Recently I watched medical students practice communication skills as an actor played the part of a newly diagnosed diabetic. The students were tasked with explaining diabetes and negotiating a plan for further testing and lifestyle modifications. Each student took a turn,picking up where the last student left off. It was striking how differently each student carried the discussion—some were quieter and listened intently, validating the concerns that the patient was experiencing; others were more animated, their contagious enthusiasm infusing the patient with hope that she could manage all that was before her. The actor provided each student with feedback and verified that each approach was effective and helpful in understanding her condition and gaining confidence that she could face what was ahead.
The importance of different personality types is shown clearly by the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory, an assessment that identifies our preferences for what we pay attention to, how we like to take in information, the methods we use to process that information, and how we deal with the outside world. Some people pay more attention to the outside world; others focus on their internal thoughts. Some rely on information taken in through their senses;others favor what comes to them intuitively. Some people process information analytically; others decide on the basis of their values. Some people feel more comfortable living in a structured, planned way; the attention of others is easily pulled in various, but interesting directions.
While it can be frustrating to deal with those who are different from us, each type offers something valuable to an interaction. What’s important is to understand ourselves and the value we bring to our relationships, groups, and interactions. Otherwise, we risk withholding skills, talents, and information, thinking that our way is not as valuable as someone else’s. Or, we aggressively try to dominate, believing that ours is the only relevant approach to a situation. While years were spent trying to “fix” people’s weaknesses, data shows that finding appropriate roles for our strengths is best for us and our organizations.
It’s taken me years to understand and accept my own preferences. A strong introvert, I opted for a wonderful conversation over a quiet dinner with a friend rather than the boisterous gala at a recent meeting. An extroverted colleague shared her delight with the evening of laughter and dancing. We each chose appropriately and emerged energized and ready for the morning sessions. I prefer to plan and follow an uninterrupted path toward my goals. My husband, on the other hand, is happy to divert his attention to various interesting things along his path. Because of my focus, most of our arrangements flow smoothly. But it’s his willingness to shift his attention that makes our life more interesting and fun.
In what ways are your preferences important in your relationships, activities, and work? How do those of others complement what you bring? By appreciating and contributing each person’s ideas and strengths, we make our own lives more enjoyable and enrich our workplaces and homes.