Managing Employees; Managing Personalities

July 30, 2002
Category: Archive

So, you’ve taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®. You’ve reviewed your results. You’ve checked to determine whether they seem to be a good fit with the “you” that only you know. You now know more about your personality type.

Now what?

Now you can put your new knowledge to work as a manager. Here are some things to keep in mind:

• Understanding yourself is just the start.
With your Myers-Briggs® profile, you now understand how you get your energy, how you take in information, make decisions, and relate to the world around you. The MBTI® informs you about your preferences in these areas.

Keep in mind that while your personality type may explain certain aspects of your behaviors, it does not excuse them. In other words, don’t fall into a trap of thinking that your personality type locks you into certain behaviors. Your MBTI® profile informs you about your inclination to think and to act in certain ways. Armed with that information, you can be on the alert to how your behaviors affect others. You can modify those behaviors if need be.

• Using the MBTI® to understand others is most valuable.
A participant in a Poynter leadership seminar asked me, “Is it normal to think that my own type is the best?” It was a great question. Since our individual personality type makes us the most comfortable, it is easy to assume that it is the best, and others might be better if they only could adopt our type. But there are 16 distinct personality types in the MBTI® model, and each of them is a good fit for someone — someone who works with you or for you. Each type has its strengths as well as its challenges and blind spots. No one type is better than another.

Use your newfound knowledge of personality type to recognize and respect the differences among your colleagues. Learn to communicate effectively with them, to understand their needs, and help them succeed. All too often, managers try to hire people who remind them of themselves. Recognize the importance of having a diverse staff whose rich differences are supported and put to good use.

• Be sensitive to others’ personalities.
You know your own Myers-Briggs® type — but your colleagues don’t walk around wearing MBTI® identification badges (“Hi, I’m an ISTJ!”). You can’t be completely sure of their exact personality types unless they volunteer to take a Myers-Briggs® some day. But you can be sensitive to their apparent preferences. You can now understand why, as a “J,” someone likes to start a project early and make lists — while another person (likely a “P”) prefers to gather more information before starting the work. Now you can recognize that the “P” person, who may have seemed disorganized to you in the past, isn’t lazy at all. He or she just takes a different approach to tackling a project–and both of your paths may be equally effective.

Ask more questions of others before assuming you know why they do what they do.

Listen, really listen, to how they approach their work, their decision-making, and their brainstorming. You can learn to help people succeed.

• Think about personality type and communication.
Again, starting with your own type, think about how you approach communication.

Let’s say you are an ESTJ. You may prefer talking out an issue, getting facts out on the table, making a logical decision, and considering the matter closed in one conversation.

But now you know that if the person you are dealing with is an INFP, that individual may prefer to see the issues in writing, consider them and their implications, brainstorm possible alternatives that involve input from others, and avoid a hasty conclusion. You can make both of your lives easier by thinking about that person’s needs. Put things in writing, appreciate the brainstorming, come to the conversation having already thought through the “people” implications of the decision, and expect to have one more meeting before closing the topic — or perhaps explaining why people would be better served if you finalized things now.

In the book, Hardwired Leadership, Roger Pearman makes an important point about personality type and communication: “The most difficult rule to remember in communication is that the meaning of the message is in the receiver of the message.” And, he adds, “To really communicate you have to actively listen to what the other person understands.”

• Think about personality type and meetings.
Once you learn about personality type, you understand more clearly than ever why so many people hate meetings and why each person may have his or her own reasons, related to type. “I’s” may tire of hearing “E’s” talk and talk, and may resent being called upon spontaneously to speak when they would prefer time to think through an issue, “E’s” may assume the “I’s” are disconnected or have nothing to offer. “N’s” may love to ask the future-oriented, “what if” questions and seem stuck in the clouds in the eyes of the pragmatic “S’s.” When people begin to debate, “F’s” may feel the room filling with conflict, and become uneasy, while “T’s” relish the exchange of logical thoughts. “J’s” may want to get the darn meeting over with, while “P’s” are adding another layer of information to the pile in play.

So what do you, as the manager, do?

  • Prepare an agenda. Distribute it in advance. It helps everyone, especially introverted types.
  • Give introverted types time to process ideas during the meeting and ask for their input when they most appear to be ready.
  • Recognize that extraverted types, with their need to think out loud, can add greatly to a meeting, but in moderation. Help keep conversations on track.
  • Build specific but limited brainstorming time into meetings so “N” types can have breathing room and “S” types will know the time will end.
  • End meetings by restating important ideas, assignments, timetables, and all other “next steps.” This helps all types know what to expect.

• Think about personality type and time management.

We all struggle with setting priorities, getting organized, and dealing with our workload.

But we struggle in different ways — and we find comfort in different ways. When we understand and respect personality types, we can help them with time management issues.

  • Extraverted types may need to build human contact into their schedules.
  • Introverted types may need quiet time built into schedules.
  • Lists, planners, and organizers may work for some people, while others develop their own flexible systems that work for them.
  • Deadlines are more important than start times for projects.
  • All personality types may procrastinate from time to time, and need to recognize the difference between “keeping options open” and “putting off the work.”

Businesses tend to operate along “S” and “J” lines. Get the facts, make a plan, get it done. If you or your employees are not an “S” or “J” type, recognize the need to adapt or develop effective alternative approaches to meeting your organization’s preferred way of doing things.

• Think about personality type and conflict.
Recognize that you can reduce conflict in your organization by understanding others and helping your employees to do the same. You now know there are 16 distinct personality types, all with merit. Knowing this should help us recognize how easy it can be to misread the motives of others. We know what people do — but chances are we don’t really know why.

Conflict often starts when people assume they know the motives of others. (“He doesn’t respect me — he never supports my ideas in a meeting.” “She doesn’t think she has to work as hard as everyone around here. I took the project notes home to get started on our report this weekend and she didn’t offer to do a thing.” In both cases we know what someone does — but we make a dangerous leap by assuming we know the motive. The guy who “never supports my ideas in a meeting” may be an introverted type who sees no need to repeat an obviously well-stated, good idea and just quietly respects it. The woman who took no work home on the weekend may be gathering additional information and do a marvelous job of getting the report finished on deadline — in her own way.)

By understanding personality type differences, we may learn why some individuals seem to care more about feelings or facts, focus on the present or the future, say too much or too little, take action or postpone it. And we can ask more questions, framed in ways that are respectful and non-threatening to them. From those questions, we can learn how they think, what motivates them, and how to support them.

Sixteen different personality types. There’s no way a manager can be expected to memorize the nuances of each one. That’s not necessary. What is necessary is recognizing differences, celebrating diversity, and strategizing so each person can succeed.

In the book, I’m Not Crazy, I’m Just Not You, a look at personality type and interpersonal relationships, authors Roger Pearman and Sarah Albritton write:

“…People most often give to others what they themselves most want; we assume that what makes sense to us is best for all, and don’t think about what others may actually appreciate more. When we want people to feel our respect and know that we value them, we typically behave toward them as we wish they would behave toward us. But each type has certain conditions under which they feel valued; each type expresses valuing in discrete ways. To value other types, we must learn these ways and grow in which of our personal dimensions need attention.”

Enjoy the learning. Enjoy the growth. Enjoy using your knowledge of personality type as a tool to build your competence as a manager and your credibility as a leader.

Suggested Reading

  • Understanding and Changing Your Management Style by Robert Benfari (1999)
  • What Type Am I? by Renee Baron (1998)
  • Hardwired Leadership by Roger Pearman (1998)
  • Work Types by Jean Kummerow, Nancy Barger, Linda Kirby (1997)
  • I’m Not Crazy, I’m Just Not You by Roger Pearman and Sarah Albritton (1997)

Personality Tests Online

You can take quick quizzes to determine your personality types for free at several sites on the web. Here are some for entertainment only:

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