It Takes All Kinds

printer Printer Friendly Version

Author John Towler, Ph.D.

Personality and personality testing in the workplace.

People are fascinating. Certainly they can be more interesting, more varied, and more fun than any other animal. Unfortunately, they can be more frustrating and harder to understand and work with, too.

How much easier it would be if we understood why people act the way they do, why they think the way they think, and why we have trouble getting along with each other. In fact, wouldn’t it be nice if we had a better understanding of why we react in certain ways ourselves? All of this is precisely what psychologists have been studying for years, and their findings can help you understand yourself and the people you work and live with and why you sometimes have trouble getting along.

It all has to do with your personality type and your way of thinking and acting. Here’s how it works. We all have a preference for the way we take in information. Some of us rely on the senses of taste, touch, sight, smell, and hearing, and are most comfortable with data we can actually see, touch and so on. And there are other people who tend to rely on a sixth sense – intuition or their hunches – rather than on hard, factual information.

Just as we have preferred ways to take in data, we also have preferences for how we make judgments about it. Some like to think about the information and make decisions based on impersonal analysis and principles. These people put a premium on fairness. On the other hand, some people make decisions based on how they feel, how they think the decisions will affect people, and whether the decisions will lead to harmony.

A further dimension to this psychological model of behaviour relates to where people get their energy. It will come as no surprise to you to learn that some of us get our energy and interests from the inner world of ideas, concepts, and abstractions. These people, whom we call introverts, have a rich inner life and seem to be very comfortable without people; they are able to rely on themselves. The opposite type, extroverts, love people and the world around them and spend very little, if any, time with thoughts and concepts.

Classifying people according to these dimensions is based on the work of Carl Jung, a Swiss psychologist and contemporary of Sigmund Freud, who maintained that the apparently random behaviour people exhibit really isn’t random at all but is a predictable pattern which depends on their personality types. This has led to the development of many psychological tests.

One of them, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, can accurately pinpoint a person’s preferred way of reacting to and dealing with the world. The test measures whether people are introverts or extroverts, whether they take in information by sensing or by intuition, whether they react by thinking or feeling, and whether they have a judging or perceptive attitude toward life. Scores on these major dimensions are used to generate four-letter codes that help to explain why people act the way they do.

Let’s take an example. Most technicians, computer analysts, and accountants tend to be INTJ’s. That is, they are introverts (I), use their intuition (N is used here), prefer to think (T) using impersonal analysis, have a judging (J) attitude about life, and prefer a planned, orderly existence. On the other hand, an ENFP type of person is an extrovert (E), senses (S) the effect he has on others, feels (F) that personal values are more important than logic, and has a perceptive (P) attitude toward life, preferring a spontaneous, flexible lifestyle and disliking rules and plans.

The INTJ people have original minds. They are very good at organizing jobs and working at them alone for long periods without help, and they are likely to be independent, skeptical, critical, and determined to the point of stubbornness. Unfortunately, they tend to be unconscious of other people’s feelings and insensitive to the effect they have on people. Meanwhile, an ENFP person is easy-going, accepting, friendly, fun to be with – the type who is always looking out for other people and making sure they are enjoying themselves. ENFP’s always know what is going on around them and are eager to join in. These people find remembering facts easier than recalling theories, and they are at their best in situations that require sound common sense and harmony with people. ENFP’s make good salespeople.

What happens when you pair up an INTJ person with an ENFP, either as a team at work or as a married couple in the home? Well, as you might expect, not only do they not see eye to eye, but they also seem to march to different drummers and have a hard time understanding why the other person seems so hard to get along with. The INTJ simply cannot fathom why the ENFP can’t approach a problem coolly and logically. Nor can he or she comprehend why the other person seems so emotional about simple, obvious issues. The ENFP, meanwhile, thinks the other person is cold, heartless, and unfeeling. This is a classic case of one person’s not understanding the other and, while it can lead to frictions at home, it inevitably leads to major problems in the workplace where the individuals may not love each other to start with.

This is a good example of how psychology can be applied in practical situations to help people understand one another and get along more easily. Just think how wonderful it would be if we knew which types our bosses or spouses were and how they would react to whatever we said.

Many organizations are applying the principles of behavioural psychology to help their employees understand one another better and to reduce conflicts and tensions. A few hours of testing, training, and working with this new approach to interpersonal skills can pay handsome dividends in a happier, more productive workforce and a more enjoyable working environment.

John Towler is a Psychologist and the founder of Creative Organizational Design. Please send comments about this article to jtowler@creativeorgdesign.com. For more information, please contact us.

Re-printable with permission.