True confession. I spent a lot of time as manager and co-worker insulting anyone who differed from me on practically any subject. (Fortunately, I always did this in my head, so no one knew about it.)
During meetings, when others shared thoughts and ideas that differed from mine, I’d quickly conclude that they were wrong-headed, pea-brained, or just plain idiotic. I’d grow increasingly impatient with their faulty thinking and would issue all kinds of silent putdowns, such as:
“What planet are you on?”
“Could you possibly be any more thick-headed?”
“What a jackass.”
Not nice, I know. In my ignorance (and arrogance), I thought my way of thinking was so sound and so right that I wondered how anyone could possibly see things differently. Eventually, I discovered that people really do differ in how they perceive and react to things. People’s personalities are varied and distinct and that’s as it should be; it’s those very differences that enliven and enrich group experiences.
Think of why we work in groups. What’s the purpose of putting forth a group effort? It’s to gather different perspectives, right? A single individual can only go so far based on his or her background, knowledge, and experience. To build on that person’s ideas, you need to gather the wisdom of the group. It is the collective brain that comes up with the best ideas and the best solutions to problems.
Let’s face it, though, group work can be messy and time consuming. It’s not easy to get group members to value different perspectives and approaches.
Here’s a place to start.
You may have heard of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or the MBTI. It’s been around for ages. It’s a self-reporting instrument that determines people’s natural preferences in four areas:
- Where they get their energy (Introverted vs. Extraverted)
- How they take in information (Sensing vs. Intuiting)
- How they make decisions (Thinking vs. Feeling)
- Their lifestyle choices (Judging vs. Perceiving).
I took the instrument as part of a course to qualify as an MBTI practitioner, which means that I can administer the instrument and provide feedback to individuals and groups to help them gain a better understanding of their unique contributions and potential growth areas.
I learned a lot during that course. I found out that my personality, my way of being in the world, is only one of sixteen types and that all 16 types have a great deal to offer. I also learned how to bring out the various personalities of my team members. Here are some tips for maximizing different personalities in group settings.
Extravert/Introvert: Extraverts typically like to talk things out while Introverts like to process stuff in their heads. Send a meeting agenda to your team in advance, which allows the Introverts to think about the topics beforehand and come ready to discuss their thoughts and ideas.
Sensing/Intuiting: Sensing people generally concern themselves with the concrete and practical matters at hand, while Intuiting people prefer imagining possibilities. Encourage the team to talk about the known facts as well as future “what if” scenarios.
Thinking/Feeling: Thinking decision-makers typically use logic and analysis to form their conclusions, while Feeling decision-makers base theirs on personal convictions. Some on the team will troubleshoot the nuts and bolts of a project (Thinking) while others will stress the need to consider how the project’s outcomes affect morale (Feeling). Both perspectives are vital to the decision-making process and both should be heard.
Judging/Perceiving: Judging people are generally concerned with maintaining structure and obtaining closure while Perceiving people are more flexible and want to keep their options open. Balance the need to meet deadlines with the need to change course when new information is received.
There’s a lot more to understanding personality types than what I’ve covered here, but I think this is a good place to start.
When people who work together understand the value of different personalities they can become a force to be reckoned with. People will be more willing to consider other points of view. You might even hear someone say: “Gee, I hadn’t thought about that. Talk to me some more.”
That’s much more productive than calling someone a jackass.
What do you think? I’m interested in hearing your opinion or offering ideas, so please feel free to comment.
Until next time . . .