by Ray Martin and Jennifer Hixson
In our popular Personality and the Team program, we have the opportunity to show people how many of their behaviors can flow from their personalities. If you know their preferences on the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality sorter, you can have insight into how they might act: as individuals and together in a team setting.
Let’s take a look at the four scales:
Extraversion – Introversion (attention and energy focus)
Briefly, Extraversion (or ‘E’ in MBTI shorthand) has its focus on the outer world and gets energized from interacting with others. Their energy drains when they are alone. Introversion (‘I’), on the other hand, has its focus on the inner world and gives up energy when interacting with others. Their energy recharges when they are able to separate from others into a private space or activity.
If a person strongly identifies with the E preference, we might expect to see them plugging into other people through interaction. E is comfortable in the moment, often never at a loss for words, quick in reaching out to others, action-oriented in problem solving, and so forth. Sometimes they are at risk for “Foot in mouth disease” when they speak too soon. Because of their action orientation, the expression “Ready .. Aim .. Fire” might be rearranged to be “Ready .. Fire .. Fire.”
If a person strongly identifies with the I preference, we might expect to see quite the contrary. Interaction with others drains their energy, so they would structure their activities to periodically be alone. Rather than interact comfortably with groups of people, they might be more effective interacting with 2-3 people at a time. They might find themselves, on the way home, thinking of something they wish they had said in an exchange earlier in the day. Preferring to understand an action before getting started, their expression might be written “Ready .. Aim .. Aim.”
Team setting example: As a small team of 8 people interacted, I noticed that two people seemed to enthusiastically do most of the talking while the others watched. Even when they asked a question, seemingly wanting to get feedback, they started talking again when no one immediately entered into the discussion. I also took note of two other people who rarely spoke in the group setting but had subtle body language (took a deep breath, leaned forward, intensely watching the person speaking, and so forth) suggesting that they had something to contribute but “couldn’t get a word in edgewise.”
Coaching tips: We might explore how much “air time” the Es use at a team meeting. Strong Es can dominate a discussion, and Is are often willing to let them do so. We might teach the strong E listening skills. Strong Is assume that an E is listening when not talking, but the reality might be that they are simply waiting for you to take a breath so they can talk again. If an E team leader needs feedback at a meeting later in the week, we’d advise that they tell the Is a few days earlier so they (the Is) can sort out their internal dialogue and be ready to share their thoughts with others. We’d also teach the Es to look for the body language of the Is – more subtle than the Es what you see is what you get, but present nonetheless – and invite them into the discussion when they have a point to make or feedback to share. Of course, they (the Es) have to ask and wait, taking care to not start talking again if met with initial silence.
We might encourage the Is to speak up as they often make rich observations. They sometimes assume that others see things like they do (“it is so obvious that I shouldn’t have to tell you”), so we’d urge them to test out their thoughts with questions of others for validation or clarification. We might also encourage them to break into the E conversation flow, even if not invited, when they feel they have something to say that needs to be heard.
We’d encourage both Es & Is to respect and draw on the other. The Es can get the Is moving; the Is can help the Es avoid a fatal error by moving too quickly. The Es can break the ice; the Is can complete the sculpture. The Es can present the argument; the Is can craft it.
Sensing – Intuition (collecting & generating information)
Briefly, Sensing (‘S’) uses the senses to take in information and identify the appropriate details. Intuition (‘N,’ as the letter ‘I’ had already been used) seeks to find meanings, possibilities, and relationships associated with the information being received.
If a person strongly identifies with S, they might be more oriented toward the here and now, real time if you will, sometimes drawing on historical reference points. They can be practical, preferring situations ‘they can get their hands around.’ They may be uncomfortable making a decision until they think they’ve gathered enough information to understand. They might prefer using current skills to learning new ones. Before doing something new, they want to know ‘how.’
Ns on the other hand, see things as they can be. They may make seemingly un-related (to the S) associations, and look like they are not paying attention. They may prefer to learn new skills rather than use existing ones. They may be more at home with the abstract than the concrete. They might use generalizations. In doing something new, they want to know ‘why.’
Team setting example: At a meeting, a person suggested a course of action that might be helpful. The S response was to begin asking questions to better understand to see if there was agreement: what was involved, did they have the money in the budget, was it in agreement with the team’s assignments, and so forth. The N response was to wonder why that person always said things like that, looking at the pattern if you will.
Coaching tips: We might explore how wedded an S is to the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” concept. Often more comfortable with what they know and with their previous experience, they might not be sensitive to subtle changes with broad implications, i.e. it might be broke and they don’t know it yet. We would teach the S to ask questions of the N to draw out what they meant by a general statement rather than dismiss it out of hand. I call it connecting the dots even though they may appear random and not associated with each other.
For the Ns, we’d counsel them to think about something important before jumping to conclusions. We’d test their assumptions to see if they really are similar (is the perception appropriate for the information at hand). We’d teach them to prepare to make an important point by assembling relevant examples beforehand instead of relying on generalization, do their homework if you will. We’d encourage them to use existing skills when relevant to the task at hand. We’d encourage them not to change simply for change’s sake and to recognize the effect their constant changes (in search of a better way, a better understanding) can have on the S.
Again, we’d encourage each (both S & N) to respect and draw on the other. S can help the N avoid a fatal – and sometimes obvious – flaw; the N can help the S see the possibilities where incomplete information is available. The S can help fix today’s problems; the N can see tomorrow’s trends. The S can help you learn from the past; the N can help see the future. The S can help define the ‘how’ aspects; the N can help identify the ‘why’ aspects.
Thinking – Feeling (making decisions)
Briefly, Thinking (‘T’) uses logic to make objective, fair decisions. Feeling (‘F’) uses values to make subjective, caring decisions.
If a person strongly identifies with the T preferences, they often organize information into a system that makes the decision, logically if you will. They may factor their emotions out of the equation in an effort to be fair. They may use strong words, sometimes with unintended consequences. They may be concerned about setting precedents: ‘If we do this now, it may mean this down the line.’ Worst case, they may be accused of being ‘cold-hearted.’
On the other hand, the F preference may draw on subjective information that’s value-driven to make decisions. Environments or words may challenge them when there is conflict: real or perceived. They wouldn’t consider factoring out their feelings, even if they could. They may be seen as ‘people persons.’ Worst case, they may be accused of wearing their ‘heart on their sleeve.’
Team setting example: I have a strong T preference. Understanding the MBTI preferences and having real life experience bruising people around me with a preference for F (and paying the price), led me to think I was okay in T-F communication. In a setting where everyone was well schooled in the MBTI preferences, we were encouraged to give – and receive – feedback to each other as we went about our tasks. At one point, a redundant experience was wearing on my patience and I shared with the group how I thought it was ‘stupid’. A person with a strong F preference stopped me and shared her reaction to the word ‘stupid.’ I said that I was sorry and began to move on in the discussion. The leader stopped me and had me acknowledge the point (If I understood you correctly, my use of the word ‘stupid’ caused you offense, that you felt I was being condescending.) When the person agreed with my perception, I was allowed to continue. I didn’t have to agree with the other person’s point, but I did have to clarify and acknowledge it.
Note: I learned later that I had been developing a double ear infection at the time of the incident. My second lesson was that it takes energy to understand and value preferences different than my own. When I’m tired, I’ve learned to be on guard so-to-speak and try a little harder, or postpone interactions with a serious downside potential.
Coaching tips: We might teach Ts to appreciate what Fs bring to the table, and not see their judgment process as a weakness in the business world. We might teach Ts how to communicate their thoughts with the right words to have the desired impact and understanding (and to not accidentally derail themselves – “What did I say?’). We might teach the T managers to have an open door policy, mentally as well as physically. We might show them how to seek better understanding through questions and not automatically draw conclusions.
We might teach the Fs how to better handle what they perceive to be criticism, to look for the logic and not take it as a personal attack. We might teach them how to give feedback to Ts in a way that they can ‘hear’ it, logically and with enthusiasm. We might show the team members how F is often under-represented and under-appreciated in their team process and where the team is vulnerable as a result.
As before, we’d encourage both (T & F) to recognize and draw on the other. The differences between the two may present a wider gulf than any of the other three preferences, particularly in the business world. Fs don’t care how much Ts know until they know how much Ts care. Ts care in ways that are sometimes misunderstood by Fs because a different ‘language:’ words and meanings, is being used. Ts can ‘care’ and Fs can ‘think,’ and we can teach each to see it in the other.
Judging – Perceiving (lifestyle organization)
The Judging (‘J’) preference organizes the external world, making plans and decisions. The perceiving (‘P’) preference seeks to understand and adapt to life as it comes.
The person who strongly identifies with the J preference seeks order and structure in their life. They make decisions and move on. Their work place is organized: ”a place for everything and everything in its place.” They will work on a project until it is completed, blocking out potential distractions. They prefer to plan the work and work the plan. They are time-oriented, making the most of this valuable resource.
The Ps, on the other hand, adapt well to changing situations. They might design the project but not follow through to closure, shifting interest to a new project instead. They may appear to make a decision but then re-consider it (and change it) if new information becomes available. They may seen as a procrastinator if indecisive too long or too often.
Team setting example: There once was a strong J team leader who carried an 18 month calendar filled to the brim with meetings and ‘To Do’ items: goals and objectives, action steps and so forth. The person distributed similar calendars to each team member so they could do likewise to stay organized. The Ps on the team reluctantly accepted their ‘gift’ but rarely brought them to future team meetings, as they couldn’t remember where they put them.
Coaching tips: We might work with the Js to insure they are not too structured, too controlling. We might show them the possible consequences of rushing to judgment too quickly, and the value of ‘process’ in addition to ‘outcome.’
We might work with the Ps to help them understand where the priorities are for the Js and the importance of meeting them. We might teach them how to guard against unfinished work, particularly when there are personal or organizational consequences of their actions. We may teach them how to convey a sense of order (not just say ‘trust me’) to the Js when it’s not readily apparent, to minimize the others’ discomfort level.
Finally, we’d encourage both (J & P) to recognize and draw on the other. Js help plan; Ps help Js adapt when the plan runs into an unexpected problem. Js help Ps avoid the stagnation of unfinished business; Ps help Js react quickly when a truly better opportunity presents itself.
The MBTI provides much more information than this brief article can share. The preference choices are not an either/or scenario, but generally people prefer one preference to the other on each of the four scales to some extent. The four preferences in combination add up to more than each preference alone.
People have much in common with others who share their same four preferences, but they are also uniquely different thanks to their education and life experiences. One plus one can easily add up to more than two when we learn to value and draw upon people different than ourselves. As a team, we can help improve the quality of our processes and our outcomes when we recognize our ‘team personality’ and compensate for our weaknesses: preferences that are under-represented in the individuals available.
Understanding of our personalities is a privilege. Improved interaction with that understanding is a responsibility.
Value the Person, whether like you or different. You’ll be better for it.