Entries Tagged as "Conflict"

People Never Change, but Boy, Do People Change

I went back to my hometown recently for my nephew’s wedding, and I was in the company of my ten brothers and sisters. I hadn’t seen most of them in about five years, so there was a lot of catching up to do.

After the wedding, when I was back home, there were two thoughts that kept popping into my head. One was…

     “People never change.”

      The other was…

     “Boy, have we changed.”

The first thought, “People never change” kept coming to me because it seemed that all of my brothers and sisters had the same virtues and vices they had when they were little kids and we were all running around that big house together. My ISTJ sister is still entertaining or annoying us with her many opinions. My ESFJ sister is still comforting or annoying us with her motherly attentions. My ISFP brother is still charming or annoying us with his gentle spirit. You get the picture, so I won’t go through all ten of them. All I can say is that I kept feeling déjà vu. I’d been there before.

It disturbs me to realize that people don’t change, because I’m an INFJ. My greatest joy in life is trying out new ideas for personal growth. The type theory was one of those ideas, so was learning to be a good listener, to express my needs without anger, to be self-loving, attuned to the present and content with the life I have. I feel like I have gone through tremendous changes in my life, and I’m a completely different person than I was when I was a kid.

But the truth is, I was relating to my brothers and sisters in exactly the same way I did when I was a kid, playing the role of the wise counselor or the person with big ideas for improving the world. Sometimes it was welcome, other times it was not, but I was dismayed at seeing how little I had changed.

In the type community, we talk of “type development.” We make it our goal to practice the strengths of our type only when it’s appropriate and to be flexible enough to call on something else when it’s needed. I love that goal, and the pursuit of it takes us to exciting places.

Let’s not delude ourselves, however, that our personalities are like soft clay that we can stretch and shape at will. I’m beginning to realize they are more like great hunks of granite, and although we may be able to make tiny chips around the edges, 99% of it remains exactly the same.

That brings me to the second thought that kept coming into my head after being with my family, which is, “Boy, have we changed.” Yes, we all had the same virtues and vices, but there was something very different in our gathering. There was a peace, an acceptance of each other that had not been present in any of the gatherings before this.

You know the prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

I think that after five or six decades of trying to change each other, we finally had the wisdom to know that none of us were ever really going to change, and the serenity to say, “So be it.” 

People talk about growing older only in terms of its bad side - the weakening body. They don’t talk about the fact that there is also a mind growing stronger, a mind that can finally accept both sides of people, and best of all, both sides of itself. 


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Different or Difficult?

We know that personality type helps us realize that people aren’t really trying to drive us crazy – they just see the world in a different way!

But does that excuse some behaviors that really are difficult, even though they are different?

And isn’t it sometimes true that a strength can really become a liability when overused? 

I have a friend who is an ENFJ.  She is so good at making people comfortable in her presence and in getting under their skin to their essence.  This is quite helpful to her as a divorce attorney.  However, when a friend visited with her recently, she left feeling like she had been with a “vibe sucker.”  She felt absolutely drained.  It wasn’t a matter of a different style; those behaviors became difficult.

As an ESTJ, I value efficiency and can be pretty good at attaining it in many things that I do.  When I am driving somewhere with someone else who is not efficient in their routing, I become difficult.  I offer unsolicited advice and occasionally even unsolicited criticism. 

An INFP friend was so focused on his values that he cut off valuable allies who could help him realize his dreams of creating an egalitarian community.  He became difficult to work with. 

Years ago, my friend, the late Susan Brock, came up with a STOP model to help us identify when type was being misused – and to stop it.  Here it is with my modifications:

S – Stop strutting your type.  Yes, you can be proud of who you are -- some call it being psychologically patriotic.  But you’re not the only one who does things well.  And at some point in the future you’re bound to have a need to try other approaches that may not be natural ones, but nonetheless are what will be needed at the time. 

And even more to the point, you’re bound to meet someone of your exact same type who might appear to be a complete jerk, turkey, wally (or whatever label you want to use).  Learning to stop the strutting will likely save you some embarrassment in the future. 

T – Talking about everyone’s type.
  This is about labeling and gossiping, which at times turn can into statements like, “what do you expect…she’s just a Thinking type!  She doesn’t care about people and what she said in that last meeting just proves it.”   No one likes being gossiped about. And stereotyping is not what type is all about!

O – Obsessing about type.  Type doesn’t explain everything.  Putting the type model on every little thing that people say and do just doesn’t work.  Not all ESTJs love chocolate (or maybe they do!). 

P – Pushing tasks on people because of type. This is the one where we might say, “Oh you’re the Extravert; you should give the oral report.”  Or “Sensing…let’s see, that means you should take the notes at the meeting.”  We all need skills in a variety of areas.  To not encourage the Introvert to give the report or the Intuitive to take notes unnecessarily deprives them of a chance for development. 

Let’s try to recognize when different is different and when difficult is difficult and not get them mixed up.


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Dear Type Advisor

Every day, after lunch, I read all of the advice columns in the Washington Post. I enjoy it when a columnist can see through conflicting thoughts and feelings to the ones that are most important, and then guide people to be their best self.

Since I’m having an interpersonal dilemma right now where I’m trying to sort through conflicting thoughts and feelings, I pretended that I wrote to an advice columnist. Then I pretended that I wrote the reply. Oddly enough, it helped.

Dear Type Advisor

My dear friend, a cheerful, loving ESFP, is having a lot of trouble in her family. She and her daughter had a quarrel before the holidays, and now the daughter is not speaking to her. At around the same time, my friend also quarreled with her husband and walked out on him for several nights.

I arranged to have lunch with my friend, but she never talked about the quarrel with the daughter. Instead, she told me that her husband is systematically trying to make her think she is losing her mind. He is stealing things from her and replacing them several days later in a different place from where she had left them. When he denied it, she told him she didn’t believe him, and he got so angry he chased her down the hall. She felt she had to leave for a “safe house,” a place she wasn’t even going to reveal to me.

I couldn’t believe I was hearing this because my friend is notorious for losing things. It’s something everyone has been teasing her about for years. The husband is very close to the daughter, but why he would want to make his wife feel crazy was beyond me.

I’m feeling torn by so many thoughts. I love being around this woman, because she always makes me feel wanted and admired. I’ve known the family for 15 years, and from what I saw, she did the same for her husband and children. She would light up when they came in the room, and was always 100% on their side. Her daughter was her close friend, and her husband was good-natured and supportive. It really hurts to see them all demonizing each other.

The questions I’m asking myself are: Is there anything I can do to help? Should I even try? Is my friend going crazy, even though she sounds completely lucid? Is her husband really trying to make her crazy, even though I’ve never seen him do an unkind thing? Is she lying to me, her best friend? Should I continue a relationship with someone who would lie to me, or lie about her husband?

An NF wanting to help

Dear NF wanting to help

You might find some perspective on your ESFP friend in the book Survival Games Personalities Play, by Eve Delunas. It sounds like your friend feels very threatened by her daughter’s anger, and that the husband is siding with the daughter. It’s possible that your friend feels backed into a corner, and is playing some SP “survival games” to protect her ego, whether or not she is aware of it.

By putting the spotlight on her husband, she might be distracting everyone from the possibility that she did anything wrong in her mothering. She might be using words like “safe house” because it shocks people, something SPs like to do. Also, it immediately makes her look like an innocent victim instead of a villain, a role that she feels her daughter and husband are trying to force her into.

Some SPs who feel threatened can be great con artists, and they are especially good at conning NFs, so be careful there. It won’t do much good to confront her about it, because she will probably continue evading responsibility.

The best thing you can do is to try and make her ego feel less threatened, so she can stop playing defensive games. Don’t address the stories she is telling you. Just tell her all the good things you witnessed her do over the years, as a mother and a wife. Hopefully, it will help her recover her equilibrium, and deal with her problems more wisely.

Beyond that, you should resist that NF desire to rush in and save people. Watch instead as they save themselves, even if it may not be the way you would want them to. 


Editors note: Another good resource is CAPT's Building Better Relationships, a "Type for Life" guide that provides type-specific insights for couples, with descriptions of the effects of each of your MBTI preferences on your relationship.


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Blue Skies and ENTPs

Blue sky

My husband and I were sitting in bed reading one night. For some reason, I stopped reading and started thinking about him. After awhile I had myself worked up into a state of gushing gratitude. I told him, “You know what, John, you are the best husband in the world. I’m grateful for everything you do for me and I want to do something for you. Please tell me one thing I can do to show you how much I love you.”

“Let me finish reading my paper,” he said.

Gushy moments are not John’s thing and talking about his good qualities just embarrasses him. He actually enjoys it more if I tease him about his faults.

Since I can’t thank John for being John, maybe I can thank his type. After all, he isn’t responsible for that. So thank you, ENTP personality type, for all of the good things you have brought to my life.

Thank you, ENTP personality type, for making people who see goodness everywhere they look. Unlike most spouses, John almost always comes home from work with good stories to tell about people (“He’s a smart guy,” or “She has amazing energy.”) When we’re at social events, I’m often surprised later at the positive qualities he notices about people. He’s not unrealistic, and has an almost psychic ability to spot troubled people, but most of what he sees is talent and effort.   

He does that for me too. He tells me good things about myself that I hadn’t noticed, or ignored because I was too busy thinking about my imperfections. Once I was telling him about a difficult decision I had to make. He didn’t comment, so I said, “Aren’t you going to say something?” He said, “I’m not worried. Whenever you have a problem you run around in confusion for awhile, but then a few days later you always have it figured out.” In my entire life, I have never felt such relief from another person’s comment. 

Thank you, ENTP personality type, for making people that love the new and the interesting. Living with John, I always hear about people finding clever solutions to problems. Last week he told me about a pianist who fell in love with Handel’s Water Music. She wanted to share her excitement with others, so she had her grand piano put on a moving platform and towed by a car. That way she could play the lovely tunes while being pulled around town.

Whenever I tell him about a new idea, he is very interested. When I was going through all of my new enthusiasm for psychological type or homeschooling our children, he was excited right along with me. (For an INFJ, that’s heaven.) He doesn’t devote his life to a few new ideas, as I have, but he’ll pull them out whenever he thinks it will help people move forward toward their goals.

His love of the new is always there, even in the oddest situations. We were at a dinner party on the day that Tiger Woods’ extramarital affairs hit the news. Everyone except John was spouting off opinions. Finally someone said, “What do you think, John?”

“I guess I hadn’t thought about it,” he answered. “What amazed me was that my computer alerted me there was a big story about Tiger Woods in the news today. I’d never seen that before.”

Thank you, ENTP personality type, for making people who have so much belief in people, and in their ability to change the world for the better. In his work as a management consultant, people are often telling John, “We can’t do that,” and he is often telling them, “Yes you can.” By the time he gets done talking, they believe it too. He convinces them they can do greater things on a much larger scale than they had ever envisioned. (He’s learned not to do that with his family, however, at those times when they need comfort rather than inspiration.)

Thank you, ENTP personality type, for making people who are such creative problem solvers, who can take black and white and turn it into gold. Once, a friend was complaining about a man who had gone into an angry tirade during a meeting, so the group spent the rest of the meeting trying to placate him. John surprised us by saying, “Angry people are great for a group, because they have energy and want to do something. You just have to help them articulate the positive goals that they stand for, and then, ask them to help the group reach those goals.”

This is the way many of our conversations go. I feel anxious because a situation seems hopeless and conflicted, but a few minutes later, John turns it into a great opportunity to make the world a better place. 

When there is a really difficult problem that most people would run from, John runs toward it. He knows that he has the analytical skills to understand problems thoroughly, the creative ability to find innovative solutions, and the contagious enthusiasm to sell people on those solutions.

He tells me that his creativity doesn’t lie in pulling solutions out of his own mind, but in listening to people and drawing out the solutions that are already in the back of their minds. Then, because he gets so excited about them, he is able to get them excited about themselves.

John and I were talking about what we would compare each other to in nature, and I immediately said that when I think of him, I think of blue sky. After all, most human problems lie not in reality, but in our perceptions of reality, and no one can blow away our dark and discouraged perceptions and turn them into blue skies better than an ENTP.



Harnessing Critical Thinking

My daughter, Perrin, runs a program in mediation, and leads monthly meetings of the mediators, all of whom are lawyers. She was telling my husband John and me that the meetings are very discouraging because when she introduces a new proposal, everyone just wants to air their critical assessments. They get argumentative and judgmental; they don’t listen to each other; the conversation goes all over the place, and when it’s over, they haven’t decided on a single action to take.

It seems ironic that even mediators, who are trained in getting people to communicate and decide on a future course of action, have so much trouble doing the same when they are together.   

John, said, “It’s amazing how you can add really smart people to a room and the room becomes dumber.”
I said, “It could also be that most lawyers are TJs. They prize their ability to find flaws, and are usually valued for that ability in their work. They believe that they are moving things forward with their criticisms, and don’t see that it usually stops things in their tracks.”

John has been running groups all his working life, so Perrin asked him what she could do to make the meetings more productive. 

He told her, “Put them through an exercise that will do three things. It will help them express their thoughts, both positive and negative. It will help them listen to and learn from each other. Finally, it will help them be in action when they leave.”

“Please tell me about this exercise,” Perrin said.

“Start off by telling them that you would like to try something new in this meeting," said John. "Tell them that people’s default setting is naturally to be critical. That’s human – we want to make things better, but if we only discuss the negative we can lose the excitement that we need to pursue new projects. Tell them that you are going to present a proposal that could make this program even more powerful, and as you speak, you’d like them to be thinking about one question…What excites you about this proposal?

“Ask them if that makes sense to them. Get them saying yes.

“We call this ‘framing.’ It is creating the kind of positive listening you want to be speaking into.

“Then give your proposal in a 5-7 minute talk.

“When you are finished, tell them, ‘We’re going to take two minutes so you can write down what excites you about this proposal.’

“After two minutes, go around the room and get people’s answers. Write them down on a white board. When you are finished, look at the answers and ask people what the most common themes are.

“Now ask people to take two minutes to write down the one thing they would add to make this proposal even better.

“Go around the room and gather their answers. 

“Now ask people to write down what they would commit to do, or what they would request help with, so that we can implement this proposal by the next meeting. 

“Go around and get people’s commitments. Doing this allows everyone to leave in action, with a clear deadline."

Perrin tried this at the next meeting of the mediators and said she had never seen the group so animated and energized. Usually ideas for new projects dissolve into nothing with all the talk about how “It’s complicated,” and “We don’t have the resources.” But after asking three questions: What excites you about this proposal?, What would you add to make it even better?, and What would you commit to doing so it can be implemented by our next meeting?,  everyone was focused on the goal and what they could contribute, instead of all the little things that might go wrong.

Perrin also noticed that the commitments people made were all over the type table. For example, some people were working on the analytics and some were making phone calls to people. John told her, “Groups are difficult to get focused, but once you do, it’s worth it for the synergy of the different talents that are available to help you.”  

The new project was running by the next meeting of the mediators, and they were able to celebrate what had worked for them.

“The most important thing is to get people personally excited about a goal, and committed to helping in a specific way,” John said. “Once you do that, people find ways to overcome all the little obstacles along the way.”


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