Not Everyone Thinks the Same Way
It came about because I’d had time to read a book called Please Understand Me. Character and Temperament Types by David Kersey. The book discussed the personality differences that were described by the four pairs of preferences defined in the Myers-Briggs Personality type Indicator. The book led me to champion the idea that the whole editorial department might benefit from a Myers-Briggs workshop. Approval came. All 30 or so of us took the personality test and about a week later we met offsite with a trained administrator who had scored our results but hadn’t shared them.
By way of background, the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator identifies which are your preferences in four pairs of trait behaviors.
- I or E:
Introverts prefer to work out their solutions alone, thinking through their thoughts before speaking.
Extroverts prefer to work out their solutions with others, talking through their thoughts to see what they’re thinking.
- N or S:
iNtutive people prefer to go with their “gut feeling,” the whole of the information — the rightness or wrongness of what they understand internally.
Sensory people prefer to go with the empirical data, the facts of the sights, sounds, tastes, touch, and smell and what those facts reveal.
- T or F
Thinkers prefer to interact via information.
Feelers prefer to interact via emotions.
- J or P
Judgers prefer decisions. They value closure.
Perceivers prefer multiple options. They value the possibilities in every situation.
The documentation and studies make it clear that every person has all 8 traits. The test measures which in each pair is an individual’s preferred way of interacting with other people and information — sort of the default setting, the one we go to when we’re left to our own devices, in a crisis, or designing our own situation. I thought was that it might bring home the reality that …
we can’t assume others think the same way we do.
Plan a Vacation
The facilitator set up activities that used used each trait pair to underscore the differences in outcomes that occur when we approach a task with different preferred ways of thinking. We were unaware of which trait we had when the task was assigned. Some tasks had mixed preference groups. Some had a group that wa all of one preference. The most memorable task and lesson for me was when she asked two groups to plan a vacation.
She assigned us to two groups by name. We didn’t now at the time, but one group was the Ps — those who value possibilities — and the other was the Js — those who value closure. She gave us about 20 minutes for planning then asked us to report back. The reports from each group were something like this.
I suspect it was purposeful that she had the Js report first.
The J Vacation
The Js had decided that they would go to Europe for precisely 21 days. They knew which countries they would visit in which order and how many days they would be staying in which country. They also knew which sites were on the list to visit in each country. Assignments had been made. Every member of the group knew his or her role. Assignments included: transportation, lodging, tickets to venues and sites, special meals in each city, even collection of emergency documents and numbers.
The Ps started snickering as we listened to the Js report. The reason for our delight was evident when our turn came.
The P Vacation
In the same amount of time, the Ps had decide to meet up in Taos, New Mexico and hang there for a while doing whatever we liked from a whole list of possibilities. The list of possibilities was quite impressive. Then those who wanted to could go on to visit the Caribbean — one island or more, and those who wanted to stay in New Mexico could.
As you might notice, the two groups had significantly different reports. What you might not fully appreciate is that both groups were quite pleased with their results.
How to Balance Your Ps and Js
The task was so well chosen that whenever I tell the story people have no problem deciding which group defines their preference. More importantly, the way we frustrate each other becomes apparent. .
Imagine a project team with an equal number of Ps and Js. While Ps are trying desperately to leave all of the options open, the Js are pushing fervently to get to a decision. Both groups are so intent on their preferred way of thinking, it can be hard to see the value of the other. Yet a team of all Ps would get lost or get nowhere and a team of all Js would miss out on many options that could raise their game. Here are some ways to best balance the value of your Ps and Js.
- Make a no closure rule during brainstorming. Brainstorming is where Ps excel. Give them the room to explore all of the options safely without the need to justify leaving the door open. Suggest Js brainstorm several starting points as a way to work to their strengths.
- Separate the two groups when problem solving. Ask the Ps to limit their options to three actionable solutions. Ask the Js to get past their first solution to two more that would work as well as the first.
- In project planning, use your Ps and Js in different roles. Invite Ps to conceptualize, ideate, and sketch out new ideas and processes. Ask Js to pinpoint how those ideas might take form and how those processes might work in action.
Let both groups know how the dynamic tension between their preferences supports and complements each other making the team stronger. After all, without the flexibility of a P it would be hard to respond to a disaster and without the structure of J wasted time could be a real problem.
Which are you and how do you value the other in your business?
–ME “Liz” Strauss
Work with Liz on your business!!