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Posted by on Jan 22, 2012

Type, being who you are, and the dinner party

One of the marks of great art is that it stands up to repeated exposures, and in fact becomes more meaningful with each encounter.

Psychological Type – the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – is like that. It is ironic that some people take the indicator in a compressed session, then forget much of what they learned, including their own Type. (A sports fan once told me he thought he was an ESPN.)

The reality is that since Type is essentially about learning about yourself, and others, the learning is never over, and in teaching a class in Type last week I came to renew my appreciation of the power and significance of the Indicator and the Jungian theory upon which it rests.

One indication of the impact of the learning came from one woman who at various times during the class would let out a guttural expression along the lines of “Wow!” or sounding something like “Mhh hhh hhh.” These exclamations got closer and closer together in time, and it was like timing contractions in labor.

She, and the others, reported very significant insights into themselves, most notably that they realized – sometimes for the first time – that it is OK to be who they are. That’s pretty big.

For my money, much of learning about Type is coming to understand what is unconscious. That just means we aren’t really aware of something. I was reminded of this when I got home, right before a dinner party was supposed to start, and walked into a kitchen that looked like World War 3 ½ had been conducted in it. My wife was in a panic.

In such situations, we go with what we know. We respond in an automatic, patterned way that is usually unconscious. Here’s how the mental functions in Type would engage:

• Sensor: What are the details here? How many minutes until the door bell rings? What is the state of the enchiladas, and what specific tasks remain?

• Intuiter: What happened? How did this situation come to be? Is there a pattern here? (Answer: Yes, but it’s gotten a lot better over the years.)

• Thinker: What is the most logical way to get the dinner on the table?

• Feeler: How is Linda doing amidst all this and how I can support her?

The point about Type is that it creates choice. Rather than just go with the usual go-to move in such situations, awareness of Type means you can think about what will be the best response. For example, if Linda were near tears, a Feeler response might be best. If it was all about execution, the Thinker’s approach might be best. Intuition might be better after the fact to process what happened and figure out how to ease the stress a bit in the future.

My response was to first open a cold, heavily hopped beer, and then ask what I could do. I don’t know if that is what Jung called individuation (integration and balance in Type), but the dinner was excellent.

Back to the class: One other interesting thing occurred during the session. One person was disclosing some very important and personal information. This was intimate content, and reflected a lot of vulnerability and trust in disclosing it. It was not everyday conversation.

What I noticed was that while this very tender information was being shared, one person was texting.

There is a bumper sticker that says “Hang up and drive.” Folks, when someone is talking about a topic that is personal, significant and even emotional, hang up the phone and pay attention.

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