Why is it important to understand personality? Well from an academic perspective it is just…well interesting. Oh but from a life perspective it is so much more than that. The better we understand ourselves and other people, the more successful we’ll be in dealing with people and situations; and getting it right. Psychology may be an academic discipline, but understanding personality it is a much more practical subject, it is about using psychology to your advantage in everyday situations, to ‘get’ people, to influence, help and support, to get your point across, in a way that's right for you, to better understand and shape decision-making, to motivate and manage people, and deal with conflict and most importantly to understand and manage our own impact on other people.
Jung was clear that Sensing vs Intuitive are the perceptive functions, ie they make us aware of what is happening but don’t try to evaluate or interpret (these are the functions of the judging functions, Thinking and Feeling). Although a lot has been written about the true meaning of the two scales, it is helpful to see what Jung wrote on the subject.
We kind of know that Sensing types prefer the known, the facts, the actualities. Rooted in the here and now they have a grounded approach taking in information that has practical application and so they can see concepts and theoretical models as a bit airy-fairy. When we look at what Jung actually said it makes so much more sense.
The most misunderstood element of personality is the Thinking vs Feeling scale. The traditional view is that Thinkers are logical and Feelers are emotional. OK this may be true, but it does not begin to even scratch the surface of the real differences.
Even Jung, who coined the term conceded:
…I freely admit that this problem of feeling has been one that has caused me much brain racking.
So if Jung struggled what chance do the rest of us have? Well we think that Feeling types often get a bad press, as they are more tactful, more in tune and more concerned about the impact on people than their Thinking opposites. So the view is often expressed that Feelers are ‘soft.’ One HR Director I know well always fakes his assessments so that he records as ENTP because he truly believes that being seen as an ENFP may well be career limiting!
I’m sitting in the back of the crowded room, near the wall, and it seems like this staff meeting is never going to end.
All the extroverts – the room is full of them – are jumping over each other to debate the finer points of a new policy we’re putting into effect. There are so many differing opinions and rapid changes of topic that I’m not even sure what the central problem is anymore. The conversation is moving so quickly that I couldn’t get a word in if I wanted to.
Suddenly all the talking stops. A decision has been made. I’m still thinking about a point someone made ten minutes ago.
As an introvert working on a team of (mostly) extroverts, this has happened to me more times than I can count.
What’s an introvert to do? Shrink back into the wall and let everyone else make the decisions? Get passed over for raises and promotions because you’re not as visible as your extroverted colleagues?
While we’re never going to keep pace with extroverts in their ability to talk eloquently on the fly or possess (seemingly) endless amounts of energy, we can succeed on extroverted teams, and keep ourselves sane.
I met with my friend Gary last Thursday for a coffee and catch up. We were really pleased to see each other. We caught up on what’s happening, had a really warm chat about things and then something strange happened as we got down to work. He got out a notepad which had a list of items and said: “OK this is what I’d like to get out of this meeting, what do you want to cover.” Me: “I don’t know, I hadn’t thought about it!” And do you know what the difference was? Yep, Judging vs Perceiving. He needed a list and a plan, and I wanted to just see where it would go.
In the workplace there is often a misalignment between Js and Ps. Unlike Extraversion vs Introversion, which now gets a lot of airtime, has heaps of books and articles written about it and which is probably easier to ‘get,’ the J-P scale can cause friction between those who need to create a plan and stick to it, and those who prefer to see how it all unfolds.
We all know what Jung meant by Extraversion and Introversion, but do we know what he actually said?
It’s strange how many people are bought into the theory and practice of Jungian type but haven’t ventured to read the words of the great man himself. The primary source materials provide an excellent insight into his thinking on personality differences and he gives us colour, flavour and lots of humour! We all know that Jung was clear what he meant by Extraversion and Introversion: where we draw our energy from. However when we read his words we can see not only his take but also his opinion. On Extraversion:
Extraversion is characterized by a desire to influence and be influenced by events, a need to join in and get “with it,” the capacity to endure bustle and noise of every kind…the cultivation of friends and acquaintances, none too carefully selected…He has no secrets he has not long since shared with others. Should something unmentionable nevertheless befall him, he prefers to forget it…all self-communings give him the creeps. Dangers lurk there which are better drowned out by noise.
People often confuse the INFP and the ISFP, as they are both quiet, laid back, gentle enigmas. They are also both intensely private inhabiting their own internal worlds but there is a major difference: INFPs are future oriented dreamers who enjoy flights of fancy and seeing many possibilities while ISFPs prefer to stop and savour the sensory, real experiences of the moment to the max. Neither are forthcoming types, both love the new, both dislike structure or being controlled, however the INFP will look up and dream big dreams and the ISFP will look down, immersing themselves in actual experiences.
These are subtle differences but they help us better understand the two character types, which, paradoxically, are often the most misunderstood. Both are astute observers of life, caring and loyal: yet they experience the world in very different ways with the INFP wanting to see way beyond the here and now and the ISFP wanting to remain there until their need for experience is satiated and they move onto the next, new sensory experience.
On the BBC Jeremy Vine Show yesterday he posed the question: “psychometric tests are they good or worthless?” Then several people were paraded, each with their own experience of how brilliant they are and others who had bad experiences of applying for a job only to have ‘failed’ the test. We know for a Radio Show it is good to polarise ‘good vs worthless’ but in reality this probably needs a little unpicking.
Firstly there are so many psychometric assessments around and some are true ‘tests,’ ie ‘pass or fail,’ such as Numerical Reasoning or Verbal Reasoning, and some are ‘assessments,’ ie to be used as a jumping off point for discussion, such as personality or behavioural assessments. The first issue to determine is ‘why do we need to use an assessment?’ In the 1990s assessment became ‘the norm’ (if you pardon the pun) but often with no valid rationale behind it. So many organisations used ‘Intelligence Testing” without defining ‘intelligence’ or establishing why that was an important attribute for the role. So why are you assessing, what is it you’re trying to establish and why? For example reaction tests for train drivers are important in determining how quickly they can see changes in their environment.
So how do you use them? The majority of assessments are based around personality and behaviour and these are really useful jumping off points for discussion. We would never recommend making any decisions about individuals based on an assessment result, but they are great to use at interview, or in discussions about promotion, career change etc as an opener. For example we recently assessed an individual and we said:
you are not detailed, you are expedient and often disregard rules, regulations and like to go your own way.
It’s difficult to quantify personalities and this is especially so with the contradiction that is the ISTP. They tend to not do half measures and so trying to assess if someone is such a personality type will depend if you experience the full on, jump in, thrill seeking ISTP or the withdrawn, apparently disinterested ISTP, ie on which ISTP you get.
The STP desire to store knowledge and apply it practically right here right now is compounded by Introversion: so while the ESTP will live a life full of jumping from one exciting adventure after another, the ISTP will be more likely to jump into the adventure, butt out completely and utterly, then, like Clark Kent putting his suit on, throw himself into the action.
This anomaly also manifests itself in the level of detail that the ISTP becomes immersed in.
With actors it’s often difficult to get know the real person behind the characters they play. However the endless promotion of the new film ‘The Grudge’ has given us the chance to really get to know Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro as people. Watching them together actually helps as we can see that Sly clearly takes the lead whereas Bob is happy to sit back and let him. Sly uses the interview as an opportunity to entertain and engage, Bob looks as if he’d rather be at home, but is polite, serious and factual. In this clip Bob only really answers a question because Charlie Stayt pushes it and of course he answers politely and factually and when he is finished Sly says straight to camera: “Did you miss me?”