Entries Tagged as "Learning"

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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The Anarchy Zone

No, I am not making a political statement.  I’m talking about a movement in children’s playgrounds to encourage unstructured play.

Take a bunch of hay bales, some old tires, some planks, and maybe a climbing tree with an adult playworker…and what do you have: the Anarchy Zone.

Or create a huge mud puddle, add some tires and planks, buckets, tools and an adult playworker and voila…the Anarchy Zone. 

Now, who seems to have the most trouble adapting to these playgrounds?  Well, it’s the parents! (Ha, I bet you were thinking I was going to suggest a particular type or two!!)  Those playgrounds just do not look neat and clean and pretty.  And after playing with them, the children do not look neat and clean either. 

Why are Anarchy Zones catching on? 

Here are several reasons:

  • Kids who play outside in nature are more likely to enjoy nature as adults, and nature has a positive effect on mental health. 
  • Kids who play on these unstructured playgrounds are less likely to get injured than those who play on the more structured ones. 
  • Kids who take risks when they are young are less likely to indulge in risky behaviors (like drugs) later on.  (As an aside, a friend’s granddaughter in Norway is just “graduating” from her preschool to elementary school at the age of six.  To mark this passage, her school presents her with a jack knife.  She is trusted with this potentially risky instrument and is immensely proud of it; of course, she has been taught how to use it properly.)

Now if we look at this through the lens of type, what we are doing is encouraging the development of both Sensing and Intuition.

Sensing will help kids identify what is exactly there.  What are they playing with?  Are the materials soft, hard, movable, pileable?  They have to pay attention to reality to make things work.

Intuition will help kids figure out different ways to play with the objects.  Will they make forts, mountains, caves, or mud pies?  They have to look for possibilities.  And there’s no one right way to play. 
We’re asking children to develop their Intuitive-Perceiving (NP) side to explore – they’ll stay open to possibilities and switch things around constantly if they wish. 

They’re also utilizing their Sensing-Judging (SJ) side to learn exactly how things work, and they can test these things in order to keep themselves safe. 

In these scenarios we have faith in our children and believe they can be in the Anarchy Zone and still thrive.  With all the apparent chaos in our world, adults may at times feel a strong sense of impending anarchy.  We need to access SJ and NP strengths throughout our lives. Why not get started in childhood?


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I have moved several times in the past few years.  Moving is a pain!  While normally I like making decisions, the decisions involved in moving were not fun.  What to move…what to throw away…what to give away?  I’m an ESTJ, known to be organized and willing to make decisions.  But moving, well, moving is different. 

I have never been one of those people who sorts their closet twice a year getting rid of anything they haven’t worn in the past year.  I have numerous sizes of black pants, just in case.  I have my prom dresses (from nearly 50 years ago), just in case I ever have grandkids who want to play dress up. 

What I discovered in moving was how wonderful friends are for helping.  Through their eyes I could see the foolishness of moving multiple boxes of rags when only one box was needed. 

They did not stop and reminisce over clothing worn for special events, cherished books whose plot lines I loved, special knick knacks acquired on trips, etc.   They simply packed every cupboard I assigned them. Occasionally they would stop, hold up a broken something or a particularly unattractive something, and inquire.  They were right…toss it.

I did ask a relative, a librarian, how to handle books.  She said there are three categories of books to hang on to.  One, first editions – okay, I have none.  Second, books needed for your profession.  Oh dear, I have tons, although the word “need” is open to interpretation at times.  Third, highly sentimental books such as your first reader.  I did finally give away my set of Laura Ingalls Wilder books. 

The librarian’s advice was useful up to a point.  What really helped was culling my books to contribute to a fundraiser.  Seeing a second life for books, or for anything for that matter, is a comfort.

Another technique I recently observed might work for you, too.  An ENFP friend was having difficulty sorting the sewing room of his late wife. There were lots of memories including the partially completed kayak cover she began making for him decades ago; he admitted she didn’t particularly like kayaking!

I spent hours with him boxing up dozens of zippers, reams of material, scraps of leather, piles of patterns, skeins of yarn, yards of lace, etc.

A dear friend of his (an ISFJ) knew what a trial it was to close out that sewing room.  She said we could cart it all over to her home, and she would go through it for her own art and sewing projects and then donate the rest to a new immigrant center.  This sharpened our focus because we did not have to decide about the usefulness of each item.  We just had to box it all up.

But you should have seen this friend’s husband’s face (an INTJ) when we unloaded box after box of sewing stuff.  They too are planning to move in a year and he was hoping this stuff would not remain as something for them to move. I did check with him recently – all the stuff has found a home.  Whew – and we’re still friends. 

I’m curious as to whether you have any techniques that could help in sorting and moving.   And how does type fit into the patterns or relationships that govern these decisions? 


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Arugula and Communication

I was talking with a colleague, Vic, recently just after I had completed facilitating the MBTI® Step II™ module for a community leadership program we both work in. 

An activity on Concrete-Abstract (a Step II facet of Sensing-Intuition) went particularly well – you know the one…show the abstract picture and listen to what the groups talk about. 

The Concrete types saw trees, vines, pillars, or an arrow. Or was it a weathervane – they strove to get the facts right. 

The Abstract types saw dread, decay, destruction, etc.  Same picture…different conversations.  Such is life!  The challenge is how to have these conversations make sense between groups!!  Both want to build healthy, vibrant communities.

Vic then talked about communication with his wife of 45 years and how they still get off kilter at times. I asked for an example.

“The other night at dinner we were eating arugula.  I remarked to Kathy, ‘I’d like to grow arugula all year long.’  She said, ‘Why would you do that? You don’t even garden.  And besides the grocery store is just down the block and it stocks it every day.’  What I meant, of course, was how much I enjoyed eating arugula, but I didn’t say that directly.”

My colleague is INFJ and his spouse, ISTJ.  He speaks in generalities and possibilities, and she speaks in specifics and practicalities.  Communicating well is a passion of his (as it is for many INFJs). 

But there is more to this than just those S-N differences. 

When an ISTJ (or an ESTJ) hears a statement such as the one above, he/she immediately thinks of how to fulfill the desire, complete the task, or dispense with the issue.  It is a call for action and the responsible thing to do.  It is often interpreted as “hmmm, how would I make that happen.”  Or there is a move to judgment with the thought (sometimes even said out loud in my case), “That’s a really stupid request; let me show (my spouse) how impractical that is.”  

For me, as an ESTJ, I feel the need to decide something, to make a judgment, about nearly every statement I’ve heard, and then to do something about each one.  It is as if you waved a red flag in front of a bull – I feel compelled to act! 

Part of the learning for me is to just listen.  Not every statement requires an action. I don’t always have to act like an ESTJ, just because I am one!


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Experiencing Another Perspective

One of the best things about knowing type is accepting that people do things differently from you – they are not trying to be contrary, undermining or annoying in the process.   But that is not the same thing as truly experiencing those differences. 

As an ESTJ and an Experiential on the MBTI Step® II™ tool, part of the way I understand things and their meaning is to try things out.  So here goes my attempt at trying out different preferences within my opposite type:

To experience Introversion, I notice what it feels like to lose myself in a book or to lose myself in a writing project.  There is a focus and a calmness that comes over me. I concentrate deeply on what is inside my head.  I lose track of time. 

Yesterday when I was writing, I was startled to see the time and chagrinned to realize that I should have left for appointments much earlier than I did!

To experience Intuition, I feel myself stepping back from a situation and noticing the patterns of behaviors and asking myself, “What does this mean?” 

I even use metaphors in my communications (or at least appreciate them).  Reading a Louise Penny mystery recently, I chuckled at the metaphoric description of a chubby child in her winter pageant costume of a snowflake; the writer said she looked more like a snowdrift.  

To experience Feeling, I recall the sad time putting a beloved family pet “to sleep.”  Logically, it should have been an easy call – the pet wasn’t eating, needed to be carried outside, etc.  But it’s not easy when you love a pet.  Trying to find harmony within the decision and how it affects everyone is wrenching.

I also experience (introverted) Feeling when I’m describing a particularly moving event to someone else.  I feel goose bumps of recognition that “yes, this is important!” 

To experience Perceiving, all I have to do is go on a driving trip with a Perceiving type, stopping wherever the spirit moves us, making decisions about where to stay at a time when driving is no longer fun.  I’ve discovered more interesting places and things that way. 

For example, I bet you didn’t know when the first sundae was served (on a Sunday in 1881!), and where:  Two Rivers, Wisconsin.  Yup, Perceiving led me there and let me experience eating one there as well!!

To experience my opposite, INFP, well that is a stretch.  A good friend, the late John DiTiberio who was an INFP, once told me he would coach me in how to do so.  He said I’d need a prop – a newspaper.  I was to sit in a corner of the room absorbed in it, not peaking over the top. 

At his Memorial Service, there was a picture of him with his three-year-old INFP identical twin daughters.  You guessed it – all three were “reading” newspapers.

How do you experience your opposites?   If the preferences I portrayed are yours, did I get close in my descriptions to at least some of what you experience?


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