Concealing Our Failures by Personality Type

Failure is an ugly word. It’s an even uglier feeling – especially when other people are aware of our mistakes. And while most of us at least attempt to downplay our failures, some take great pains to avoid the shame of defeat.

We asked our readers whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “You try hard to prevent others from seeing your failures.” Overall, 75% agreed, confirming that it’s tough for most of us to own up to our shortcomings. But the results also indicated that the Strategies we follow, more than our Roles, influence how we deal with failure. This makes sense, since our Strategies show how we prefer to do things, including achieving our goals.

Which personality types try the hardest to conceal their failures? We analyze the results below.

Roles

Analysts and Diplomats (80% and 78% agreeing)

Analysts and Diplomats, as Intuitive personalities, were the most likely to say that they work hard to hide their failures. Overall, Intuitive types (79%) were 9% more likely than Observant types (70%) to agree with our statement, the most significant divide among the traits that determine our Roles.

Intuitive personalities tend to lead the way into new territory, exploring creative ideas, trying new things, and pushing boundaries. They may fear that revealing their failures will cause others to lose confidence in them and resist the innovations that they so dearly value.

Analysts experience an extra sting because of their Thinking personality trait. Confident as they are in the soundness of their logic, failure can be a major blow to their pride – even more so when other people know that they’ve messed up. Diplomats, on the other hand, because of their Feeling trait, may seek some level of emotional comfort from other people, at least in cases where they’re seriously struggling with failure.

Of all the personality types, Advocates (INFJ) (86%) were the most likely to agree that they try to prevent others from seeing their failures. Advocates are one of the most private, guarded personalities, and they’re also very sensitive. They devote themselves to helping others, but they can sometimes take their idealism and altruism too far, so that a failure can feel absolutely devastating. But because they don’t want to jeopardize their cause, they won’t let it show.

Some of history’s most inspirational figures have been Advocates, like Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Mother Teresa. While these leaders surely dealt with feelings of failure and disappointment, they kept it private, maintaining a brave face in public and continuing to fight for positive change in the world.

Sentinels and Explorers (71% and 68%)

Sentinels and Explorers also responded in the affirmative, although in slightly less striking margins. As Observant personalities, these Roles tend to stick to tried-and-true methods, so it may be the case that they find themselves in positions of failure less often than their Intuitive counterparts. Because they’re used to dealing with facts and reality, they may be somewhat better at recovering from failure.

Sentinels in particular are concerned with efficiency and effectiveness. For these personality types, failure can be difficult to admit to, lest it mean that their trusted systems and processes are imperfect. But if they’ve made a mistake that compromises their goals, they’re likely to own up to it, in order to get things back on track quickly. This is also a sign of how much Sentinels value personal responsibility and honesty.

Explorers, for their part, are spontaneous and willing to take risks – with full awareness that risk always involves the potential for failure. This makes them more comfortable than most with being open about their failures. Explorer personalities generally take a more pragmatic view of setbacks as experiences to learn from.

Entertainers (ESFP) (62%) were the least likely of all personality types to try to conceal their failures. Entertainers are no strangers to drama, and they don’t mind that things get messy sometimes. Mistakes, disappointments, and failures are a fact of life. And while it’s hard for them when their own failures are in the spotlight, they cope better by leaning on friends and loved ones for support than they do by trying to deal with problems on their own.

Think of Adele, the famously emotional, soulful singer who has written ballads to her own failures and has been known to stop live performances mid-song and start over if she feels like she’s not getting it right. Adele is a perfect example of an Entertainer personality putting it all out there – both the good and the bad.

Strategies

Constant Improvement and Social Engagement (86% and 82% agreeing)

The Identity personality aspect, which relates to how we react to external feedback, had the biggest influence on this survey. Turbulent types (84%) were 21% more likely than Assertive types (63%) to agree that they try to prevent others from seeing their failures. This is to be expected, given how sensitive Turbulent personalities are to stress and emotions, and how concerned they are with perfection. The self-critical nature of Constant Improvers and Social Engagers may twist slight missteps into egregious, embarrassing failures that they are loathe to confess to others.

Constant Improvers, as Introverts, are the personalities most prone to hiding their failures. As upset as they are by their shortcomings, their natural impulse is to deal with their problems on their own, internally, rather than to share them with others, which can often cause them more stress in the long run.

Social Engagers, though equally troubled by their failures, are Extraverted personalities, so they’re somewhat more likely to reach out for help in times of difficulty. Failure is a lot easier to handle with the support of a trusted friend or loved one.

Confident Individualism and People Mastery (68% and 61%)

Confident Individualists and People Masters may not enjoy making their failures known, but they are more adept at navigating them, thanks to their Assertive Identity. Even-keeled and self-assured, Assertive personalities generally don’t worry a lot about the consequences of their failures, particularly in terms of the opinions of other people. They can also keep their foul-ups in perspective – they’re often not as dire as they may seem.

Failure is somewhat more concerning to Introverted Confident Individualists, largely because of the importance that they place on self-reliance. The hardest thing about failure for these personalities is the sense that they’ve let themselves down. But for that very reason, Confident Individualists are likely to assess what went wrong, so that they can pick themselves up and avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

Extraverted People Masters have enough personal confidence that, while they might not feel much need to talk about their failures, they wouldn’t be terribly embarrassed if they did. These personality types are comfortable with who they are and don’t get easily frustrated with themselves, but they have a strong network of friends and family to fall back on when necessary.

Conclusions

Our survey makes it clear that most people, regardless of personality type, are not keen on laying their shortcomings out for the world to see. Failure is a galling prospect, especially for individuals with big, innovative, inspiring goals (like Intuitive types) and for those with precarious self-esteem (like Turbulent types). These tendencies are further compounded for Introverts, who are more likely to turn inward in the face of disappointment, rather than seek outside support.

Even personalities who agreed with our statement in lower numbers, like Explorers and People Masters, still indicated that they prefer to conceal their failures, suggesting that a more tolerant view of mistakes doesn’t make exposing them any easier.

Are you open with others about failure? Or do you, like most of us, try to keep people from seeing your weaknesses and setbacks? We’d love to hear about it below.

You can see the full set of data, including correlation coefficients, in the Academy. Please also consider participating in our Member Surveys!

1 month ago
I've got to agree with that, I used to be very ashamed the moment I notice my own failure- worse when other's do! Even though I wouldn't describe myself as an insecure person, failing is a big disappointment for myself. And I doubt other people wouldn't be disappointment with me, when they know about it. It's just very embarrassing to me.
1 month ago
So does (currently) having a D- in a class and not caring about it relate to this topic? Because it feels like I’m failing in life right now XD
1 month ago
Unfortunately, I was born with the ability to mess up all the time. The absurdity of all the times I have messed up would convince me that my life is a cartoon. Every time I do though, I cry INTERNALLY.
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