Entries Tagged as "Conflict"

Wildflower or Weed?

“Those are nice wildflowers,” my husband said when we were walking in the woods. “They are,” I agreed.
Then I looked at them more closely. “Those aren’t wildflowers,” I said. “They’re weeds! I just spent the afternoon picking them out of my garden.”

“What’s the difference between a wildflower and a weed?” he asked. “That’s a good question,” I said, admiring how the flowers were a welcome surprise in the dark woods, and then remembering how they were choking out my daisies at home. “I guess it’s just location.”

I was remembering that conversation recently when we attended the funeral of my brother-in-law, Ed, who died recently of a heart attack. All of his life Ed went to great lengths to make life difficult for people, most often his family. So at his wake we were all astonished to see a steady stream of people lined up for five hours to tell his wife and sons that he had “saved their lives.” Many of them were sobbing. I shook my head in wonderment and thought, “I guess it’s just location.”

You see, Ed was a defense attorney, often taking on the most challenging cases, and he was very good at it. At home, he made life difficult for his family. At work, he made life difficult for plaintiffs and prosecutors, thereby often getting his clients a “not guilty” verdict.

We don’t know what type Ed would have identified himself as because he would never have a conversation about type, or anything personal. However, his wife had no doubt that, although he wasn’t very well-adjusted, he was an ESTP. She said that if you took away the friendliness and social sophistication, the profile fit him perfectly: active, resourceful, manipulator of the environment, risk taker, nerves of steel, ruthless pragmatist and skillful negotiator.

After the funeral, his family and friends were sitting around telling their favorite Ed stories, and I kept hearing “ESTP” in those as well. One of the men who had grown up in Ed’s neighborhood told about how, when they were boys, his friend was always talking about this cool guy who had lots of old cars and motorcycles. He accompanied his friend to the cool guy’s house, because they were told he needed their help for “just a minute.” Three hours later, after the two boys had helped Ed work on one of his old cars all afternoon in the hot sun, he gave them ice cream. “The thing is,” the man said, “Ed could make it sound like that was a fair exchange.”

ESTPs are usually good at selling people on whatever it is they are selling, because their extraverted sensing allows them to read people’s motivations through nonverbal cues. He probably picked up that the boys were feeling like hot shots for working on a car all afternoon, and ice cream was reward enough. I could imagine Ed using his sharp senses to “sell” a judge and jury as well.

It is said that life is never dull around ESTPs, and most of the stories his family told illustrated that point. Apparently, one of his favorite ways to generate excitement was to beat the system and get a good deal, even though he didn’t need the money. His sons told how he made them lie about their ages to get into amusement parks for children’s fees, and his wife said he made her carry her two-year-old in a blanket so they could pass him off as an infant and get him on the airplane for free.
She also told how he bought her a fur coat for half price by arguing for 30   minutes with the salesclerk about the value of its fox collar. He could shamelessly make himself such an annoyance to others that they conciliated just to get rid of him. ESTPs like to live on the edge, and it seems that the edge for Ed was just past the point where people could keep saying no, and just below the point where they called security. From what I understand, a lot of his legal tactics were the same.
ESTPs are the most pragmatic of all the types, so the end often justifies the means. My favorite Ed story is the one where he held a big outdoor party on a chilly day. He asked my brother to go to Home Depot and charge six large space heaters. His friends enjoyed the warmth of the space heaters and the party was a great success. The next day, Ed packed up the space heaters in their boxes and had my brother pick them up and return them to Home Depot. My brother says that it’s six years later, and still, if he tries to return anything to Home Depot, even a small bolt, they call the manager. (Notice that he got someone else’s name on a list.)

To be fair, my brother also revealed that he’d been picked up for selling drugs when he was a teenager, and Ed not only got him off, but took him to rehab and turned his life around.
When my sister was married, I refused to go to her wedding because I thought Ed was a weed, and would choke the beauty out of her life. For the most part, that turned out to be true. As a husband he was often absent, cold and indifferent. As a father he was usually harassing, mocking or raging. As a brother-in-law he walked right past us without acknowledging our presence. But to desperate people in the worst crises of their lives, facing the judicial system and possible imprisonment, Ed was the most beautiful wildflower they had ever seen.
It never ceases to amaze me how people (and animals and objects and life itself) can elude my judgments of good or bad. I keep trying to sort them out, but they keep doing things that don’t fit into my categories. But then, as I walked behind the casket and passed the sorrowful faces on Ed’s former clients, I thought, “Maybe that’s good.”



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Fixing People

My bed was annoying me last night, so this morning I stripped everything off it and remade it again, with the sheets tucked in tight and the quilt coming just to my chin. When I went to open the windows, the dusty screens annoyed me, so I took them off the windows and brushed them clean. The car was annoying me with a funny sound, so this afternoon I took it up to the service station and got it tuned up.

Even though I might gripe about all of the annoying little problems in life, I do like the feeling of being able to fix them. With just a little effort, I can eliminate a problem. One day it’s here; the next day it’s gone. Lovely. 

I wish people were as easy to fix. I could strip off my friend’s talky-ness and adjust it so I can get a word in edgewise. I could take my daughter out and brush off her pickiness. I could take my husband up to the personality station and get his punctuality tuned up. 

Unlike objects, however, people get insulted at the very idea that you would try to fix them. They storm around and tell you you’re crazy for finding fault with them, and remind you of every good thing they’ve ever done for you. They give you the silent treatment or tell you to, “Go fix yourself.” (These are all things I do if anyone tries to fix me.)

People do not allow you to fix them; only they are allowed to fix themselves. That means that you have to somehow find a way to make them want to go to the trouble.

Can type be of any help? Yes it can, but not in the way you would think. You would think that type would be helpful in trying to determine what’s important to the other person and then presenting your case in those terms. For example, if you’re an intuitive, you might try to make a factual case to a sensing friend for why he shouldn’t tell you, “That won’t work” every time you talk about ideas for change.

The trouble with that approach is, there is nothing more annoying than hearing someone deliberately try to “talk your talk.” They never get it right, and it comes across as manipulative and insulting.

Type cannot help us in trying to be someone else, because that’s a fruitless task. Type can, however, help us in being ourselves. We need to be ourselves when we ask people to change, because the only reason they will go through the trouble is that they can see that their behavior is hurting us and they care about us, or they care about the work we do for them. When we ask people to change, we want them to be thinking about our needs, not their failures.  

Type can be enormously helpful in sorting through messy feelings and getting clear about why we are hurting. It can also give us the confidence to speak up, because in the great plan of psychological types, there are good reasons why we are the way we are.   

If you sit down and go through each letter of your type and list its needs, you can probably spot the needs that are not getting met in this particular relationship. For example, our frustrated N will see that intuitives really need to think about the future and how it can be improved, and the world needs to have people thinking about the future. 

When you think you can communicate your needs clearly, you don’t even need to use type jargon. You can just say something like, “Imagining a better world is the most important thing in life for me, and I need to share my thoughts with you, because you’re also important to me. Instead of talking about the flaws in my ideas right away, could we spend some time talking about how our lives would be better if they were real? It would make a big difference to me.”

Type has never been a tool to manipulate people by acting as if we are someone else. Type has always been a tool to understand ourselves better, and once in awhile, to communicate that understanding to others. Expressing our needs clearly and honestly doesn’t work all the time in “fixing” relationships, but in my experience it’s the only thing that ever works.  



Marriage Counsel

We were at dinner the other night with some friends. They were telling us that their INFP son is very unhappy in his marriage to an ESTJ woman. They said that their son feels disrespected and not listened to, while his wife thinks he is over-emotional and depressive. They said their son had talked to his wife numerous times about it but nothing was changing. Our friends asked me for some advice based on their types.  

I suggested that they advise their son to “talk ESTJ,” and I explained what that means…

  • Be direct and concrete. Instead of trying to change her feelings toward you, identify one or two behaviors that are causing you the most pain, and ask her if she would be willing to modify them. 
  • Let her know the tangible consequence of her behaviors, for example, the energy it drains from your work, partnering and parenting.   
  • To avoid defensive reactions, say you don’t want to hear her response just now, but set a date when you will talk about it again after she’s had time to process it.
  • Let her know that she can ask you to change one or two behaviors as well.
  • If she makes an effort to accommodate you, let her know when she’s being successful. She needs tangible proof of her accomplishments.
  • If this doesn’t work, look for a marriage counselor with a good reputation. ESTJs respect accredited authorities.

I was grateful to the type theory for allowing me to give suggestions to my friends, but on the way home, I had the feeling that my suggestions would not help. I’m not sure why - maybe it was the anxious look on my friends’ faces, but it didn’t sound like a marriage where changing a few behaviors would make much of a difference. It wasn’t just that they were opposite types, because those marriages can be happy and enriching. Rather, this sounded like a marriage where neither partner feels valued for their essential being… the qualities they love most about themselves. It sounded like the husband really resents her practical, take-charge personality and the wife can’t see the point of his harmony-seeking, reflective personality. 

I wished I could have given this couple the best advice I could offer, the advice that I didn’t get from books, but from hard-won experience. The advice I would have liked to give both the husband and wife is: if you find that your efforts to make things better aren’t making any difference, try to remember that life is abundant. It is full of people who will really enjoy your ST-ness or your NF-ness. When you do find someone like that, you will thrive like you never thought possible. You will probably have to go on a difficult journey first, to break off the old and find the new, but you can trust in life and its abundance. In the end you will look back and say, “Thank God (or thank life) that I did.” 

I’ve been in similar relationships, where in spite of our best efforts, we just didn’t “get” each other. I know how much it takes out of you. I also know how much it adds to your life when you find a partner that really loves you, not exactly the way you are, because we all have to adapt to others, but the way you most are.


Editor's note: CAPT offers a Type for Life guide for two people: Building Better Relationships. It includes a description of reported type preferences—for both of you, and an overview of how people of your types might relate to one another and live together.


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Downton Abbey

The most entertaining relationship in the PBS series, Downton Abbey, has to be the one between the two strong-willed matriarchs: Countess Lady Grantham and Mrs. Crawley. They seem to have differing views on every subject under the sun, and watching them go at each other provides most of the comic relief in the show.

The women speak for the two worlds that clashed after World War I – the old world of status fixed by birth and the new the new world of status based on merit. Lady Grantham is the spokesperson for the old world and Mrs. Crawley for the new. The friction starts the minute they meet, when Mrs. Crawley says in a friendly manner, “What should we call each other?” and Lady Grantham answers in a huffy tone, “What about Countess Lady Grantham and Mrs. Crawley?”
But to me, a type-watcher, the women represent two worlds that have been clashing long before the 1920’s. They represent worlds that have been clashing since people began, the worlds of sensing and intuition. To me, Lady Grantham is the voice of sensing. She focuses on the past and present because she prefers the reality that can be seen, heard and touched. Mrs. Crawley, on the other hand, is the voice of intuition. She focuses on the future because she prefers the reality that can be imagined.

Lady Grantham always takes the point of view that things should stay the way they are, or go back to the way they used to be. Mrs. Crawley always takes the point of view that things should change. Their drawing room debates could be overlaid onto a million conversations taking place every minute between Ss and Ns.

Lady Grantham is the champion of preserving the class system, which was successful for a long time in giving people clearly defined roles and ranks, so that all the work got done and everyone, to a degree, thrived in a stable society. But World War I threw everyone into roles and ranks they’d never been in before. When it was over, the old order started to feel constrictive and past its usefulness. Mrs. Crawley is the champion of replacing the class system with a more fluid meritocracy. 

You see it especially in the places where they push themselves forward to intervene. Most of the time, Lady Grantham’s role is to sit at family dinners and pass acid judgments on anything unconventional, but when she does actively intervene I’ve noticed that it is always to help the family. The family, of course, are the people you see, hear and touch every day, the people who fill your present and past, and they are the most stabilizing force in your life – a natural point of interest for this sensing woman.

In the first season, she boldly intervenes to try and help her oldest granddaughter, Mary, get back her inheritance. She shocks Mathew Crawley when she shows up at his law office and asks him if he can find a loophole in the law, even though he’s the one who will inherit if Mary doesn’t.

Years later, she shocks Mathew again with a visit to his bedroom, where she tells him that even though he’s engaged to another woman, Mary still loves him.

When her youngest granddaughter dies in childbirth, the mother blames her husband for not listening to the advice of their family doctor. Lady Grantham sees that her son and his wife cannot get over their grief if they are estranged from each other, and intervenes again. She gets the family doctor to admit to them that there was only an infinitesimal chance that their daughter would live, even if they had followed his advice.

Mrs. Crawley, on the other hand, is usually intervening in the lives of people who are suffering because of unfair circumstances and customs, even when it has nothing to do with her family. Her first clash with Lady Grantham is over the flower show. Mrs. Crawley admires the roses of one of the local farmers, who comments that there is no chance he will win. Mrs. Crawley finds out later that Lady Grantham wins every year because the judges are predisposed to favor her. She finds this unfair and shames Lady Grantham into giving up her prize to the farmer.

During the season that takes place during World War I, Lady Grantham tries to get two employees at Downton exempted from active duty, but Mrs. Crawley objects because it’s unfair to the many men who do not have lords and ladies to intervene on their behalf. When the youngest granddaughter expresses frustration that she isn’t doing enough to help the war effort, Mrs. Crawley encourages her to become a nurse, an unusual job for a member of the nobility.

When one of the former maids at Downton is forced to become a prostitute to support her illegitimate son, Mrs. Crawley intervenes to the point of employing her as a cook and facing the disapproval of the Grantham family and the whole community. After Lady Grantham realizes that Mrs. Crawley isn’t going to be talked out of this decision, she intervenes to find the maid a position in another household, where she will be closer to her son, not because it’s what’s best for the maid, but because it’s what’s best for the reputation of the Grantham family.

In this most current season, Lady Grantham is intervening again to help her family, this time her granddaughter, Edith, who gave birth to an illegitimate child, while Mrs. Crawley is intervening again to help someone outside the family, a village boy who is the sole support of his family.

From our point of view in the future, we tend to root for Mrs. Crawley as she tries to throw out the old and bring in the new. But whenever I see people clashing over the status quo vs. change, I remember something the late Gordon Lawrence (ENTP) told me for an issue of The Type Reporter

"It isn’t that people just want to hold onto the status quo. It’s bigger than that. For sensing types, the present has a solidity that intuitives can never understand. And as I grew older, I came to understand that that’s not a bad thing. My favorite philosopher, John Dewey, pointed out that things keep operating as they are until there’s an absolute necessity for change. Most of the time we are in equilibrium, playing out habitual patterns.

"It’s essential to listen seriously to the reasons things should
not be changed, and to listen to those reasons not just because they’re there, but because they may be sound. Then try to find a common ground, a place where whatever tinkering you do with the way things are is worth the disturbance.

"Just as nature intended intuitives to keep pushing for change, nature intended sensing types to keep holding onto stability. Sensing and intuition are not just neat ways of understanding different mindsets, they are two forces pulling in opposite directions yet bound together for the good of the whole."

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Tough Love

We had a friend over during the holidays, and she was telling us about her problems with her 11 year-old stepdaughter. “We have rules,” she was telling us proudly, “and if she breaks them, there are consequences.” Then we listened to stories of the stepdaughter breaking the rules: not cleaning her room, using her smart phone too much, and hitting her stepmother in anger when she tried to impose the “consequences,” which included taking away her new cell phone, not taking her on a cruise with them, and not having her join them at Thanksgiving. 

I was cringing at these stories, but they were being told with incredible self-righteousness, as if giving a kid orders and harsh punishments when they don’t obey them is universally understood to be the only sane way to raise a child. 

I don’t like to hear about parents telling kids what to do, simply because I have never wanted to be told what to do. My father tried telling me, “As long as you’re living in my house, you’ll do things my way,” and as a result, we fought for most of my teenage years. Finally, one night he sat on my bed and cried, and said he was sorry, but he just didn’t know how to be a good father to me. That was the first time he asked for my help instead of telling me what to do, and he never had a problem with me again. 

Even in a work setting you couldn’t tell me what to do. An employer once asked me to do something a certain way, and I said that wouldn’t work. He said, “Maybe you should just do it because I said so.” I laughed. I thought he was kidding. 

I try not to tell people what to do, because I don’t like to be told what to do. So I wonder, is our friend behaving in an authoritative way with her child because that’s the way she, herself, wants to be treated? Are there some people who actually like to be told, “Do this because I said so,” and are they a certain type?

I don’t think it’s intuitives, because I’m an intuitive and I will strongly resist any threat to my autonomy. It’s not SPs either, because for them, rules are just something to cleverly dodge. Can it be SJs? Our friend is an ESFJ who was raised in a very relaxed household. Is she reaching for rules because that’s what she intrinsically needed as a child, and didn’t get?

Then I remembered that I raised two SJ’s, and I can’t recall having a single rule in our house. Except for a few time-outs when my son was little, I also don’t think we meted out a single punishment or reward. We had good habits and predictable routines, but we never formally said, “You must do this or you will be punished.” We wanted to be connected to each other, and we quickly learned to avoid the behaviors that broke that connection. When we had more serious issues, we talked about it one-on-one. After those talks, I noticed that without even being aware of it, we both changed our behavior a bit to accommodate each other. What else do you need, especially in a family?

When I hear people talk so reverently about rules and consequences, I wonder, did I do my kids a disservice by not having rules for them? Is a parenting style that is authoritative, with formal rules and tangible rewards and punishments, the best way to raise an SJ child?

So I decided to ask my kids, who are in their mid-20’s, “Would you have liked more rules when you were growing up?”

“God no,” said my ISFJ daughter. “I hate that stuff. I don’t even like it that I have to be at work at a certain time. I like to be in control of my own life and rules just make me feel like I don’t have control. Here’s an example: I just took an online course and I loved it because I could work on it when I wanted to. I finished it three weeks early and was sorry it was over so soon.”

“I’m not going to break rules if they’re there, but I wouldn’t say I like them,” said my ESFJ son. “Right now, I’m coaching a team of 8-year old boys in basketball and they are very active and talkative. I know some of the parents want me to be stricter and lay out rules and discipline them, but that’s not really my style. I’d rather find exercises that keep them engaged than give them a penalty for not paying attention.”

So if there is no type that needs to be raised with absolute authority, why do people still brag about keeping their kids in line with a strong, unyielding will?

It might be that they just can’t think of another way. It’s a scary business when children do something that makes you feel like you don’t have control, like disobey you or put themselves in danger. We all race around looking for relief from that feeling. Unfortunately, the first thing that comes to mind is to take back our control with a show of strength to scare kids into submission. 

I think what all parents need are some options, some way to feel in control without taking all control away from their child. A book that always helped me feel in control again was the type-and-parenting book, Nurture by Nature. The authors, Paul Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger, describe the strengths and challenges of each type of child in such an appreciative and forgiving way that after you read your child’s profile, you feel ready to approach them with love and calm. For example, when my ISFJ daughter was 11, I was about to storm into her room and put my foot down about her pickiness and how annoying it was. Instead, I got out the book and read about how difficult it is for an ISFJ to compromise on tastes, smells and textures. Later, I was able to tell her my concerns in a nice way, and listen with understanding as she told her side of it. How do you thank someone for that?

I think I might send a copy of Nurture by Nature to my friend, with a note saying, “This helped me a lot when my kids were teens. Let me know what you think of it.”


Editor's note: There is a personality type assessment for kids. The MMTIC® type indicator for children measures type in students from grades 2 through 12. Learn more.