8/30/2011

Head Games

Temperament and personality type play heavily into how claims questions are asked and answered.

By Maureen Latimer

An interview with a claimant or an examination under oath can be a critical factor in assessing the legitimacy of an insurance claim. With a 23% rise in questionable claims reported to the National Insurance Crime Bureau between 2008 and 2010, it's worth taking a look at the role of temperament and personality type in the claims process. The methods used to investigate a claim can reveal deception or elicit suspicious behavior.

Going into a claim investigation with a pre-conceived notion can sour the interview, lead to spurious conclusions and/or motivate the claimant to pursue legal action. On the other hand, undertaking the process without any knowledge of the different personality types you might encounter can make you the victim of manipulation or outright fraud.

There are multiple methods that can be used to assess the type of person you are dealing with in a claim. Each one has its own strengths and weaknesses, but knowing the spectrum will help you better understand each participant and respond accordingly. Moreover, knowing your own temperament can make you a better interviewer and professional.

Trying Temperaments
Hippocrates had a medical theory about moods. He thought they were caused by bodily fluids: blood, yellow bile, black bile and phlegm—that's correct, the green sticky stuff. When Galen came along in the second century, he applied physiology to human personalities. He used hot, cold, wet and dry to formulate nine temperaments that reflected a mix of those four elements, some with balance and some with dominant characteristics.

Many people are familiar with the names Galen used for the temperamental categories: sanguine (blood), choleric (yellow bile), melancholic (black bile), and phlegmatic. These temperaments carry with them different, predominant (but not exclusive) personality characteristics. Not to be outdone, more modern researchers came up with a psycho-sociological method of discerning personalities. You may be most familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which maps 16 blended behavioral tendencies and is based on the work of Carl Jung.

In Myers-Briggs, personality is understood by the basic preferences of an individual. For instance, one person might prefer order and become exceedingly stressed by disorder, even by jumping from topic to topic in a conversation. Another person might perceive things primarily through their senses, while someone giving testimony on the same incident might rely on previous experiences or "intuition" to put an event within a comprehensible framework—two people at the same event with two totally different ways of perceiving and reporting.
Step One: Know Thyself
In his book The 4 Temperaments, Conrad Hock says, "Only if one knows [one's own temperament] can he judge correctly himself, his moods, his peculiarities…" A choleric has to conquer his darker characteristics, such as obstinacy, anger or pride. A sanguine must be aware of and control his talkativeness and inconsistency. A melancholic must park his distaste for suffering and his timidity at the door. A phlegmatic will have to force himself to pursue issues deeply and to care more about getting results.

Please Understand Me, by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates, is a Myers-Briggs primer that assists the reader in understanding blended personalities. The strength of Myers-Briggs is its validation process and generalized positive approach to the human mindset. It assesses personal perspective by determining how an individual prefers to work with what life offers. Do you prefer external or internal situations? Do you focus on the basics or interpolate things you know or have experienced into another event? When you make a decision, do you primarily rely on logic or first consider the people involved and the circumstances? Are you inclined toward getting to the result, or are you almost always open to new information and options?

Knowing yourself will help you prepare for an interview (and any interaction with a party to a claim, for that matter) with an eye to moderating your own preferences and prejudices.

Step Two: Know the Other
Knowledge of the personality temperaments and types also leads to a keener understanding of the people you deal with, both their weaknesses and their strengths. Gaining a basic understanding of a claimant permits you to deal with them at a more personal and effective level. It also allows you to spot a wheeler-dealer early in the process.

Hock points out that a choleric person can be won over by quiet explanations of reasons and motives but can be embittered by harshness or strong-headedness. A melancholic "is made suspicious and reticent by a rude word or an unfriendly mien," but by consistent kindness he becomes "pliable, trusting."

During an interview, if you can identify a choleric, you can calm yourself and better tolerate him if, for instance, he is severe, impetuous or obstinate. You can more easily exercise patience with the slow, undecided melancholic or a seemingly indifferent phlegmatic if you understand him upfront. Using your knowledge of Myers-Briggs, you might notice that your client greatly desires closure, even though not all the facts are in. Is this a sign of someone who wants to get his money and bolt, or is it a signal that you are dealing with a "J"—someone who simply prefers getting things decided, or "judged." You might encounter a person in an interview who wants to keep bringing in specifics about people who seemingly are not germane. Is this person trying to obfuscate, or is he merely an "F"—one who likes to consider the people and special circumstances that impinge on an event?
When preparing for court, you could find you have a sanguine temperament with a Myers-Briggs "S"-type personality—a talker who loves sensory details. This person might pose a problem under examination, giving too much information that spawns distracting questions from opposing counsel. Worse, he could divulge unflattering or misleading information that could negatively influence a jury.

On the seedier side, knowledge of personality types can alert you to a party's attempt at manipulation, steamrolling or dishonesty. In his book Detecting Pinocchio, Christopher Dillingham teaches how to detect lying by comparing body language, speech and other clues to a person's normal behavior. For example, if you are dealing with a Myers-Briggs "S"-type and you keep hearing, "I don't recall," or you are dealing with a sanguine who gives answers like, "Not really" or "Kind of," you might be seeing a red flag that indicates further investigation.

Dillingham starts with establishing baseline behavior, then moves to analyzing storytelling and speech patterns—such as continuity, equivocation and expanded contractions (do not, are not, etc.); eye movement; timing of emotional displays; and involuntary indicators, like sweating and flushing. Each has its own meaning, but each must be understood with reference to personality. A choleric may very well be red in the face when speaking and it wouldn't indicate lying. A melancholic could easily be reticent, even seemingly evasive. The trick is to know the underlying personality and the overlying behaviors' consistency or incongruence.

Step Three: Work with What You've Got
If you work with a party's personality, you are more likely to get to the truth and avoid pitfalls generated by that personality. Combining the temperaments, personality types and some good lie detection can even disable a potentially fraudulent claim.

Phlegmatics can be passive-aggressive, so they might become non-responsive to turns of events they don't like. Maybe it's a settlement offer or a document that needs to be signed that they aren't happy with. Maybe it's a question for which they don't have a canned response. This passive-aggressiveness could be hard to handle since phlegmatics are also typically kind and even affectionate and the response is so contrary to the overt personality.

Cholerics, who often display competence and team spirit, can also be pushy and, if that doesn't work, manipulative. They may also try to dominate all parties in a claim, from other witnesses to members of the investigative team. If you are dealing with a choleric fraudster, you might be thrown by such devious behavior from such an enjoyable, charismatic person.

A melancholic may turn his natural inclination toward independence into a real problem, initiating contact with others outside of the claim chain or working toward a separate solution beyond the established channel. This kind of temperament can be exacerbated if the melancholic is also a Myers-Briggs "NT"-type, known for its questioning of authority. One error on your part, and your claimant might figure it's better to go around you or over you.

To round out considerations on fraud, we can't neglect the emotional sanguine temperament. They know how to make friends and influence people, but mix the sanguine with a "J"-type personality and you probably will have a tantrum on your hands. A sanguine who wants his way may resort to ranting and raving or, for females, crying. Be aware that not all emotion is genuine, though. Dissect outbursts, and measure them against the baseline personality characteristics. You may find disingenuousness lurking.

Using the four predominant temperament types, the 16 Myers-Briggs personality types, and the systematic evaluation of speech and body language, you should be able to detect inconsistencies in claims and claimants. Knowing yourself and your clients will put you ahead of the game in your next claim.
Maureen Latimer is Claims Advisor's managing editor.


Maureen Latimer is managing editor of Claims Advisor.

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