Thursday, May 20, 2010

Lost in Translation - Myers Briggs Type Indicator

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is based on the work of Swiss psychiatrist Carl G. Jung. Jung observed that people have inborn preferences for gathering information and making decisions and that these preferences guide an individual’s behavior. The mother/daughter team of Katherine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers expanded on Jung’s theories and created an assessment to make the combined work accessible to all individuals. Today, the assessment is used by most Fortune 100 companies and over two million people worldwide, annually. The assessment identifies an individual’s inborn preferences on four dichotomous scales: where you focus your energy, how you prefer to take in information, how you make decisions, and how you deal with the outer world. There are no “good” and “bad” types. Rather, type is best used to understand other people, improve communication, and develop individual skills.

Do you ever feel like you speak a different language than your co-worker, subordinate, or supervisor? Through the work of Myers and Briggs, we know that people take in information (the S-N dichotomy) and make decisions (the T-F dichotomy) in different ways. But many days, it can leave us feeling like we're lost in a foreign country.

Try this experiment: write down something that happened during the day in a short paragraph. Read back over it. Is it filled with specific details or context? Chances are, your preference is obvious from the paragraph you wrote down. Now, put yourselves in the shoes of someone with the opposite preference (or think of a time someone has told you a story and concentrated on the opposite preference). If we aren't getting the information we need, our minds wander (at best) and we might conclude the person speaking doesn't know what they're talking about (at worst). Ideally, we all seek to give our boss the information he or she needs quickly and concisely. If you consistently don't do that, it could have career ending ramifications.

Okay, so now that you are aware of the problem, what can you do to fix it? The first step is identifying when miscommunications are caused by different preference needs. This takes practice. I recommend writing down difficult situations in a journal as soon as possible and looking for preference-related reasons behind them. The next step is verbalizing the source of the miscommunication and looking for a way to reach common ground. The ideal long-term solution is learning to incorporate both sides of the preference dichotomies into your presentations (while keeping it concise).

While this seems like a lot of work, learning to "translate" between the dichotomy preferences is one of the easiest ways to reduce co-worker conflict. Remember to recognize that neither preference is "right." The goal is to develop your skill on both sides of each dichotomy.

Challenge: Identify one person at work who you think takes in information differently than you do. As them how they approach a routine task or assignment. Are there steps you skip? Would your work be more complete if you adopted them?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Words Have Meanings

Have you ever noticed that the same word can generate very different reactions from different people? Every person has their own lens through which they view the world. It is crafted from their personal preferences, the time and culture in which they were raised, and their personal life experiences. We can study personality type, generations theory, active listening, and coaching, but the fact of the matter is, at some point, a communication disconnect will arise because one person uses a word in a conversation that has completely different meanings
or connotations to the two people involved. While this may seem easy to fix by looking the word up in the dictionary to find out who is right, I feel this only deepens the defensive positions of the two individuals involved in the potential conflict.

This happened to me last week when a friend and colleague said she was trying to break through my righteous barrier. Through my lens, regardless of whether I am right or wrong, this was a very offensive insult. My gut reaction was honestly to get up and walk out of the meeting, but I didn't. At the time I knew that I was having an emotional reaction and my friend was explaining her coaching process with a word that meant no more than pushing past the stock answers and going deeper. Did that make it hurt me any less? Nope, I still get that sucker punch feeling four days later just thinking about it. However, I am sincerely glad that I didn't let an emotional reaction ruin a friendship and working relationship over something as small as the meaning of a word.

So what is the point here? Learn to recognize when you are attaching meanings to words in a conversation and when you are inferring something (especially an attitude or judgment) that may not be there. If you aren't sure what a person means, ask them for clarification rather than reacting emotionally. Try not to let the clarification devolve into a who is right and who is wrong about the definition of the word, instead focus on arriving at a common understanding.