Chapter OneThe Principles of Personality Type: Why We Do the Things We Do
People come in all shapes and sizes, and, certainly, every person is unique. But you'll probably agree that some people are much more alike than others. And behavior that may seem random is, in fact, quite understandable and often even predictable, once you understand that person's inborn, natural personality, or genetic blueprint, if you will, which describes basic psychological characteristics. And one's personality is by far the best and most reliable predictor of behavior.
There are a whole host of factors that influence behavior: genes, upbringing, innate talents and abilities, cultural background, time period, and location, as well as the specifics of a particular situation. Human beings have a huge repertoire of behaviors. We all act differently during a job interview than we do at a rock concert. We behave differently when socializing with our families than we do with our closest friends. That's because the situation calls for different behavior. But that doesn't mean our personality changes with each new situation we encounter. To the contrary, as human beings we approach most situations with a set of automatic responses, acting in ways in which we are most comfortable. Evidence of this abounds and is easily seen when we consider that most people's personalities are quite consistent. For example, let's say you have a friend, Ed, whom everyone describes as responsible and hardworking and whose demeanor is almost always pretty serious. He may occasionally lighten up and deviate from that style for example, at his brother's wedding reception, when he was dancing in a conga line.
But for the most part, he acts true to his conservative character because that's who he is. In fact, if he were serious and careful one day, and the next he was turning back flips in the office, you'd probably have good reason to worry something might be wrong with him! Perhaps you have another friend, relative, or coworker who is very different from the fellow just described. She is, instead, perpetually lighthearted, loves to laugh and enjoy herself, and almost seems immune to the everyday pressures and worries that plague most of us. It is unlikely that she is merely acting that way. She probably is more naturally carefree and easygoing than serious, steady Ed. And while, undoubtedly, some of every person's behavior is learned-from parents, siblings, and teachers-a greater portion of it is the natural manifestation of his or her inborn personality.
While there are many different models of behavior-a fancy phrase for saying ways of understanding people-we have found Personality Type to be the most insightful and useful. One reason is that it so accurately identifies key characteristics of personality that are present in all people. Personality Type is also useful because it describes behavior in positive, nonjudgmental terms. This is not an approach that says it is better to be one way or another, nor that it is better to be one type than another. But it helps us to recognize, and very clearly identify, our natural strengths and potential weaknesses. And by allowing us to understand the ways we are alike and different, it helps us not only to value our differences, but to celebrate them as well.
Before you begin an introduction to Personality Type, it might be helpful for you to know a bit about its history. The basic ideas behind Type are not new. In fact, they were first written about by Swiss psychologist Carl Jung more than seventy years ago. But it was two American women, Katharine Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Myers, who were really responsible for building on, including developing the fourth type dimension, and making these ideas useful in practical ways to so many people. One of Isabel's major contributions to our understanding of human behavior was the development of a psychological instrument that reliably identifies sixteen distinctly different types. She named this the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), and over the past several years, millions of people around the world have been introduced to the benefits of knowing about Personality Type through the MBTI, It is routinely used in business to help managers motivate employees, develop more-productive work teams, and enhance communication. It is also heavily used by counselors and therapists to help individuals, couples, and families understand and communicate better with each other. Hundreds of thousands of people have found Personality Type invaluable in helping them make satisfying career choices. And these are only some of its many applications!
THE BIG PICTURE: AN OVERVIEW OF PERSONALITY TYPE
There are four components, or "dimensions," that make up a personality type. They are: how people are energized, what kind of information they naturally notice and remember, how they make decisions, and how they like to organize the world around them. As you can see, each of these dimensions deals with an important aspect of life, which is why Type provides such accurate insights into our own, and others', behavior. It helps to picture each of these four dimensions as a scale-a continuum between two opposite extremes-like this:
You will notice there is a midpoint in the center of each scale. This is important because everyone has an inborn, natural preference for one side or the other on each of these dimensions.
Some people resist the notion that they have to fall on one side or the other, insisting that they are able to use either side, depending on the situation. And while it is true that all of us use both sides of each dimension hundreds of times a day, we do not use them with equal frequency, energy, or success. A simple exercise will help you understand this concept. First, find a pen or pencil and a piece of paper-any scrap will do-you can even use the margin of this book. Now simply write your signature. How did that feel? . Pretty easy, we would guess. Okay, now write your signature again, only this time with your pen or pencil in your opposite hand! How did that feel? If you're like most people, you would use words like "awkward," "difficult," "uncomfortable," and "unnatural" to describe the second experience. Also, it probably took more time and energy, and the product wasn't nearly as good.
When you are using your preferred side on any of the four type Dimensions-like using your preferred hand-you are doing what comes naturally. And when you are required to use the opposite side, it takes a lot of extra work and you're not as good at it; hence, the experience is usually not as satisfying.
You might ask: "Isn't it possible to be both, say, an Introvert and an Extravert?" The answer is no. But just as we can and do use our less preferred hand, we also use our other side on each type dimension, at times. Another way to think of it is that everyone is primarily one way or the other, but not exclusively that way. Those of us who have been studying and using Type for dozens of years have little doubt that every person really does have a natural, inborn preference for one side over the other, although in some people it is quite strong and apparent, while in others it is less strong and may be harder to identify.
Because there are four type dimensions, and each person has one preference per dimension, there are sixteen different possible type combinations. A personality type is really a four-letter code that reflects a person's preferences on each of the four dimensions. For example, a person can be an ISTP (Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Perceiving) type, or an ENFJ (Extraverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging) type, or one of fourteen other type combinations.
It is helpful to spend a few moments talking about some of the language used to describe Type. For example, when we refer to a preference, we're not talking about a conscious choice, but rather an inborn tendency. We can't choose to be an Extravert, for example, any more than we can choose to be born right-handed or have blue eyes. Nor can we change any of our type preferences. We are born with a type and we remain that type our whole lives. While some people don't particularly like this idea, it is not bad news. For as we said before, it is not better or worse to have one preference over another. Nor is any one type better or worse, smarter or duller than another. Rather, each type has natural strengths and potential weaknesses, due to its tendencies and inclinations. And although every individual is unique, because they have their own genes, parents, and life experiences, people of the same type share a remarkable amount in common.
Over the years, it has been pointed out that the language used to describe type preferences can sometimes create an unwanted distraction, because most of us have heard words like "Extravert" and "Introvert" and associate them with a meaning that is not the same when they are used to refer to Personality Type. For example, many people think of Introverts as being shy and withdrawn, and Extraverts as gregarious and talkative. This description is neither adequate, since there is so much more to this dimension than just the amount of social interaction people desire, nor accurate, since there are some very shy Extraverts and some very outgoing Introverts. These distinctions will be clarified when we discuss each type preference in depth, in the following section. But for the time being, try to let go, as best you can, of any preconceived notions you may have as to the meanings of these words.
FIGURING OUT YOUR TYPE PREFERENCES
"To know others, you must first know yourself." This old expression is particularly true with regard to learning about Type. Therefore, your first objective is to understand the Type concepts well enough to be able to accurately identify your own type. Look at reading this book as a series of learning adventures. And while it is important for you
To get the fundamentals down, like millions of others you'll find reading, thinking about, and discussing Type with others to be interesting and fun.
In a moment you will begin to read about the four type dimensions, in an effort to determine which preferences fit you best. To help you decide, we've posed several questions that reflect the differences between opposite sides. Most of what you read about your preference will ring true for you, but in order to clearly make the distinctions, the preferences are presented as generalities, which really represent extremes. Try not to focus on any one specific example of each preference, but rather on a pattern of behavior that is more consistently like you than its opposite. Even if one example sounds just like you, see how all the others fit before making up your mind.
THE FOUR TYPE DIMENSIONS
Extravert or Introvert: The "Inner World" or the "Outer World"?
The first type dimension is concerned with the two different ways people orient themselves to life, either as Extraverts or Introverts. Contrary to what most people may think when they hear the words "Extravert" and "Introvert," this first type dimension is really most concerned about people's energy-where they get it and where they direct it.
Many behaviors are influenced by a person's preference for one or the other; two of the most helpful questions to determine whether you are an Introvert or an Extravert are:
What energizes me most-Interacting with other people or being by myself? Where do I like to focus my energy-in the outer world of people and things or in the inner world of ideas and thoughts?
Extraverts are "other centered." By this we mean they both get energy from and focus their energy toward people and things outside of themselves. Think of Extraverts as possessing a sort of radar that they turn outward to constantly scan their environment. The more blips on the screen (the more interactions), the more energized they become. But Introverts are really more "self centered." This does not mean they are selfish; rather they are more self-contained and self-reliant. Introverts tune their radar to an internal frequency because they are more interested in applying their own perceptions and experience to a situation rather than looking outside themselves for the answer. Extraverts naturally (and unconsciously) ask themselves: "How do I relate to other people and things?" While Introverts (again, unconsciously) ask themselves: "How do people or things relate to me?"
Because Extraverts are energized by being around people, they naturally seek out others more often than Introverts do, which accounts for why Extraverts typically have huge collections of friends and associates.
Two very clear Extraverts, Chas and Elaine, offer a good example of this phenomenon. Friends who often socialize together, Chas and Elaine have a running competition: who knows more people? Whenever they're out together, the game kicks into high gear when one of them recognizes someone that the other doesn't know. Instantly, the other starts scanning until he or she "gets one, 'that is, locates someone not known to the other. While they obviously enjoy this game, their friends are constantly amazed at just how many people, individually and collectively, these two actually do know.
While Extraverts like to focus their attention on what is happening in the world around them, most Introverts prefer to immerse themselves totally in a project that interests them. Naturally independent, they find the solitude of working alone and thinking things through carefully both stimulating and refreshing. This concentrated single-mindedness can even make them oblivious to what is happening around them.
Shawn is a case in point. A very clear Introvert, Shawn loves nothing better than fooling around with computers. As he often does, one night he sat down to his computer to figure out a particular program. The next time he got out of his chair, he was surprised to learn it was 7:00 A.M. He had been so engrossed in his work that he had been sitting at the computer for eight hours straight.
By contrast, Extraverts are notorious for finding excuses not to focus on one thing because they are much more interested in and energized by a variety of external stimulation.
Throughout college, Tammy preferred to study at the library. While
initially impressed to learn their daughter was spending so much
time there, her parents were not really surprised when she
revealed her true motivation. Sure, she got her work done, but she
chose the library so she would be around other people and not have
to work alone In the library, she often ran into lots of her
friends, and she took frequent bathroom and social coffee breaks.
Like most Extraverts, especially younger ones, Tammy found just
being in the same room with other people was more comfortable than
being by herself.