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What’s Your Type? The MBTI Way of Understanding Each Other in the Workplace

I spent this Saturday in a 5 hour session all about the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) and how to translate an understanding about personality types into a tool to help navigate the workplace. If you’re not familiar with the assessment, it’s a quick quiz that determines your personality type along 4 trait dichotomies. In an effort to not be repetitive, I urge you to visit Abhi Nemani’s blog if you are interested in what these four traits are; he does a great job of explaining them.

You may be thinking, “this is all very interesting, but how does this help me do my job better?”

And this is what I aim to explain. Drawing from numerous studies on the MBTI personality types, researchers have found that 4 pairs of traits are the most influential of people’s behavior. These 4 pairs tell a lot about a person’s goals and faults and can help us understand how another coworker or a manager sees the world. Here are the pairs:

  • NF: These people are driven by the desire to find themselves and see introspection as an end in itself. Their main goal is self-actualization: becoming the person they truly are. In the work place, people with this trait gravitate toward communication and the cultivation of meaningful relationships. NF’s also tend to give out many compliments and also expect to hear feedback about their performance, which makes sense since they are focused on personal development. The common weakness of people with this trait is that they take critiques personally.
  • NT: The NT’s driving word is “competence.” These people tend to compete with themselves to always be the best they can be. They relate to others in the workplace by thinking of people more in terms of their competence rather than their position in the organization. Since they are so driven to perfection, they do not respond much to outside encouragement and compliments and are instead more internally motivated. In fact, NT’s may even be put off by reassurances of a “job well done” when the person believes that their work was not the best it could have been.
  • SJ: This type is concerned with responsibility and structure. They enjoy order and procedures and therefore tend to organize their work in systematic ways. A common fault of the SJ’s is that they are resistant to change. They believe there is a way things “should” be, and don’t like when things go otherwise. SJ’s are similar to the NTs in that they do not dish out or respond much to reassurance, but for a different reason than the NTs. Their reasoning is that they don’t need compliments because they and their coworkers are simply fulfilling their role in the organization.
  • SP: People with these traits are impulsive, restless, and innovative. In the workplace they enjoy varied work patterns and situations where the outcome is unknown. They get their enjoyment out of the process rather than the closure of a project. These people are the action drivers in companies and are receptive to others and new opportunities. One could likely assume that the free spirit, active personality of the SPs, the accompanying weakness would be a distaste for rules and bureaucracy. SPs, therefore, excel in flexible work environments.

Note that while people tend to show a preference towards one of these four temperaments, they do not fall neatly into these categories. However, they can be a useful tool for understanding what motivates your manager or your employees and what their mental framework is. Each type brings different strengths to an organization:

The NF is usually the best at negotiation and mediation. The NT shines at devising strategy. The SP excels at choosing tactics. And the SJ is strong at determining the procedures needed to fulfill a goal.

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David Dejewski

I’ve used the type indicators many times over the years. They are useful for management from many perspectives. They can help you organize your team.

I offered the test to my staffs. They usually enjoyed the exercise and I gained valuable insight into what made my teams tick.

I also build a model in grad school that used them. I applied that model in five different organizations and had good luck with it. I used it to help me devise change management strategies. I was asked by the Dean of engineering to come back and teach his PHD students as an adjunct.

Basically, it works like this:

Certain temperaments are attracted to certain jobs. It’s not a given, but a job like forrest ranger generally only attracts two personality types.

If I were to attempt a change management program with a group of forrest rangers, I would look up the two personality types I’m most likely to encounter. I would cross-reference those two personality types with the common challenges normally associated with them. In this case, neither personality type likes to lead or to follow.

Looking at Peter Senge’s 10 challenges of change, I would map the personality challenges to the change challenges and get some idea of what kinds of problems I might run into and when. I would then create a strategy for dealing with those challenges – usually plugging them into a Steven Alter model for ease of use and communication.

At the end of the day, I will have done some work, but I will also come well prepared. Challenges still come up, but knowing the playing field we’re walking onto has distinct advantages.