito understood the value of reputation. When others know how you’re known to behave, they will believe what that tells them you are far more that what you might wish to tell them you are. What we do speaks louder than what we say? And once he knew the landlord understood it, it was easy for Vito to tell him the woman’s son could keep the little dog, and that the widow’s rent would be reduced.
Vito Corleone was in his comfort zone, and the landlord was not in his. And all of this is noticed because of the power of clearly defined images drawn from how they acted. The process is to establish a recognizable pattern from observable behavior characteristics (character analysis: understanding the motivation, and the predictable style of behavior it leads to).
Whether Vito understood the process or not, it was clear that he knew how to handle different people based on the way they showed him how they wanted to be treated. He knew the value of being seen as, and how to convince others it was to their advantage to also be seen as, “a reasonable man.” And so it is the measure of those skills, that I call Vito the “versatile manager”; he had the ability to deal with other people who’s styles were different from his own, with very little tension caused by it.
This ability or management skill made it seem he had almost a sixth sense when it came to reading people, and thus showing some respectable empathy for how they must be feeling. His strategies and tactics showed he understood very well exactly what it took to “motivate” others”:
“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
Later, after an attempt on his own life and the death of his oldest son, Vito was very effective convincing the heads of the other families by appealing to their thinking and their feeling when he offered concessions and called for a truce, without allowing them to really know what he had on his mind:
“You talk about vengeance. Is vengeance going to bring your son back to you or my boy to me? I forgo the vengeance of my son. But my youngest son had to leave this country because of this Sollozzo business. So now I have to make arrangements to bring him back safely cleared of all these false charges. But I’m a superstitious man. And if some unlucky accident should befall him, if he should be shot in the head by a police officer, or if should hang himself in his jail cell, or if he’s struck by a bolt of lightning…then I’m going to blame some of the people in this room…and that, I do not forgive. But, that aside, let say that I swear, on the souls of my grandchildren, that I will not be the one to break the peace we have made here today.”
If we have to place him in a home quadrant, I’d say he was a Driver. When he negotiated, he did so from what was obvious to others as a position of strength. But he was an Amiable Driver (powerful use of relationships-more than anyone else in the story). That puts him near center right next to driving amiables, analytical expressives and expressive analytics. Using the MBTI, Vito was ESTJ.
But in fairness to the Jungians, Vito Corleone was in the story, the definitive “Guardian” of a way of life with its own set of rules, and own set of values based on a concept of respect so profoundly important within the sub-culture he adopted. And it is his own values of what he senses is important to security and his social order that set him apart from other “guardian’ types. You see, he wouldn’t likely be eager to join the PTA (unless he could completely take charge of it), because that institution already operates by somebody else’s rules.
I’ve mentioned the The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and also Social Style Profile Patterns. Which do you feel would be quicker, if not easier to use as a tool for the character analysis of Vito Corleone?
1.) That he was more prone to extroversion over introversion, oriented to sensing more than intuition, more into his thinking than his feeling, and seeking closure over being open-ended? Or, would it be better to tell you:
2.) His greatest need was to be in control of things, and that when made very tense, when sensing (fearing) his ability to maintain that control was threatened, he’d be likely to become rather autocratic?
I like the second assessment, but is it over-simplistic? Well, I suppose that would depend on how one arrived at the conclusion. The process of collecting data to plot someone on graphs for the MBTI is similar to the process of determining their social style. Behavior has to be observed, particularly when involving decision making. And values need to be assigned to adjectives that describe them. Then, the data has to be collected and compared to how it ranks within a bank of information on the behaviors of others within a range of normal psychology.
Further, it’s helpful and practical to have certain elements of style charted out so that what you know generally about them is more clearly defined. It was that very thing that gave me the defining words I used in description number two above.
Of course you want be able to identify basic need. But you also want to understand how they make use of time, what is important to them as they relate to others, how they view tasks in general, and what is their orientation to decision making. In other words, their primary question of what, why, who, or how, are they most likely to put the maximum effort towards, what they are most comfortable accepting or rejecting, what is their greatest strength, and also their greatest weakness.
And it also works backwards. With a valid summary of style elements, it’s easier to take what we observe and determine the style a person is likely to be more comfortable in. For example, if I see an individual generally avoiding involvement, tends to be cautious, is more interested in “how” rather than “what”, and is better with planning than execution, given a choice between driving, amiable, expressive or analytical, I’d say they were an analytic.
But using the four graphs used to determine MBTI, the only one I could be fairly certain of is introversion over extroversion; introversion is a part of the signature for all analytics. But I cannot certain about the other three graphs.
There’s a fifty-fifty chance they could be intuitive or sensing. All but the Expressive Analytics are more predisposed to be in a world of the their thinking rather than their feeling, and the Driving Analytics lean to perception more than judgment. Thus the Driving Analytic tends to be more open ended, while all the other analytics have a stronger need to get closure.
Don’t get confused here. Being unhurried and thoughtful does not tell you they don’t want closure. It tells you they don’t want to FORCE closure at the risk of error. It is BECAUSE they have that need, and more than anything, do not want to be wrong, that they as a group tend to be seen as the kind of people that want to postpone or avoid deadlines altogether.
Another reason I like the social style model is that it makes it easy to identify where the character is on a summary of style elements diagram. I’m sure you could come up with a similar one for the MBTI if you know the weight of the adjectives being tracked by the feedback instrument.
But as it is, I only have to think about four patterns on a grid instead of sixteen in order to identify their primary profile. Then, I can look at that same four pattern matrix to see their secondary influence. To go much further than that would be to observe a person under extremely tense and pressured situations where they have a lot of trouble resolving any conflict or controversy. That’s when a number of alternate fallback behaviors seem to zoom all over the place. And in situations where the tension never goes away, some people might go insane. I’m finding that harder to predict rather than just observe after it happens.
Though it might help, you don’t have to be a complete sociopath just to be crazy. That’s why courts allow for it to sometimes be considered a “temporary” situation.
But for the purposes of doing a character analysis for the average acting assignment, or understanding the people you work with, “crazy” may not be the profile you’re needing, unless you’re just observing people trying to find their cars at the Atlanta Airport.
What we really want to do is learn something from what we observe about the behavior of ourselves, and the other people on that same stage with us. We want to find a way that points to all kinds of answers about how they operate, especially primary need (want, desire), and primary and secondary fallback behaviors likely to occur when those needs are not met. It tells us what they are afraid of. So, with knowing what they want and what they fear, we can understand what their motivation is likely to be. In other words, what is the offer they can’t refuse? More than just a way to interpret the character, it tells us how to deal with them, or, as an actor, how to BE them.
It isn’t really so simple after all, is it? It requires access to not just input data, but the proper use of the tools to tell you what the data means. And you have to learn how to use the tools, too, don’t you? Their are many such tools and models out there, many of them supported by research.
But regardless of the model you use, make sure the information you’re gathering is from people who are honest, and knowledgeable about the person being profiled. Even if you’re certain the instrument being used is capable of giving a clear picture, validity is going to depend on the accuracy of the input data.
There are obvious benefits to understanding people. For one thing, if we don’t, we might have trouble getting others to understand us the way we’d want them to. And if we understand each other, we will have the tools to decide how to cooperate effectively.
Cooperation is primary if we want to be able to adapt to change. And being able to adapt to change, according to Charles Darwin, is far more important to survival than competition, though competition is certainly a part of it. Only the strong survive? Well, where is Tyrannosaurus Rex? I guess he couldn’t adapt fast enough.
So, we learn by understanding how we can cooperate better. That moves us closer to commitments rather than mere appearance of compliance, doesn’t it? But most of all, for those of us who are expected to be leaders, and have the will to lead, we can establish the equity in the process, so others will want to help us reach our goals. And while doing so, at the same time, reaching theirs. And when that happens, integrity has a chance of becoming the “trump” card again.
“The Godfather” by Mario Puzo was originally published in 1969 by G. P. Putnam’s and Sons. All the quotations above are from characters in the movies based on that novel as produced by Paramount Pictures, and therefore are not in any way a part of the property of this article, or this article’s author.