Patience: The #1 personality success factor

What do traffic jams, queues and sitting through long meetings have in common? The answer is: they all test our patience.

What do traffic jams, queues and sitting through long meetings have in common? The answer is: they all test our patience.

7 minute read

In a digitally-obsessed world where immediate gratification, the need for quick choices and hyper-connectivity are the norm, it’s no wonder that our skill to practice patience is put to the test. In a study from the Pew Research Centre, experts suggested that our environment today - especially millennials - will leave us with little patience in the long run.

“We live in a world where we can get anything we want right away”, says Mary Jane Ryan, author of Power of Patience. “We’ve lost the capacity to wait without become agitated”.

Sound familiar?

Patience as a predictor of performance

In a recent study by Jump.Work that evaluated over 1,500 data points of Legal and Business support roles, patience was proven to be the top personality trait that predicted performance (5-8%) followed closely by attention to detail and decisiveness. Performance in this sense meant the ability to secure a job successfully in a business or legal support role, such as administrative support, legal secretarial or as a paralegal.


Not according to Marja Verbon, Chief Operating Officer at Jump.Work whose team uses data such as this to identify top-performing Professionals for roles that require patience.

“We can see from our data that patient Professionals are on average more flexible and observant which makes them very open-minded and allows them to work well with others. The types of tasks that they are required to do in business support roles are often long-term, detail-oriented and require working with multiple stakeholders. Patience here isn’t just a requirement, it’s a necessity”.

Patience in the context of a career is a desired but often overlooked Professional virtue. For Legal and Business support specialists such as Paralegals and Legal Secretaries, it’s a critical skill. That’s why it’s a key part of the assessment process at Jump.Work.


Three ways to spot patience in a potential hire

How can you spot patience in a potential hire? 

1. Ask about past challenges and probe for details about how Professionals addressed them.

This is a great way to learn and think how they acted. Rather than talking about hypothetical situations where Professionals will give answers about how they would approach it, talking about actual past challenges allows you to challenge them on what really happened and how they responded.

A great question to probe for patience is: “Tell us about a scenario where someone was blocking you to complete a task and they did not respond to your requests, what did you do?”

2. How patient is the candidate with your interview process and changes? 

A great paralegal or team support professional can adjust to changes and be flexible and be accommodating for changing business needs. This attribute also manifests itself in how you run your interview process.  For example, do you have to reschedule one of the interviews? Or does an interview run over slightly? For a patient, flexible Professionals these things should not be a big issue. 

Of course, this is not an excuse to run a disorganised process.  Actually, research (find something) has shown that a nice and respectful running of the process increases the changes your offers are more likely (how much) to be accepted.

3. Test their persistence during the interview process.  

Being patient also means being able to persist with tasks that take longer and can be tiresome. Business support teams often have to deal with repetitive tasks and changing things that they've already spent a lot of time working on before: diaries, edits to complex documents, previously agreed on discussions on email, travel arrangements and even stakeholders on projects who are difficult to get hold of. 

How can you test this?

The best way is to test this using real tasks, rather than hypothetical situations. Give your candidate an assignment that requires them to do a detail-oriented task. For example, making edits to a document and after they have completed the first part, ask them to change something back. Monitor how they respond? Are they getting upset about the wasted work? Or, are they happy to oblige and see this as part and parcel of the job? Can they appreciate that getting to the end goal is not always a quick win? 

In Jump.Work's unique candidate assessments we use specific behavioural tests to spot personality traits like patience quickly.  We then use this information to match Professionals to roles where patience is a desired virtue such as Document Specialists, Paralegals, Legal Executives and Compliance Analysts.


The good news? Patience is a skill that can be trained.

Experts suggest that the amount of patience we have is pre-determined at birth however for those of lacking in it, the good news is that it can be learned. Even better, a recent study by Psychological Science showed that patience is the secret to happiness.

If you’d like a little more patience in your life and be able to accept or tolerate delays and difficulties more easily - and who doesn’t?  - these top tips can help you retrain yourself to be patient.

1. Make yourself wait

Even though having things ‘right now’ may seem like it’s the best option and gives you the most immediate gratification, actually the opposite is true. Waiting for things to happen makes us happier in the long run. Try to make yourself wait for 10 minutes more for little things and you’ll find that in more irritating, bigger situations, it’ll become like second nature.

2. Embrace the uncomfortable

We can’t always be in a state of comfortableness, we don’t learn that way. Learn to understand the difference between uncomfortable and intolerable. Remember, the former is only temporary.

3. Count to 10

This old advice really works. It gives you a chance to stop, reset your brain and remember what really matters.

4. Take a long deep breath.

When all else fails, try taking a few big breaths. Count in for three, hold for four and then exhale for five counts. This simple exercise can calm the mind and body and has powerful physical effects especially on the parasympathetic nervous system.

5. Look through the lens of others

Try to step back and remove yourself from your personal opinions and see the situation from the other person's point of view. Have empathy for their situation and be positive and confident enough to do so.

Remember, patience is a virtue. A long-forgotten one but important nonetheless not just in your own personal life but in your potential hires too. For more expert tips about how to train patience, read here.