Think of a Person Who Gives You Problems

“Can you give a talk on the MBTI to a group of women accountants?” asked my friend, a woman accountant. “We meet for dinner once a month and invite a speaker to address us afterwards for about an hour.”

“Sure,” I said, and admired her for belonging to such a curious and learning group. Later, I asked my husband, John, to co-present with me. He talks to groups for a living, while for me, talking to groups is like dying.

In the weeks before the presentation, I was thinking about all of the things I had to say to give a responsible presentation on type. I thought I had an excellent agenda planned with a fun exercise for each preference. I gave John my agenda and thought he’d approve of it right away.

I was very surprised when he made up another agenda that was completely different than mine. The first thing he proposed was asking everyone to write down the name of a person who gave them a lot of problems - not serious problems like abuse, addictions or mental illness -  just problems because of the way they do things.
My first reaction was, “We can’t start by getting everyone to think negative thoughts about people. We want them to be thinking about the positive contributions of people. That’s what type is all about.”

John said, “You need to start out with something that gets people emotionally hooked. If they think you are going to help them with a problem person, they’ll be paying close attention.” 

That started to make sense to me, and with a group of women accountants, who would mostly be ISTJs, it especially made sense. They might not be interested in a personality theory for its own sake, but they might be very interested in a tool that helped them with a difficult person in their lives. I was both anxious and excited by John’s agenda, but the excitement was stronger, so I said, “OK, let’s try it.”

On the night of the talk, John gave everyone a printed page that had three blocks on it. In the first block was the text…

•  The person who gives me problems is ___________

•  What this person does that upsets me is __________

He had them fill that out, then he introduced me, and I stood up and talked about the difference between Extraverts and Introverts. I gave examples of the preferences from my own life or from our marriage, because John had stressed that people usually remember stories better than definitions or lists of words.

When I finished, he had them go to the second block, which said…

•  What I think this person’s type might be     E or I    S or N     T or F    J or P

•  My type is likely to be                                E or I    S or N    T or F    J or P

When they had made their best guess of Extravert or Introvert for themselves and the other person, he did another thing I never would have thought of. He had them share their decision with the person sitting next to them, and talk about why they had marked their pages that way. He says it’s important to give people time to process what they have learned by talking about it.
Each time I described two preferences, John would have them mark their page and share their conclusions, but each time, with someone different… the person on the other side of them, a person across from them, or a person from another table. He says that when people are in groups, you should give them a chance to connect with as many people as possible.

When they had a “best guess” four-letter type for themselves and the “problem” person, he gave them five minutes to fill out the third block…

•  Type might explain the things I find difficult about this person because  ______

•  Type might explain my reaction to this person because ________

•  Type might also explain the things I admire about this person because_______

Finally, John asked people to volunteer to share the greatest insight they were taking away from this meeting. That’s when my fears about negativity vanished. People were saying things like, “I’m going to stop taking my mother’s lateness as a personal insult. It’s part of her P, and I love that about her.” “I realize my boss is probably an N and that’s why he likes brainstorming ideas so much. I can help when he decides to put things into action.”

Before they left, we gave them printed descriptions of the preferences, and suggested they share those descriptions with the people in their life, especially with the person who gives them problems, because it could lead to very productive conversations.
So John was able to get people hooked at the beginning with a promise to help them with a difficult person. He was able to keep them hooked all through the session by giving vivid examples of the preferences, and letting people talk about their choices with several different partners. He was able to stir up a great deal of positive energy at the end by asking people to share their new insights. Finally, he made sure the learning would go on by giving people the materials they needed to share the preferences with other people.
I’d never seen anyone run a type presentation in this way before. The group was engaged and buzzing all through it. I recommend it highly, because learning about our individual type preferences deserves everyone’s attention, from start to finish. 

Note: It is important to remember that while we can make observations about how we perceive people’s behaviors in a given moment, we cannot presume to know a person’s personality type until they tell us their type. Sometimes it is not possible to administer the MBTI® assessment before a presentation like this one, but it is recommended. Remember, if someone in the group knows their type, it is up to them, rather than us, to share it.

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  1. Nicole Schneider

    #1 by Nicole Schneider - July 5, 2012 at 3:44 PM

    Great article, sharing with my workshop participants. They are all coaches, so very useful. Thank you!
  2. Sonya

    #2 by Sonya - July 9, 2012 at 12:37 AM

    Very interesting and exciting. Still can't work out if I'm ISFJ or INFJ.
  3. Karen

    #3 by Karen - July 23, 2012 at 2:56 PM

    I loved reading this article! It really illustrates how to implement "type" by communicating in the other person's (in this case, group's) preferred communication style. The exercise was right on target and I can feel the ripples of positive change that this created. Being so interactive would certainly engage participants and help them understand and appreciate type much better.
  4. Yuki

    #4 by Yuki - December 24, 2012 at 2:25 AM

    Interesting, I was wondering about cognitive functions when it comes down to personality preferences. When the types are broken down to the four pairs of functions that make up the type, every personality type has both introverted and extraverted functions: Ni, Ne, etc...So specifically N types like to brainstorm in a general manner, but those who have Ni are more likely to brainstorm internally and alone preferably than really express their ideas more openly and with others?
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