‘Whenever we have a meeting, I feel he’s always putting me down!’
‘She’s over-emotional when I try to explain something!’
Sounds familiar? We often put such comments down to a ‘personality clash’ and feel helpless, nothing can be done about it except to have as little as possible to do with the other person. They’re ‘just an awkward customer.’ However, something can be done about difficult relationships and this is where the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) can be useful. I use this instrument as a natural part of my counselling and mediation work; it is astonishing what an impact Myers-Briggs can make, once people understand how they and others might view the world differently from each other. What might have been perceived before as argumentative or even bullying behaviour, can be met from a new perspective.
So, what is MBTI? The Indicator is a procedure where someone finds out more about their personality type. There are four dichotomies. We have preferences on each of the four pairs. Our preferences are either:
1) Extravert or Introvert
2) Sensing or Intuiting
3) Thinking or Feeling
4) Judging or Perceiving
There are no values attached to the preferences – it is not “better” to function as an Extravert or an Introvert for example.
Our preferences have a profound effect on how we function in the world and what our attitude might be to life’s ups and downs. The naturalness of these preferences is like being left or right handed: you might be able to write with either hand, but one hand feels easier than the other. So, too with our preferred way of being.
Let’s return to the four dichotomies. Extraverts are energised by the world around them, they need to be with others and they need to be active in order to draw energy for their internal ‘battery.’ Introverts, however, can feel drained if they don’t have enough space away from others. Sometimes it can feel to them like ‘hell is other people!’ Introverts draw energy from within, through reflection; Extraverts charge up through sharing ideas in discussions.
On the second dichotomy, Sensing types get their information by paying attention to their senses; they draw on past experiences to make sense of current issues – they do things step by step. Intuiting types on the other hand, function through hunches, patterns and looking at the bigger picture.
How Thinkers and Feelers approach decision-making is quite different, with Thinking types tend to be analytical, whilst Feeling types respond empathically. However, both types are able to reach the goal, they just come at it in different ways. And for the Judging and Perceiving personality types on the fourth dichotomy?….. well, the Judgers like to plan whilst for the Perceivers, spontaneity is their preference.
In practical terms, then, how might the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator help us at work? It can be used in a number of ways – for example, to help us understand relationships, to gain insight into our career prospects, or to build and lead teams.
The comments at the start of this article indicate different personalities where there is a clash. When people are trying to communicate, they naturally use their own preferences, what they are most comfortable with. However, we are all able to use our less favoured preferences to help us enter the world of other people. This means that we can improve our communication with each other. For example, someone who is naturally Introvert might use an extraverted approach in holding team meetings. This is not about being ‘all singing all dancing, – it simple means that their internalised reflections that might be of value to their colleagues gets conveyed (they can chill out alone afterwards!) Similarly a Feeling type might interpret a Thinker as ‘cold’ and discount their analytical, objective approach to solving problems. Again, Sensing types might be seen as ‘plodders’ with their step by step approach to solving issues, whilst Intuiters might be seen as having ‘pie in the sky’ ideas! And whilst Perceivers might see Judgers as rigid, stick-in-the-mud, the Judgers might think the spontaneity of their opposite type as ‘flakey, hard to pin down.’
A better understanding of personalities makes good business sense as well as on a personal level. It is not difficult to make small changes so that we are really engaging with our co-workers. Using their language a little more can make all the difference. For a start, listen out for ‘I think’ and ‘I feel’ types of vocabulary and use it more yourself in discussions with that person. Give time and space to the person who is working out problems in their heads as he or she is more likely to be on the Introvert end of the spectrum, reflection is going on inside. Be prepared to talk out issues in discussion with Extraverts, though! Appreciate the open ended aspects of the Perceivers as fresh ideas can continually arise, but harness the process to the closure that the Judger offers – that project can go from the drawing board to a concrete result.
A wise man once said ‘know thyself’ – if we know others better too, then relationships can shift from clashing to communicating!