Pounding Square People Into Round Holes

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Personality type can be incredibly helpful at work. Personality type gives us helpful information about how we take in and process information, how we make decisions and tells us what we good at and, often more importantly, what we're bad at and why. It helps us work more efficiently, take more joy in what we do, helps us get along with other people and even helps make our personal lives easier and more enjoyable. So who could argue with that?

People often complain that they don’t want to use personality type because it pigeon holes people. It is important to understand their concern, as no one wants to feel like their squareness is being pounded into a round hole (don't try these metaphors at home, they can be fatal). In the case of personality tests, the question is: how legitimate is this complaint?

In some ways it describes what happens when I fill out a personality type test. To fill out such a test I might well feel that I’m being slotted into some artificial theoretical framework. Let’s look at this complaint from a few sides.

1)In the first place I need to think about what kind of test it is that I am filling out. Some psychological tests are quite invasive in that they get beneath our guard and analyze what some of our basic personality conflicts are. If you fill out the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, or the Taylor Johnson Temperament Analysis Test it is quite possible for the tester to discover that you are psychotic, depressive, anxious, angry, suicidal, etc. These tests are invasive in that they tell the tester what we are trying to hide from others, and even from ourselves. A personality test based on Carl Jung’s theory is not like these tests. What the Jungian test does is simply tell a person what their greatest strengths are. This can be one of the most helpful tools in helping you engage your life more creatively.

2)It is important to remember that when you fill out the Jungian personality test that you are making choices at every question. No one puts you into a slot. You put yourself into a place that seems most accurate to you. You test results are there for you to see and they tell you what you think of your strengths are.

3)The great danger, which some people are reacting to when they resist doing a personality type test, is that people often actually do use the results to pigeon hole others. My sense is that this slotting people into convenient four letter hole is very natural for people just learning to understand the theory and trying to master the concepts. I am not proud of the fact that this is something I did in my early days of learning about type and I have seen many of my peers do the same. I do have a defense for this arrogant sounding behavior. Any time we get a new tool, whether it is a screw driver, a hammer, a new theory, or whatever, we have to use it until we have mastered it. I remember our eldest son banging away incessantly with his new hammer until her had mastered its use.
I don’t think that most of the application of type to others is malicious, but perhaps I am naive. Certainly people who need to be in control can use type, as well as all other tools, to try to control themselves and others. Such attempts at control are always offensive.

4) It goes without saying that we all have the right to develop our way. We are who we are and no test will exhaust the complexity of our personalities.

These are issues we have to be aware of when we attempt to get our office staff, congregation, club, or students, etc., to take a Jungian personality test. Some people will illegitimately resist the test; some others will tend to try to use the results to label others. You will have to think about how you are going to frame the use of the test for the people in the group. Is it invasive? Is it meant to control others? Is it a tool that helps people identify their strengths and focus their career more accurately? I am still excited about personality type despite working with it for 25 years.

This is the most helpful tool I have discovered for decreasing tension between people and helping others claim their strengths but you will have to think about how you introduce others to it. The best way, I discovered in a hospital where I worked, was to do the test with students. When they went back to their units they told the staff about what they had done and invariably the staff asked me to come and do a workshop with them.

Next week, I'll go over how type works and specifically how it can help us to work happily and more efficiently.

Henry Sharam
If you're interested in more on type and don't want to wait till next week, check out the personality type section on my blog www.whenrealityknocks.com

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