Posts Tagged ‘Type’
One dismaying fact — and I would argue a growing trend with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator — is the series of misconceptions that regularly arise in its interpretation. This is mainly due to increasingly compressed timeframes in which the theory is taught.
I would like to do my part to lay to rest one of the myths, and I want to do that with a story, in order to help others understand what the MBTI really is.
You have probably heard someone complain that the MBTI “puts people in boxes.” The hypothesis of a preference is somehow seen as tagging someone with a label from which he or she cannot escape.
I know I’d be unhappy if that were the case, but it’s not. Type simply describes preferences we bring to life, work, relationships and situations. In fact, we have to use all the functions every day in order to survive, but some we prefer to others.
Type describes where you start, but it says nothing about where you wind up. In fact, one of the most important concepts in Type – Type development – is all about how you develop the less-preferred parts of the personality in order to be more well-rounded, adaptive and, as Carl Jung said, “individuated.”
I have always believed it is healthy to engage in activity that is the opposite of preference – that it is a good idea for introverts to work on speaking up more, for extraverts to take a little more time before speaking, and so on.
In my own Type – ENTP – I have a very clear preference for Intuition over Sensing. Intuition is about the big picture, patterns, concepts, themes and the future. Sensing is about the details, specifics, concrete facts, the knowable and more the immediate reality.
And now to the story.
I don’t remember exactly how it happened, or if it involved some arm twisting, cold beers, volunteer guilting or — in the way so many volunteer jobs work — a profound lack of understanding of what I was getting into, but I wound up in a role as something called “Clerk of Course” for my daughter’s summer swim team. Clerk of Course may sound like an official, even bureaucratic function involving a sharpened pencil and perhaps a banker’s lamp, but it’s not.
No, Clerk of Course is physically located right in the middle of the central nervous system of a meet. It includes mayhem, stress, elevated pulse rates and a never-ending fear of jacking up and delaying the running of a meet, at which point hundreds of over-ambitious, time-starved parents can hate you, let alone the swimmers who are inconvenienced.
The job of Clerk of Course each Saturday morning during the season is to get 272 excited swimmers to the right lane, at the right time, for the right race. Some of these swimmers are 8 years old and younger, meaning they suddenly realize they need to go to the bathroom right before a race, and want you to tell them it’s OK to do so.
If you think that’s bad, try corralling the 15-18 age group, the chief goal of which seems to be strutting, preening and occasional chest-beating (the boys) and quietly talking about each other and relationships (the girls). Both genders are more interested in what is on their iPods than anything an old guy wants to tell them about getting lined up. They have far more important things on their minds that actually checking in at the Clerk of Course, which is required under Northern Virginia Swim League rules, people. Please.
But one error, and the wrath of the NVSL (and remember, the parents) can befall the Clerk of Course, hence the stress mentioned above.
Now, all of my dear and wonderful colleagues will readily tell you that attention to details is not exactly my strong suit. They would probably tell you this while rolling their eyes, and they would probably say it in a more colorful and extreme fashion than I just wrote. There’s a good reason for this. For those of you who have studied Type, it is my Inferior Function, meaning it comes last in my own batting order for dealing with the world of Intuition, Thinking, Feeling, and then, dead last, Sensing.
But here’s the real point: I knew the volunteer job would require me to develop my own Sensing and attention to details, and that’s actually why I took it. I knew it would stretch me.
And, in retrospect, I wouldn’t have traded it for the world.
Each Saturday during the swim season, I had to completely focus attention on each of those 272 names, making sure the right person got to the right lane, etc. An earthquake could have taken place, a helicopter could have made an emergency landing in the pool, the Obama motorcade could have driven by and I would have never noticed. Total focus.
After the initial panic and sense of being overwhelmed, which went on for 4 or 5 years, I actually started to get into the rhythm of the job, finding the best ways to make sure everything worked. In fact, I began to take pride in the mastery of the details, and the running of an error-free meet. After some time, it became clear to me it was like a ballet and a mosh pit, a seamless and rhythmic orchestrating of unruly, youthful crowds. It was a beautiful thing when each race ended and the next race was ready to take off. The time-challenged parents loved that.
Before all this took place, in the early morning when the pool was just starting to awaken, I would go to the staging area and clean it up, arrange the benches, make sure the ground was clear of any objects. It was a quiet, introverted devotion to details. To be honest, it was kind of a reverence, a caring about the details.
Type describes where you start, but not where you wind up. I may still struggle with some details at work, but doing this activity increased my confidence that I can flex to sensing when needed.
I did the gig for eight years, and with a daughter going to college now, it’s over. More than 10,000 swimmers later, my work there is done, and I will miss it terribly. It was a great opportunity, a lot of fun in between the moments of sheer terror, and I hope a service to all those wonderful kids.
You never know what Type development opportunities might open up for you.
My wife was recently hospitalized (she’s fine now) and during an emotionally wrenching 6-day saga I served as air-traffic controller for a lot of communication from outside the hospital with and about her.
One problem with being the in leadership and professional development business is that you cannot avoid seeing situations through certain lenses, some of which I want to share here.
What jumped out most for me was noticing how people tended to respond to the news that things were definitely not well in one of two ways.
Some people immediately wanted to know what was happening – an analytical, fact-driven narrative of the medical situation in order to understand what was happening, and what was needed that they could provide to help.
Others, however, immediately went to the emotional realm – how Linda was feeling, how I was feeling, how our daughter was handling the news. Their emotional expressions of support stood out.
For those of you familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, you can probably recognize the preference for Thinking judgments in the former, and the preference for Feeling judgments in the latter. Thinkers generally want to know what is, while Feelers focus more on the human side of whatever it is is.
What struck me was the language. The vocabulary of Thinkers was populated with words like “cause, events, diagnosis, outlook, facts,” while the parlance of the Feelers included words and phrases such as “Tell Linda that we love her, what can I do to help? This is weighing on us all, and know you’re not alone.”
With type, there is no right or wrong, there is just different – a concept that may seem easy to cognitively “get,” but which in real life tends to produce a lot of judgments and conflict. A legitimate question is: Which preference was more useful? And the answer – and the key to understanding Type generally – is “both.”
You want people like doctors, specialists, nurses to get very fact-oriented and operate from a logical, rational, technically correct perspective. A life may be hanging in the balance.
At the same time, since we are human beings, you also want people to connect with you, feel your pain, empathize and sympathize. At one point, during the darkest hours of not knowing what had happened to my wife, a nurse simply put her hand on my shoulder and said, “I know how hard this must be.” This expression of support brought tears. I didn’t want the nurse to step away from her responsibility to administer medication properly, report vital signs or update a chart, but the Feeling element was huge.
Doctors who have a good bedside manner, and are emotionally intelligent, get sued at a fraction of the rate of those who don’t. Both Thinking and Feelings matter.
For leaders, the question is whether they can bring both to the game. The bad news is leadership is overwhelmingly populated by Thinkers, leaving a real deficit in the Feeling domain. No wonder engagement levels, a sense of meaningful connection and genuine commitment toward leaders on the part of employees are so low.
A good gut check for any leader is: Am I over-relying on my preference, or can I flex enough to incorporate behaviors, actions and communication that come from the other end of the dichotomy?
Simple examples for Thinking leaders include asking how individuals are doing – not just their work projects, but them. It could be sharing a story about something that happened to you that creates disclosure or transparency, particularly if there is a human dimension in it. (This makes it easier for others to talk about how they are doing or what they are going through.) It could be to show genuine appreciation for the person.
Simple moves. Potentially big results.