Understanding Personality Types, Part 1

My picture nameSome time ago I did a workshop on personality type with a government department. We had been working all morning and people were starting to get the idea of personality type when the boss arrived. He wanted to bring the group up to speed with the plans for the coming year. He spoke for about a half hour and then left quite cheerful, encouraging the group to learn all they could. He was a cheerful, positive, extroverted man who clearly liked his staff and was liked by them.

From the beginning of his talk, I realized it was not my field and I didn't know what he was talking about. In time, I began to wonder how much the others were getting. He was clearly enthusiastic, and intended to communicate his enthusiasm. After he left, out of curiosity I asked: "How many of you understood him and his message." Everyone burst out laughing. I turned to the foreman of the group, who had been taking frantic notes during the boss' talk, and asked him. He replied: "I didn’t understand him either, but I have my notes so, over time, I can ask him to explain certain things a bit more. Then I can go to the group and explain what he meant."

This problem in communication was not because of ill will, but because of the boss's personality type. He was clearly an extroverted intuitive thinking type. What was clear to him was just confusing to others. What his type means is that he was outgoing (extroversion), loved to play in the realm of future possibilities (intuitive) and was logical in his thinking (thinker).

Personality type is enormously important in one's work environment. It largely determines how effective we are at work, the kind of energy we bring to different kinds of work, whether we can keep a schedule or not, and how effective we are in our relationships with our colleagues and bosses.

Let me give a thumbnail sketch of each aspect of personality type. Note the characteristics that best fit you.

Extroverts: Are focused on the outer world as opposed to the inner world of concepts and ideas; get energized by talking; work and play well with a wide variety of people and things; tend to like to party; are social; are stimulus hungry; talk easily; and are usually good mixers and like being included.

Introverts: tend to be territorial; wary of new contacts; are quiet, reflective and answer slowly; tend to have a quiet interior life; find their privacy is important; and may appear shy, reserved or inscrutable.

Sensing types: Tend to be drawn to facts like metal to magnets; remember a great number of facts and work well with them; are realistic and factual; like real things; prefer the straightforward; are good with their hands; are not interested in theory; adapt to immediate situation; have a keen sense of the present; and live in the present.

Intuitives: Are future oriented; see patterns in details; dislike detail; explore possibilities; value imagination and inspirations; love the figurative; create innovation; are imaginative and unconventional; enjoy metaphor; vivid imagery; may daydream a lot; and are entrepreneurs.

Thinkers: Are rational, seek to understand things they perceive through sensing or intuition; are somewhat detached; analyze cause and effect; are objective; enjoy systems and principles; may love a good argument; are better at trouble-shooting than accommodating; and want to figure things out. Our world tends to be dominated by sensing thinkers.

Feelers: Are rational; desire harmony, concern for others; tend to be systematic; stress personal values; are good at dealing with people; often get others to co-operate; tend to be sensitive to praise and criticism; are best at jobs dealing with people; and tend to be in a minority.

Judgers: Like structure and find that it supports them. They tend to organize, set priorities, and make decisions, because then the world has less control over them; find security in structure, even if changed tomorrow; are selective, organize information in manageable ways; make categories and lists.

Perceptives: tend to be free-flowing and open; tend to believe something new might appear, therefore don’t make unnecessary decisions; there is excitement and variety in exploring new routes; decisions may eliminate interesting choices.

One of those aspects is our first function, our strongest quality. A second aspect becomes our second most important quality. After making a list of our qualities, it can be helpful to our understanding of both our work mates and bosses if we make another separate list of their qualities, also choosing their first and second function.

Knowing our personality types, and having at least a rough idea of the types of those of the people we work alongside, are enormously helpful. The last thing that a personality type should do is put anyone in a box, but for ease of mental organization, the different type elements described above are put together in 4-letter combos, each letter coming from a pair (extroversion/introversion, sensing/intuition, etc.), so that you end up with someone as an INFJ (introverted intuitive feeling judging type) or an ESTP (extroverted sensing thinking perceptive type), etc. (In later posts, I'll go into how to do this in more detail.) There are 16 types in all, and even though people's personalities have a lot to do with their upbringing and personal experiences, being able to vaguely classify someone's type gives you an invaluable communications tool, because you are able to understand what they are saying better and to communicate your ideas and concerns more clearly as well. You'll be amazed at all the anger, confusion and vilification that happens because of simple communication problems, caused by differences in personality type.

This is but a crash course on personality type: the most important thing to realize is that it often dictates how we behave and interact with others. Often we work with someone who is somewhat different in type from ourselves, and that is generally a good thing, as the mixture keeps things interesting and gives us more options to get things done in our work environment. But it is also the place where the most friction and problems happen. Next post, we'll take a look at the types of issues we might face with someone who is a different type from us.

Henry Sharam

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I guess a judger/thinker

I guess a judger/thinker came up with this system... which could make more sense than the zodiac if we have to have categories. I think I may be a intuitive/feeler and to a lesser degree an introvert.

I'm curious I'm not sure how many people saw or remember Marcus from this sessions "Apprentice". I felt very sorry for him because of his communication problems and wondered if he had a studder or had issues with his brain chemistry. Maybe he just fell apart on camera in group situations (because he was quite coherent when talking in his monologues)... but would anyone ascribe his communication problems to personality type? and if so what would he be?

I think we have to be careful making assumptions about personality types, and labeling people. There may be any number of other factors at play: Stress at home, physical illness, chemical dependency etc.

Good point

Well, that's a really good point, that there are many other factors that affect how people act (and I think you point out a few of the big ones, especially drug dependancy), but I think the point about personality type (and Da can correct me here if I'm off base) is that it talks about the parts of a person's personality type that aren't affected very much by external forces. If I suddenly find myself in an extraordinary situation, I may do things I never would have imagined I would do, both good and bad, but I'll still take in and process information the same way and still make decisions the same way. For example:

  • I robbed the convenience store and crashed that bus into the lake because I was blasted on crystal meth, but
  • I wasn't wearing matching socks at the time because I'm an intuitive.

Does that make sense? Personality type gives you a way to easily and quickly catagorise much of the basics of a person's personality type, but it doesn't tell you about all the nuance of their lives. One of the most important parts of learning about your type is actually figuring out how it fits together with all of the other bits of your personality. This is one of the most important parts of workshops Da does. It's always fun to see couples about to be married, who've known each other for years, rib each other and say, 'Hey, that's you! That's why you're so weird!'

Steve Sharam

personality type

You are absolutely correct, many things can affect how we function. Your description of Marcus makes me feel sorry for him. Like you say, it could be many things which threw him off. If I was forced to come up with an aspect of type which could have effected him I would wonder if he was an introvert. Introverts can function well in public, Johnny Carson was one, but it takes a lot of energy and planning.

Rev. Henry Sharam

Are personality types a

Are personality types a matter of nature or nurture? I don't know. There are incredible speakers, teachers, and writers that seem to be born with a gift for communication, but perhaps once we recognize our strengths and weaknesses it is possible for everyone to improve those skills. We may not all learn in the same way. Some people respond/imprint better through images, some to sound and others by doing, or writing with a pencil (kinetic memory).

M-B centered, but a good point

There are other personality typing schemes out there besides the Myers-Briggs model illustrated here.

The underlying point, though, is important: Different people think and understand in different ways, and we need to be aware of those ways and learn how to work with them in order to be especially effective.

(We could have a similar discussion about multiple intelligences or different learning styles and deal with the same underlying issue.)

My wife has learned enough about this personality-typing system that she sometimes uses the code to talk about people without warning me. She'll talk about "stereotypical NF behavior" or some such, and I have to whip out my decoder ring to figure out what she's saying. :)


Yeah, I've got that problem too

Yeah, I've got that problem too: I frequently need a decoder ring to figure out what my girlfriend's saying:) She certainly speaks in code, but it doesn't happen to be this one.
Hopefully whatever model of personalty typing you choose to work with won't be used to put someone in a box, but to give you a better understanding of how to listen to what they're saying and how to speak to be heard by them. Using type to put people in a box narrows your thinking about other people, the other way broadens it considerably. This is important, because if you don't know what you did wrong, I'm not going to tell you:P

Steve Sharam

In some parts of the world

In some parts of the world the last part could be construed as a Newfie joke. We're in Newfoundland so I can say that. :)

Now i have to know what that means...

just followed the link. I can't decide if I'm an IFNP or an IFNJ.


personality type

Right on. In New York I used to hear what I knew as Newfoundland jokes as Polish jokes. Funny world.
There is a surprisingly large difference between INFJ and INFP. The p's want to keep things open and the J's want to have things settled and tied up. People who are so close together in type often think of themselves as being the same but, when push comes to shove, they often want to shoot the other persosn because they are sooooooo different.

Rev. Henry Sharam

Newfie Type Joke

Two Introverted Feeling Newfies walk into a bar filled with Extroverted Thinking Torontonians.

The first Newfie says to the second, "Lord Thunderin' buy, don't the overly rational Newfie jokes offend your feeling sensibilities?"

The second Newfie replied, "True that, moy son, true that. Plus they keeps telling me to go find the corner of that round room, which I find to be extremely hurtful and which makes me withdraw into myself in an unhealthy way.

Whadya think? Yes? No?

Steve Sharam

Difficult decisions

When I first took the tests, I had a tough time reconciling the fairly clear INTP score with the various descriptions of that type. It never seemed to fit very well, even though I'd always thought of myself as a "logical person" or a "thinker" (in non-type terms). The descriptions of INFP had a lot more resonance, though there were big chunks of the standard descriptions that I'd never considered in myself.

I read some more and thought about it for a while and came to this conclusion. Being a white male with a decent education had provided me with certain tools and shaped me for certain roles that I could fulfill reasonably well. Yes, I could be logical, analytical, and use problem solving skills to make decisions. That's what guys like me were supposed to do. However, underneath that social construction I'm actually an F who's simply learned how to get along like a T. This was quite a revelation, and it helped me understand the source of a lot of tension in my life.

I don't think about type everyday, but I come back to it fairly regularly and the more familiar I've become with it over the years, the more I've been impressed with how nuanced it can be, and how useful it is as a tool for self development. Also, with time, those sections of the standard INFP descriptions that I didn't think were like me became more relevant (particularly the need for values-based decision making and 'meaningful' work - I'd always thought of those as 'crusader' personality traits - definitely not me). The older I get and the more 'just a job' jobs I have, the clearer it's become that when I'm enjoying my work, it's because what I'm doing is something I believe in. Which might seem fairly obvious, but I'd grown up with the "take the best paying work where you can get it and do your own thing on your own time" ethic.

Anyway, take some time with the P vs J thing. It might take you to some interesting places!


personality type

Good searies of points. Thank you. Years ago, just after the last ice age, I had an adult sunday school class who were interested in my comments about type and did the test. That passed off, not very interesting and years later the decided to do it again. All of their types came out differently. I was puzzled and asked if they could explain it. One wise lady said that they had all been indoctrinated in how they were supposed to be and their first responses were in accord with the mask (or persona) they were supposed to wear, especially in the church. This time they felt they had discovered important parts of themselves and were generally more honest, coming out how they were, not how they thought they should be. It can be quite startling to discover that we are more nuanced that we thought we were. This ambivilance can confuse us perhaps most at our work site, as we struggle to do jobs we think we should be good at or enjoy, even if we don't.


i see myself in both of

I see myself in both, and can think of many examples for both. It can't always be easy to categorize people, and there have to be some "borderline" people out there.. Humans are pretty complex. We come with issues, baggage, history, (and every now and then mental disorders and multiple personalities!)

A have a friend who can't decide if they are an E or an I, because they go from one to the other fairly easily, and I'd have to agree. But if Carson is an example maybe an I can function extremely well as an E.

I'm not sure things are always so simple, and nurture has to have a big impact. I don't think it would be wise to pigeon hole children. It could be a self fulfilling prophecy, and they should be allowed to unfold and find out their gifts on their own. It does everyone good to step out of their own comfort zone.. and stretch our wings at least once in a while.

I still can't tell for sure if I'm a J or a P... I think i'm somewhere near the middle if it's one or the other. Or perhaps as a Canadian and an artist I'm accepting by nature, and don't like it when I verge on being a J. (is that a revelation?)

But I had my "colours" done back in the eighties, and I do know I'm a "winter", who enjoys the summer. (-:


Borderline types

Each axis is continuous, and someone may lie in the middle of the axis or out on an extreme. I took an online version of the test and came out EXTX -- in the middle on two axes, and the ET I already knew I was.

My wife doesn't like being a J either, which probably means that keeping things organized at home will be a permanent challenge. :)


My husband thinks I am a J

My husband thinks I am a J when I ask him to pick up his socks, but I think I'm being a P whose "values are threatened". Perhaps in some cases what I thought of as being J is more likely a result of P's idealism, but I am probably somewhere near the middle. My husband is more P than me. (He'd say that stands for patience.) It drives me a little nuts when I would like to just get things resolved and done, and he prefers to wait for more information before reaching a decision.

It is a continuous axis though, and we likely shift on it during our lives. If it is used to help people better understand each other and communicate it can be a very good thing. On the other hand, if this tool is used to discriminate and limit(and pass people off as being a type rather than listening to what they have to say) it has the potential to be a very bad thing.


personality type

Appreciate your comment. Just for clarity, and because I have spent thousands of hours working with type, the Myers Briggs test is based on Dr. Carl Jung's theory about personality type. You are absolutely correct. Many things effect how we relate to others. I find that type is one of the most effective tools at helping us understand how this happens.

Rev. Henry Sharam

Absolutely. And, if you

Absolutely. And, if you know someone well, you can figure out what type he is, and that really helps understand him, and why he does what he does. And expecially it helps to understand the implications. It was a life-changing experience for me to do that questionnaire, both for myself and for my husband. He's an ISTJ (extremely J), and I'm ISFP (extremely P), and we're not very compatible. But I was able to see the trade-offs, the good things about him. We were having trouble at the time and I was focused on the bad things. But once I was reminded of the good side of his personality, it helped a lot.

I liked the discussion of the implications of the types, and the interactons. It really helps you understand yourself and why you've made the choices you have, how you got to where you are. I wonder for a while if I still believed in free will, but I've come to the conclusion that I had free will in dealing with things and life isn't complete determined by personality type.

It's good for relationships and for career counseling.

If you take the questionnaire and read the analysis, I'd be very surprised if you didn't have some amound of enlightenment about who you are and why you're that way.

personality type

Great comment. You were in a typical puzzle, wondering if you were compatible with your partner. With couples, what I look for is whether individuals share some aspect of type, and you do. You are both introverted and sensing. So my guess is that that is where you meet. Usually introverts find their partner's introversion compatable and since both of you are sensing you tend to see the world the same way. Where you differ is what you then want to do with what you discover with your sensing. People of your type are usually very easy to live with because you don't tend to insist that things have to be done your way. Someone of your partner's type often have fairly rigid ideas of how things should be. This is not necessarily bad, just indicative that they like things settled.

Rev. Henry Sharam

Type and couples

I totally agree. My wife and I read an "ESFJ(her) and INFP(me) Together" article out loud once, substituting our names for the type codes. We laughed and cringed and started looking for the surveillance cameras in our apartment it was so dead on. The when and why and how we fought was useful, and it was also a great reminder of all the things we loved about each other that drew us together in the first place. Crazy!


Not knocking M-B at all

I'm just pointing out that there are different personality typing methods. From my limited experience, the Myers-Briggs method does seem to be a leading method, if not the leading method, of organizing and understanding personality typing.

Oh -- and my wife's glad she married an E. :)


E's are good too

Hey we're not knocking E's. E's are one of the leading personality attitudes, followed hotly by I's:) You know, I've found, since I learned about personality type and started working with it, that it's one of the most useful skills you can have. Most skills you develop and hardly ever use, but personality type is useful everyday, at home, work, all over the place. I even find I'm able to talk people into projects that they had no intention of ever doing:)

Steve Sharam

Very interesting stuff. My

Very interesting stuff. My husband and I also got a lot from learning about each other's personalities, albeit a different system initially. Either way, the big plus was learning not to take the unchanging annoying habits of the other person as a personal attack. There is a tendency to think "I've told my spouse to please stop doing this, that it makes me crazy, over and over. The fact that they are continuing to do it to me must mean they are trying to hurt me." The fact is, much of the time, that behavior that drives you nuts is for them, simply part of the way they navigate reality.

It's also really useful when one is coming up with "life hacks" and other systems to help keep all the wheels of one's life moving in the same direction (and not falling off). My enneagram 9/ESFJ husband just started a VERY rigidly structured and detailed weight loss program and can't understand why his enneagram 4/INFP wife isn't interested in doing it with him, LOL.