I always admired those likable people who everyone instantly seems to warm to. They manage to somehow never offend and come across as amiable at all times.
This is not me. Why? For one thing, I’ve concluded that I’m just not that agreeable.
Far from neutral, I have strong personality traits that people tend to either really like or find annoying as hell.
Am I a polarizing person? And if so, is that a bad thing?
Here are 15 personality traits of polarizing people — the good, the bad, and the ugly.
What does it mean to be a Polarising person?
If a polarising person were a food, they’d probably be olives, anchovies, or Vegemite. They have a strong flavor that just isn’t palatable to everyone.
A polarizing person is basically a divisive person who tends to split opinions. Aka, you either love them or hate them.
It may be someone’s ideas and beliefs, or just the way they behave which makes them polarizing.
Perhaps the most polarizing person in recent times was former President Donald Trump.
Rather than being moderately liked by many, a polarizing personality is usually adored by some and detested by others.
What are the characteristics of polarization?
1) People tend to love you or hate you
One of the most defining characteristics of a polarizing person is the love/hate relationship that people have towards them.
Not literally of course (well, hopefully not). But if you are polarizing you will most likely find that some people think you are amazing, inspiring, wise, hilarious, and thought-provoking, whilst others think you are egotistical, rude, loud, annoying, pedantic, attention-seeking, etc.
Your personality traits tend to sit more on one side of the spectrum rather than somewhere in the middle.
That means that you are not going to be to everyone’s taste.
If someone enjoys those characteristics, then happy days, they’ll think you’re great and you’ll get on like a house on fire.
On the other hand, if those extreme personality traits really aren’t someone else’s thing then you may find you clash, and you’ll be about as popular as a visit to the dentist.
2) You prefer authenticity over popularity
True story. When I was a child one day walking to school one of my peers dropped some litter on the floor.
To look “cool” (at least back in those days when kids were less environmentally conscious) what I should have done is said absolutely nothing. But I just couldn’t help myself.
Instead, I chime in and declare that “if everyone decided to drop litter, we would be wading our way to school through trash.”
Polarizing people tend to care more about speaking the truth as they see it than about winning popularity.
Rather than keep quiet to avoid rubbing anyone up the wrong way, you are more likely to say it as you see it. That may mean sharing unpopular opinions at times.
At its best, this trait can inspire change, healthy debate, and a new way of looking at things. At its worst, it can mean being unnecessarily argumentative, tactless, or imposing.
It all depends on whether you are being a trailblazer or just being a smart-ass.
3) You stand out, rather than blend in
Do you remember Björk? The Icelandic singer with an eclectic musical style (well, she had an eclectic everything style really).
It wasn’t just her unconventional songs, like “It’s oh so quiet”, that made her stand out from the crowd.
It was her quirky and potentially strange ways of speaking, behaving, and dressing too. Eccentric and over-the-top, her tastes could be called attention-seeking. Like the time when she wore a swan dress to the Oscars.
Often pictured in elaborate theatrical costumes, and with experimental music that could never be described as easy listening, Björk was never going to blend in.
But her unique and unapologetic ways, as polarizing as they may have been to the mainstream, also managed to charm the world.
She became Iceland’s first celebrity to truly achieve overseas notoriety.
The very things that made her pretty annoying to some, were also what made her distinguishable and so difficult to ignore.
Often the outlandishness that makes polarizing people stand out is what simultaneously makes them iconic.
4) You’re not afraid to speak your mind
Polarizing people will often be the first person to speak up and give their opinion in the work meeting, or in the bar.
They’ll happily chime in, offering up their thoughts on the matter at hand.
On the positive side, lively debate and interesting conversations most likely surround you. You can be a great asset to a team, as you willingly contribute.
On the negative side, you may be prone to steamrolling over people with a “my way or the highway attitude” towards your own opinions and beliefs.
You may find that some of your more unpopular opinions can get you into trouble.
Offering your opinions is one thing, but when polarising people try to impose their opinions on others, they may have a tendency to try and take over.
When polarizing people believe their own agenda is impressive and inspired, they prefer to be in charge and steer things the way they think is best.
5) You’re decisive
As polarizing people aren’t known for sitting on the fence, you are most likely a decisive person.
This is helped by your strong-minded ways. Having a clear vision and set of beliefs means you usually already know what you think and feel about something.
As a consequence, you don’t need to deliberate endlessly and can make a decision quickly, without agonizing over your choices.
Being decisive is one of the reasons polarizing people can make strong leaders.
This clarity in making a decision and sticking to it can inspire confidence in others.
Of course, it’s important to remember that being a good decision-maker isn’t the same as being decisive. But the decisiveness of polarizing people can mean they are less likely to miss out on opportunities or lack consistency due to hesitation.
In his book, Decision Pulse, Organizational psychologist Nick Tasler explains that even if it is a ‘fake it till you make it’ approach, “decisive people give themselves a better shot at success from the get-go, even if they perform poorly later on.”
6) You disrupt the status quo
Given the choice, pretty much everyone would opt for a happy, pleasant, and easy life.
It’s not that many of us go looking for disruption and trouble. But the reality is that often conflict, division, and polarization are undeniably the breeding ground for change.
It seems a certain amount of polarization is a good thing. Sometimes we need to shake things up a little to inspire a shift.
For example, research has shown that strong divisive patterns often become more susceptible to change after major disruptions to the status quo.
In a similar way, polarizing personalities can appear to ruffle feathers in a way that pushes boundaries. In doing so these strong characters are capable of shifting the norm.
For good or for bad, polarizing people are more likely to inspire action.
7) Your best qualities are often associated with your worst
I tend to think of personality traits as being on a spectrum rather than stand-alone characteristics.
Usually, the very things that we admire in someone have a less desirable side effect attached.
For example, the same thing that makes someone firm and decisive can also make them pig-headed at times. The quality that makes another person sensitive and thoughtful can make them painfully shy in other instances.
In polarising people, this is often even more noticeable. It’s also what makes some people like them, whilst others are put off.
Those who admire them are usually focusing on their appealing traits, whilst those who find fault notice their less desirable characteristics first.
The qualities that made Steve Job, by all accounts, a nightmare to work with and caused him to get temporarily fired from his own company are the same thing that made him a high-value employee.
His polarizing aggressive persona, as controversial as it is, was also what gave Apple its competitive edge.
8) You’re a go-getter
Some of the world’s most successful people are also the most polarizing.
Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Larry Ellison may not be the easiest of characters to get along with, but far from standing in their way, it appears to have significantly contributed to their success.
According to Entrepreneur, some of the best leaders are also polarizing personalities that share certain qualities that tend to make them go-getters.
- They have very specific demands
They have a singular, detailed vision and are fiercely committed to achieving it. That can mean they are simultaneously inflexible and demanding. But this helps to filter out certain types of people who are not the right fit.
- They are unique
Controversy finds polarizing people as they bend the rules. But this ability to push boundaries, rather than be complacent, gives them an edge that breaks the mold and helps distinguish them from the competition and make a bigger mark in the process.
- They have very high expectations
They have little-to-no tolerance for failure. In fact, they’ll demand peak performance at all times. Accordingly, they tend to drive more innovation and get more done.
- They are passionate and loyal
Passion is a funny thing. Inspiring to some, this fiery nature is extreme to others. But controversial entrepreneurs tend to be more intense, motivated, and charismatic. If this personality type appeals to you, it will inspire more loyalty, even while others flee.
9) You grab attention
Whether you are looking for it or not, if you are a polarizing person you probably grab attention wherever you go.
If you are aware of how others see you (for good or bad) you may use that to bring attention to yourself.
Many polarizing people can be incredibly charming and charismatic, especially when they want to be, and you probably know how to work a room.
On the flip side of being charismatic, you may seek to magnify your persona, in order to impress (or manipulate) people.
10) Sometimes you go too far
Boundaries are often fine lines. When you have a tendency to push boundaries, as a polarising person, you probably walk that fine line often. On some occasions, you most likely cross it too.
Perhaps you ask what others find to be impertinent or inappropriate questions.
Maybe you don’t know when to stop if a discussion goes too far.
It’s polarizing people’s ability to go out on a limb and take risks that often makes them successful individuals. But with every risk also comes the potential for failure and mistakes too.
11) You’re assertive
Being assertive certainly doesn’t have to mean aggressive. But one characteristic is that polarizing people are certainly not passive.
Although some polarising people do have a dog-eat-dog attitude, certainly not all do. Just because you won’t let people walk all over you, that doesn’t mean that you will walk all over others either.
US Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor says she has learned to strike a balance between being personally amiable whilst remaining ideologically polarizing.
“I have a style that is Sonia, and it is more assertive than many women are, or even some men…And it’s a style that has held me generally in good stead. I don’t think I would have been successful if I didn’t know how to soften myself and tone it down at important moments.”
12) You’re not a “yes” man or woman
Sucking up is just not in a polarizing person’s nature.
Call it arrogance, or call it self conviction, but you won’t find them indiscriminately nodding along with everything that is said.
Sometimes that will mean alienating yourself or losing convenient favor, for example, by disagreeing with the boss.
But the principles and beliefs they hold won’t allow polarizing personality types to blindly agree or support without criticism if it’s something they are against.
13) You inspire debate
Because you are prepared to speak your mind, even when it means disrupting the status quo or sharing unpopular opinions, your ideas are likely to inspire debate.
Even if someone does not agree with you, you can be an interesting companion that sparks intellectual and impassioned conversations.
You are prepared to challenge those in positions of power, without holding back for fear of the consequences.
You may end up generating some resentment, but you also get everybody talking.
14) You’re magnetic
On a good day, polarizing people have a certain je ne sais quoi.
You’re like the pied piper whose tune may only be audible to some, but those who hear it will gladly follow you anywhere.
People may find themselves inexplicably captivated, fascinated, and drawn to you. You’re magnetic.
The thing about polarizing personalities is that by not being one of the crowd and standing for something, many people will find that strength of character alluring and enchanting.
15) You’re grating
Just like a coin has two sides, that’s also the deal with being a polarizing person.
For everyone who is magnetized by the strength of your energy, someone else will be repelled by it.
To those people on the push rather than pull side, you’re likely to be more of a source of irritation.
Without intending to, you may find that you grate on some people. The very same traits that some people like about you will be the exact things that others find difficult to deal with.
It’s unlikely that you’re prepared to walk on eggs around the people who feel this way about you, so it’s probably for the best that your polarizing personality makes them unlikely to stick around.
To conclude: Is having a polarizing personality a bad thing?
We all want to be liked. Very few people go out of their way to be disliked by others. Yet, being bland tends to not get you very far either.
The ideal is perhaps a middle ground. Having a strong character can be a wonderful asset.
But in an ideal world, you will have integrity and honor in your personal interactions whilst still being polarizing in your ideas.
There’s a big difference between having a polarizing personality and having a polarizing way of thinking.
At the end of the day, a polarizing personality is no different from any other type of personality.
When handled in the right way, polarizing people can achieve many wonderful things, but if not, their natural qualities can become manipulative and require a lot of attention.
Being polarizing isn’t an excuse to neglect emotional intelligence, self-awareness, and empathy.
The world will benefit from the contrast you have to offer it, but it is possible to be both likable and innovative.