Rusty Divine

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Myers-Briggs Personality Types and Coping with Coworkers

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Do you have any coworkers that you just can’t relate to? Maybe Jim in Marketing, you know the one with a diamond stud in his ear, who plays solitaire while gabbing away for hours on the speakerphone? Or Janice, the DBA you try to avoid at all costs because of her propensity to start an argument over the most trivial of details, “Did you say detach! You better have meant backup and restore, buster! There will be no detaching around here, period.” Or how about Curt, who handles all the Flash animations, but can’t take constructive criticism about his work?

I was surprised and relieved to find insight into why people act the way they do when I stumbled onto the Myers-Briggs personality Type Indicators (MBTI). The MBTI are sixteen categories of personality types driven by psychological preferences, and knowing and understanding a persons MBTI can help you relate to why they act/react the way they do. When you see what drives a person, you can empathize with their position, and you can avoid their trigger points.

Your MBTI is a generalization, a best-fit, and is analogous to handedness – i.e. even if you are right-handed, you can learn to switch hit, much like if your natural tendency is to be quiet during meetings you can learn to take a more active role. When you are under stress, however, the tendency is to fall back on your psychological preference for coping.

My type is ISTP. Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Perceiving, and although there is only about 5.4% of the population who fit in this category, my guess is that a large percentage of programmers are also ISTP.

A person with the ISTP type is an experiencer who values honesty, prefers action to conversation, is a bit impulsive at times, and covets their allotment of me-time. ISTPs are tool users who take pride in wielding the best, most honed tools of their trade. Many ISTPs are surgeons, engineers, and military personnel. They tend to lead the charge from the front of the pack, but are also comfortable taking orders. From Team Technology, “ISTPs direct their energy toward the inner world of thoughts (and, maybe, emotions). They analyze situations and come up with explanations of how things work. They prefer dealing with tangible problems and proven experience - they often enjoy solving organizational problems that need to be thought through.”

Remember Jim in Marketing? The guy with the diamond stud who can blab on and on to a until whoever is listening finally agrees with him, possibly out of being hypnotized by his voice? Well, your good buddy Jim just might be an ENTP; an extroverted, intuitive, thinking, perceiver. ENTPs are born leaders who almost can’t help but take control. They are very charismatic, and have a good understanding of the global picture and strategy. ENTPs love to take on challenges, but sometimes take on too many, and/or delegate the boring work to subordinates. ENTPs will win over clients, charm the suits, and will be a great power player if they are on your team.

What about Janice, the DBA who knows everything about the software and isn’t shy about asserting it? Janice might be an INTJ; an introverted, intuitive, thinking, judger. INTJs are Masters of the Universe – their quest is to understand their subject completely. An INTJ may not tolerate other people who make casual mistakes about details; calling something a Functional Specification when it is actually a Technical Specification will make an INTJ blurt out the correction in spite of being rude. INTJs strengths are in their domain knowledge – no one will know or understand more about the subject and all the myriad details than the INTJ.

So Curt, the guy who you told his blinking flash widget may be giving children epileptic seizures, and he took it so personally that he hasn’t said more than a grunted hello to you ever since, what is his type? Who knows? Curt probably just has the emotional IQ of a 10 year old. MBIT doesn’t explain everything, after all. I’d recommend just staying away from him; he’ll hang himself sooner or later and move on to a different job.

If you agree there is value in understanding what makes your coworkers tick, I encourage you to suggest a "Team Building" exercise where everyone takes 15 minutes to fill out an online form to find out what their type is. Later, you can all meet for a beer after work and have a good, friendly chuckle about each team member’s quirks. Even if you don’t want to take it that far, I suggest taking a look at the links below to see if you recognize your coworkers types; and certainly take the test yourself to find out more about you!

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