Playing to Win: Personality Type and the Drive to Compete

Who doesn’t like to win? Whether you score a tie-breaking point on the field or receive a professional award, there’s something deeply validating about coming out on top.

Some people thrive on competition more than others, however. These people look at all types of activities – from board games and bowling nights to fund-raising drives and sales challenges at work – as opportunities to push themselves in pursuit of a major win. 

What separates these die-hard competitors from their more laid-back peers? To find out, we went to our community and asked who agreed with the statement, “You enjoy all kinds of competitions and always strive to win.” Here are the results by personality type:

The data reveals strong differences in opinion, especially between Extraverted and Introverted types (73% versus 51% agreeing, respectively). Let’s delve into these results, starting with the least competitive personality types.

Roles

Explorers (56% agreeing) 

On average, Explorer personality types were the least likely Role to go for gold. This fits with their reputation for seeking joy and pleasure rather than strategizing to achieve glory and rewards.

That said, the underlying data could best be described as, well, split. Thinking types – Entrepreneurs (ESTP) (79%) and Virtuosos (ISTP) (62%) – were significantly more likely to care about winning than their counterparts with the Feeling trait. In fact, Adventurers (ISFP) came in as the least likely of all personality types to strive to win, with only 37% agreeing.

Why this gap? Feeling types, because they filter everything through their emotions, are sensitive and interested in cooperation, not competition. These personalities are internally motivated by a desire to feel a certain way, not a desire to achieve external results. Sure, winning feels great – but not when it’s at the expense of their peers. For Adventurers, personal growth comes from exploring a range of new experiences, not from single-minded focus on domination or success.

Thinking personality types, on the other hand, are keenly aware of the benefits of winning or being the best, whether on the playing field or in the workplace. If they are the most talented competitors then, logically, why should they hold back?

Diplomats and Sentinels (60% each)

Surprise: Diplomats and Sentinels agree on something. Well, sort of. Sixty percent of both Diplomat and Sentinel personality types described themselves as motivated by competition, but chances are that the underlying reasoning for each of these Roles is quite different.

For Diplomats, winning isn’t just about coming out on top. Thanks to their Intuitive personality trait, they have a strong personal system of values, and when their idealism or a cause they care about is at stake, they’re willing to compete to protect it. A competitive drive is an asset when running a fund-raising campaign, for instance. Extraverted Diplomat personalities like Protagonists (ENFJ) (75%) are especially likely to aim to win, perhaps because they look to competitions as another way to be in community with others. As anyone who has belonged to a sports team knows, competition can actually bring people closer together.

Sentinel personality types, on the other hand, may enjoy winning because it showcases their competency – a quality that is particularly important to them. Just as we saw with Explorers, Extraversion and the Thinking trait correlated with a higher competitive drive among Sentinels. For example, 80% of Executives (ESTJ) agreed with our statement. Executives are strong-willed and focused on getting things done, characteristics that can become heightened by a sense of competition. Defenders (ISFJ), as Introverted, Feeling personality types, are less comfortable with discord and agreed at a rate of just 42%.

Analysts (75%)

Regardless of whether they are Introverted or Extraverted, a strong majority of all Analyst personality types identified themselves as always playing to win. They can thank their shared Thinking trait for their inherent competitiveness. Analysts are strategic thinkers able to visualize a path to victory, and they’re also generally not hampered by concern for other peoples’ feelings. On top of that, because of their Intuitive trait, they can get carried away with notions of glory.

Commanders (ENTJ) proved to be the most competitive of all personality types, with 89% agreeing. Commanders love few things more than a grand challenge, and when they compete they become unstoppable – at times, perhaps a little too unstoppable. While other personality types might be intimidated or frustrated by competition, Commanders are invigorated by it, rising to each new opportunity to exercise their skills. In fact, competition is so much at the core of their personality that Commanders were the only type whose responses showed no statistical difference between the Assertive and Turbulent variants.

Strategies

 

Constant Improvement (49% agreeing)

The Introverted members of the Constant Improvement Strategy were the most neutral in their responses, with just under half agreeing. You might expect Constant Improvers to crave the validation that comes with winning, given their Turbulent Identity. But let’s not forget the downside of entering a competition: you might lose. The Turbulent personality trait diminishes Constant Improvers’ optimism about winning, so it makes perfect sense that they are the least interested in competing in the first place.

These personality types already place a great deal of pressure on themselves, so the prospect of external competition can seem exhausting to them. As Introverts, they may also be uncomfortable placing themselves in the spotlight or risking the tension and drama that competition can wreak.

Confident Individualism (57%)

As Assertive personality types, members of the Confident Individualism Strategy are less afraid of losing than their Turbulent counterparts, so they are more comfortable with competition. Confident and laid-back, Confident Individualists don’t obsess over how others perceive them. They may not actively seek out competition, but they certainly aren’t averse to winning.

Social Engagement (69%) 

As we’ve seen, Extraverted personalities are usually much more competitive than their Introverted cousins, so it’s not surprising that types in the Social Engagement Strategy agreed at a high rate. Winning appeals to Social Engagers on many levels: it reinforces their self-esteem, establishes their worth, and proves that they hang with the top dogs. Even so, the self-doubt that creeps in from their Turbulent personality trait can sometimes dampen their competitive drive.

People Mastery (75% agreeing)

Types who belong to the People Mastery Strategy love to compete – and to win. Thanks to their Assertive trait, these personalities don’t shy away from opportunities to test their abilities, and their Extraversion makes them comfortable with the social dynamics of competition, from teamwork and conflict to the tricky business of being a gracious winner. The stakes of any given competition don’t feel particularly high for People Masters, so even as they strive to win, they are able to relax, enjoy themselves, and draw on their innate sense of self-assurance. 

Conclusions

So what’s the perfect recipe for a die-hard competitor? According to our study, Extraversion, the Thinking trait, and the Assertive trait all contribute to a strong drive to win. Extraverted personality types are more comfortable with the social dynamics and the strong external stimuli that can accompany competition. The Thinking trait helps people strategize and keep their eye on the prize, while the Assertive trait gives people the confidence to throw their hat in the ring in the first place.

This isn’t to say that people who lack these personality traits don’t enjoy winning or never feel motivated to compete. Still, winning proved to be a surprisingly divisive issue, with a 52-point gap between our least competitive and our most competitive personality types.

What about you? How much does winning matter to you, and how do you think your desire to compete is related to your personality type? Let us know in the comments!

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

2 weeks ago
As an INTP-A, I like to compete, but I don't seek out competition. The reason why I don't seek it out is because I tend to get very invested in the competition, and I have better things to spend my energy on than a silly competition.
3 weeks ago
As an INFP-T gym class is..horrible.
2 months ago
I don't understand. This survey shows that Adventurers enjoyed competition least but in their strengths and weaknesses page it says that they are "overly competitive".
3 months ago
Extraverted, Thinking, Assertive and Competitive - sounds about right. Play Monopoly with me... I dare you.
3 months ago
"No thanks", said the INFP-T, "How about we cooperate instead?"
2 months ago
"Sure," said the ENTP-A, "I'm willing to sell you my get-out-of-jail card at a fair price." *Smiles maniacally*
3 months ago
Look No Matter what it is as long as I win and have bragging rights I’m contempt
3 months ago
Content... or in contempt?
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