Let’s face it: We all think our own way of doing things is the best possible way.
- Reliables, who are buttoned down, willing to take orders, and loyal to institutions believe that their way is the best.
- Helpers, who are emotional, future-focused, and values-driven believe that their way is the best.
- Improvers, who are intellectually independent, skeptical, and who constantly raise the bar believe that their way is the best.
- And Experiencers, who are physical, adventurous, and easily bored by abstraction believe that their way is the best.
That’s why people in the different temperament groups can drive each other crazy at work. The Reliable wonders why everyone else can’t be as precise and logical as she is. The Helper hates how thoughtlessly people treat each other, and wonders, “Why can’t we all just get along?” The Improver is impatient with people who want to do things the same old way. And the Experiencer, who’s oriented toward action, doesn’t get what all the fuss is about.
Common Ground is Good…
When I lead workshops to help members of a team understand their temperament differences, the goal is always team building — bridging the gaps between different style so that people can work together more effectively.
This means, by definition, that nobody gets to disrespect or dump on anyone else’s temperament or behavior. Differences are viewed as “challenges,” and all behaviors except truly dysfunctional ones are viewed as equally valid.
This inclusive attitude is at the heart of Myers-Briggs personality theory, which sees everyone as having Gifts Differing and views everyone’s gift as being equally important in the world.
…and So is Difference
In the words of my hero, Eve Dallas, “Yeah, yeah, yeah!”
At heart, I’m a partisan girl (I once got shushed by another participant at an MBTI seminar for saying, “I’m an INFJ and proud of it!”) And I’m not the only one. Research clearly shows that we recognize people who are “like” us. We root for people who are “like” us. We hire and promote people who are “like” us. (My MBTI guru Hile Rutledge once put it this way: “Of course I think I look good when I see me coming through the door.”) And “like us” no longer means just race, gender, class, and ethnicity. It now means temperament, as well.
That’s why it was a tremendous (if slightly perverse) relief to present a class on temperaments to a kick-ass group of graduate students at New York University’s School of Continuing Professional Studies last week.
I must have forgotten to mention that they were “supposed to be” politically correct about this stuff — and they weren’t!
This is a group of people that works by day and studies by night. They’re on the move, and don’t have time to coddle the less ambitious… or each other. I mentioned that Judgers and Perceivers can sometimes drive each other crazy at work, and people started chiming in with stories about the Judgers (or Perceivers) they work with who drive them crazy. I mentioned how Improvers and Helpers can clash, and people started ragging on each other to illustrate. Ditto Reliables and everyone else; in a group exercise, one Reliable neglected to write down an Improver’s brainstorming ideas, because she didn’t take them seriously. It was very instructive for all of us.
And that was the take-away for me: As much (maybe more) real learning and exploration of the MBTI happened in this irreverent smack-down atmosphere as happens in the more sedate and sober teambuilding workshops I often lead.
Does this mean that we learn best when we can blow off steam? Do we all crave a chance to root for the home team? Is real, unfiltered experience the best illustration of any communications theory or practice?
Thanks to Tiffany, Jeri, Roland, Chad, Ed, Leslie, SoJung, Liz, Michaeli, Elisa, and Annie, I have an answer to all of those questions.