Transcript: Understanding personality - part one
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Welcome to the Loved Called Gifted Podcast. This is your place to come for musings about spirituality, identity, and purpose.
I’m your host, Catherine Cowell.
Welcome to this episode of the Loved, Called, Gifted podcast, and I’m really delighted today to be joined by my mate Polly
C: So I’ve known Polly for a long time, probably 30 years. We were having a conversation a few weeks ago, and were reflecting on the fact that we’ve both got a shared interest in Myers-Briggs personality types, and thought that there would be quite a lot to be gained from a conversation really around that, because, the more that we can understand one another, and ourselves, the easier life can be, in some ways. And there are sort of hiccups and stuff that we can kind of navigate our way around if we understand some of those things.
P: When I first came across it, and the reason why it became a matter of real interest for me, is because it just seemed to make sense. I’d looked at other sorts of personality typing, and looked at different schema that people had put together, and I was never able to plonk myself in it in a consistent way. Thinking about the way I was introduced to it, I was at Spring Harvest, back in the ‘90s, early 1990s.
P: So one one the speakers, who was a Franciscan monk, he pulled an overhead, so that it was projected and it was a single page summary that was related to the different combinations that you get with the Myers-Briggs. And straight away from these little thumbnail descriptions, I found myself, and I also found my husband. And those snapshot descriptions fitted so well.
C: So just to describe quickly the way that Myers-Briggs works, it divides personality into 4 different areas of interest, really. On each of those, you can have a preference for one thing or another, so they’re kind of opposites. So what that gives you is really just 4 different sorts of things to remember about –
P: Yes, which is helpful.
C: And to understand.
P: I think again, the key that I always say about it is that it’s about preference, but I can choose to act outside of that preference. I can kind of do that in a way, sort of in a knowing way, which means that if by my doing that that means that I’m going to be working against my own preference, I know that I will then need to kind of be careful because I will then need to go and do something where I can exercise my preference. So I’ve found that sort of thing with it really, really valuable, because it isn’t about sticking you in a box and saying “you are one of these, and therefore in every situation, you’re going to act like this, this, this, this and this” and it’s like, no –
P: – you understand that what you might want to do in a particular situation, and if you’re not able to do that, you can kind of work through, “right, that must mean that this other thing is probably going on, so how do I handle – do I try and match people that are doing stuff, in accordance with their preference, or am I happy to not go along with the crowd, as it were –”
P: – “and be happy in my own preference and to use my own voice and to not try and adopt somebody else’s”
P: Kind of thing.
C: So to give an example of a couple of those different opposites, one thing that people would be familiar with, probably, would be the idea of introversion and extroversion.
C: So the Myers-Briggs system would say, you either have a preference for introversion, or you have a preference for extroversion. Another one of those poles would be the difference between people who tend to primarily process the world through thought and logic, so people who have preference for thinking, –
C: – and people who have a tendency to process the emotion and their core values first, and then do the logic afterwards, so they would have a preference for feeling. And one of the things which I think is really interesting, is that what happens throughout our life, if we are growing healthily, is that we will grow into, if you like, our shadow side.
C: So it’s not that you’re an extrovert and you have no preference for introversion at all ever, or that you’re an introvert and you never ever want to be extrovert, it’s almost that your preference is kind of like your home territory.
C: That’s where you operate best.
P: When you know how you react and respond and you understand yourself
P: In that sense. But also, if you’re thinking about stress, one of the books that I go back to a lot, is just about coping with stress in accordance with the different personality types. And there’s this idea that you go into your shadow type, but a very, very bad and insecure version of your shadow type. Which makes so much sense when arguments and disputes come about, and in all sorts of situations when you see that things have happened and people behave in a particular way because they’re trying to project something that isn’t that kind of home-ground feel, so they’re obviously not confident in what they’re trying to be, and, y’know, they just don’t do it very well.
C: Yes. So, so taking the introversion/extroversion, and the thinking/feeling thing, and I think the Myers-Briggs phrase for it is being “in the grip”
P: Yes, it is
C: So you end up ‘in the grip’ of something which is opposite to what you would normally do
C: So I have a preference for introversion, and a preference for thinking
C: But in the grip, I might become very extrovert and very emotional
P: And you would potentially feel quite out of control –
C: Oh completely, completely
P: – of the situation. “How do I get back?”
C: Yes. So I can remember, I can remember a number of years ago being in an argument with my then-husband and just, just completely sort of “losing it” in inverted commas, and needing to express my emotion OUT of myself, rather than kind of sitting with it, and I ended up… we used to have a magazine rack in the bathroom so there was something to read, which would get kind of completely full of stuff, and overfull, and sort of and overflowing, and I was just HURLING books and magazines down the stairs.
P: That sounds, that sounds quite fun, really.
C: It was, it was quite fun in some ways, but that isn’t at all how I would normally be, and my observation is that for people for whom extroverted feeling is something that comes naturally to them, then they can be emotional in front of people, in a way that is not at all about completely losing control. There might even be talking and crying at the same time.
P: Yep. I was gonna say, you’ve seen me do that a few times.
C: But both of those things kind of come together and it sort of, it sort of works, and it’s ok.
P: And we’re comfortable. Even if other people are, like, *wimpers*
P: The thing that hooked me in was when I saw this slide, and I had, like I said, he explained it very, very quickly, but I had just enough of sort of an overview that he gave that I realised that I’d had myself and my husband completely wrong, and it was on the extroversion/introversion side of things, because I had observed that my husband was very good with strangers, very good at meeting new people, so I assumed, as you would, that he was extrovert. And because I was shy with new people, and had never really been very good at small talk and stuff, I assumed that I was introvert, and in actual fact, that was just completely wrong, in the way that Myers-Briggs looks at it, because it also looks at energy –
P: And what energises you and what stresses you, for me, being with people and among people is something that energises me. We then worked out that there are other reasons why I was shy, due to experience and also, the rest of my family are introverts. So in effect I was brought up in an introvert family so I developed kind of different sides to me. But given my own preference, and when it comes to the whole energy thing, I was extrovert. So what we tend to do now when we meet new people, my husband, he’ll start talking to them straight away, and part way through the conversation, he suddenly realises, he’s got no more questions to come up with, so at that point, he will try and find me, and he will then introduce them and hand them over to me with a small bit of information, and I will then continue to kind of converse and build that relationship with them.
C: And one of the things that strikes me from that description is that thing about the fact that we can end up expressing characteristics that are not kind of from our core, and then we can have trouble doing them. So, and we will come onto this on a later episode, but one of the things that my personality type means, is that I’m quite good at working to deadlines, and working very quickly before a deadline, but not necessarily kind of gradually working through a project and doing that piece by piece. I’m not your woman if you would like the thing finished a fortnight in advance *chuckles* Well, I can be these days, I can do that, but that’s not how I work at my best. So I was of the view that I wasn’t very good at managing my time, because I could see people who were doing things in a way that fitted their personality type, and they did them very well, and I struggled with it. But I had been trying to operate in that way. And because the kind of the gold standard was set by people – in terms of what I was expected to do, was set by people who worked differently from within –
C: –I felt that I wasn’t terribly good at it. Whereas once I discovered what my preference was, then I could identify the things in terms of my behaviour and my interaction with other people that were coming from my core preference, and which things I’d sort of learnt how to do. Coz you can learn how to behave in whatever way you want.
P: Yeah. I think also, having had nearly 30 years of thinking about all this, I think that often, it’s in the work place where we come up against the situations where we end up having to operate outside of our preference and it is something that y’know, is always interesting to me to talk to people about, I’ve worked as an engineer but I’m also, on the side I was involved in counselling, and it used to really throw people, because they wouldn’t usually associate the two things. But it’s like in one of them, I was just using different skillsets in different ways. So in particular, kind of the sensing, taking in information from what’s around you, because of the type of engineering I was doing is based on the ground, and what’s around you, I was very good at taking in the information that I needed to about, basically, ground conditions.
C: And those other aspects of your personality will have brought something different to your team at work, that other people wouldn’t have appreciated.
P: Yes, yes
C: But equally, you would have felt the tension sometimes of people operating in one way to one set of values –
C: – that absolutely clashed with who you are.
P: And it was always incredibly frustrating, because I would watch people who got to reach those higher echelons of the business, if, to coin a phrase, if your face fitted. And that did mean that there was a real concentration of a particular personality type in management. It became a lot more varied, the lower down the ladder you went. But I don’t know quite what happened to those of us that were not of the, if you like, the correct type. We either seemed to get to a certain level and then stay there, or I guess a lot of them moved off to other companies. So it may be that other companies in the field worked slightly differently and had more of a variation of personality type that then fitted.
C: Yeah, I think that’s one of the strengths of beginning to understand something about personality type, whatever model you use and however you look at that, none of these models kind of give everybody all the answers, but what they do is that they give you a lens through which to understand that we are all different
P: Yes, absolutely
C: And we all bring different skills and different strengths and different things into the pot. And actually if you have a culture which is dominated by people who operate in a particular way or to a particular personality type, whatever model you’re using, then often they will think that, the best way to do that particular role is to do it according to that particular personality type. Which can leave you feeling that you can’t do that.
C: Whereas actually you may have a lot to bring
C: And you may have a lot to give, and I remember us having a conversation the other week, Polly, about the fact that you had a real sense to a calling to leadership, but had been told by somebody with a different personality type, and a different kind of style, that that wasn’t something that you had.
C: And it wasn’t that you didn’t have it, it’s that they had a different style, and so their measure was all about –
C: – people need to be like this.
C: And so you were effectively doing a bad job of being like him.
P: Yes, I’m still a fairly quiet extrovert. And I know it’s not all extroverts are loud, but it does tend to be kind of the way that you get painted.
P: I think a lot of the time people don’t realise that I’m extrovert, and there’s a friend that we both have that we know really well, who is a similar personality type to me, but in the way that we manifest and the way that we show that and demonstrate it, is very, very different, and I think a lot of that is to, it is to do with confidence. I find the way that Myers-Briggs is talked about in relation to careers is also really interesting, because I can understand that there would be certain skills and certain ways of doing particular bits of work that appeal to some personality types more than others, but sometimes it is, y’know, you do get people that kind of do come from a different place, but still, still have a lot to give. So I know that I use, because of my engineering training, I use, I’m very visual, so I use pictures a lot in the way that I describe things and y’know, when I’m teaching and talking about stuff. So I know that with discovering this that me and my husband were different on the extroversion/introversion, but I discovered that it wasn’t only on the extroversion and introversion that we were at opposite ends, we’re at opposite ends of all the scales. And initially, again if you look at some of the books about relationships, we would not be a combination that you would put together as being an ideal match, because we’re completely different on all of them. The only way that we can understand each other is to communicate. But when you think about how much communication is part of building a relationship, we have been forced to communicate with each other! *laughs* And learn ways to communicate and learn to understand those different perspectives, and it’s got to the extent now, where I can sort of use, because I know the sorts of things and the ways in which my husband would do things, I can almost like put it on as like a suit of armour. So when there’s a decision to be made, I can think about what what I would do, and I can think about what my husband would do, and that gives me, for want of a better word, a road map to think about situations and think about the different ways in which everybody, potentially everybody involved, is going to fall into 1 or 2 or somewhere inbetween. It’s made a real difference. I’ve been able to really, kind of, I would say, I’ve been able to work it to my benefit, the fact that we are *laughs* opposite
P: In every way
C: Yeah. One of the things that I would notice about Myers-Briggs is that quite often, it’s not that obvious what your preference is, or what somebody else’s preference is. You can’t always read it from what’s going on on the outside.
C: Which, you’ve given a really good example of that in terms of the extroversion and the introversion. So the way that Tom would operate would make him look like an extrovert –
C: Whereas actually, what was going on with his energy levels and things, he actually is an introvert. So the danger is that we fall into “be like me” syndrome.
C: So you think that somebody ought to behave in particular way because that’s what you would do, and the way that they operate, what happens on their outside you kind of compare with what’s going on on your inside. So if you take my example about time management, one of the things about my personality type, thinking about something slightly different, is that I tend to do a kind of a ‘just in time’ thing.
C: So I’m quite good at getting to places just in time. I’m really bad at getting to places 10 minutes early. But somebody who naturally would get to places 10 minutes early, could easily be really judgemental about that.
P: Yes, mm
C: And think that I am not getting to places 10 minutes early because I don’t care.
C: Or I don’t care about somebody else’s time.
C: Or I don’t care that they’re stressed. And I ‘could’ get there 10 minutes early, because ‘everybody’ can do that, because the person who is there 10 minutes early looking at their watch wondering where I’m at, thinks, “well, it wasn’t difficult! You just leave the house 10 minutes early!”
P: Yes, yes
C: And bizarrely, just because of the way that I’m wired, actually, for me, that is quite difficult.
C: And if I did manage to get somewhere 10 minutes early, if the person I’m meeting could understand just how much effort that took, and just how much working against my own personality type that that took, they would congratulate me, I would receive a medal and a bunch of flowers.
C: For the effort entailed
C: But that’s not what happens.
P: But also the thing that there makes me think about, is that there are other cultures where they’re just not as stressed about time as we appear to be –
P: – in the western world.
C: And how you manage time, and I’m aware that we would be on opposite ends of that, actually, in terms of our personality profiles.
P: Well, I’m definitely a planner, but there’s also, I mean, this is one of the fun things that I find myself saying, coz nowadays, although I’ve got this engineering training, etc, and I worked in the consultancy, EGM Consultancy for 25 years, I’m now teaching. So I’m teaching in an educational establishment close to where we are, and so many of the students, they talk about time management, and they talk about putting together a timetable, but I often say to them, the timetable is not the thing that matters. It’s the discipline to stick to the time table *laughs*
C: Which, again –
P: “Ohh, noo!”
C: But again, there’s all sorts of interesting things about whether that’s important to you or not –
C: – and we could talk about that, and I would have a view on that.
P: Where this fits in Myers-Briggs as well, coz I know that Tom, now that you have named him, his name is out there, he is very much a task focused person. So if he’s got something to do that he knows he has to, he will do it straight away.
P: Whereas I will be compiling this little list in my head of things that need doing, and I’ll kind of do them…when I feel like it *laughs* So I always say to people, if you want something done, straight away, get Tom to do it. But if you don’t mind when it happens, or you want it done to a particular quality or to a different, or to a particular sort of specification, or something like that, I’m like, get me to do it.
P: Because I will probably ruminate
P: before I do it
C: So we’ve been talking a bit about the different ways in which having an understanding of your personality type can be helpful, and we’ve sort of alluded to the fact that within the Myers-Briggs there are 4 different, 4 different sort of preference poles –
C: – if you like, but what we’ve wanted to do in the context of the next few episodes, or the episodes where we look at this, what we’ve wanted to do is to take those, those 4 different continuums, and looking at each of them in turn, and whether you get interested in Myers-Briggs as a whole or not, what that will enable you to do is just to have a bit of a think about who you are and how you operate in the world.
C: And probably also something about the people who are closest to you. So there may well be things that you spot about yourself, and you spot about other people, that will help you to feel comfortable about who you are and how you operate. Also, actually, to congratulate yourself on all the ways in which you have over the years flexed
P: Mmm, absolutely
C: – in order to, in order to work with other people, and the ways in which you’ve grown. And one of the things that I think is really crucial to say, is that, people with the same personality type, will operate, as you were saying earlier, about somebody whom we both know, will operate really differently, for all kinds of reasons.
P: Mhm, yeah
C: So somebody once described it to me as, your personality type is a little bit like, you come from the same country –
C: – as other people with your personality type. So it’s a little bit like, y’know when you go abroad and you meet somebody else from England, there are things that you kind of share in terms of the way that you see the world and the way that you operate, that you immediately feel a little bit at home about.
P: Especially if they’re a tea-drinker.
P: Things like that
C: Well, yes, absolutely.
P: Yes, yes
C: Yes, so you drink tea, and you think about these things, and you kind of have a frame of reference that you share
C: But you could be wildly different. So one of you might be from Northumbria, and farming, and you might be from South London, and doing finances, so you really could be quite very different people, with very different ways of operating in the world, but you sort of have this kind of shared understanding, and that’s a bit like what it’s like. So it’s NOT about putting people into boxes. As we said in the beginning, we all operate in all of these different preferences –
C: — but you will have a preference for one. There’ll be one that is a bit like writing with your preferred hand.
C: And the other you can do it –
C: – but you’re using –
P: But not quite so well.
C: Not quite so well. You can make it legible, but it might be a bit trickier. And as you grow through life, often what you find is that the place where you feel at home, as time goes by and as you grow in a healthy way, you are able to flex more, and to move more out of that home territory.
C: So, I think that probably gives us enough for an introduction, doesn’t it?
P: And hopefully that’s enough to whet people’s appetites to tune in for the next installment!
C: Of the world of Myers-Briggs!
P: Have, have we decided which one we’re gonna do first? Just so they know? I don’t suppose it matters, really, does it?
P: They kind of take them in any order.
P: We’ll see
C: We’ll see. And we’ll see what we get round to
P: We’ll try and stick to the topic as much as we can
C: Yes. And if you would like to talk to us about your own experiences of Myers-Briggs and personality, and if you think you’ve got things to add, then you’re very welcome to get in touch and you can find us and find contact details and things at lovedcalledgifted.com Thank you ever so much, Polly, it’s been great.
P: Looking forward to next time.
Hope you enjoyed this episode of the Loved Called Gifted podcast. If you’d like to get in touch, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org You can find a transcript of this podcast at lovedcalledgifted.com and that’s also the place to go if you’re interested in the Loved Called Gifted course or if you’d like to find out about spiritual direction or coaching.
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