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PERSONALITY: MBTI – Are Your Preferences Blinding Your Need To Develop Skill?

Carlos sits in the meeting and begins tapping the tip of his pen as Claire explains why she’s disagreeing with the proposed timeline for launching the project.  Impatience is written all over his face.  He hates these weekly staff meetings, and finds Claire to be one of the major stumbling blocks.  To his way of thinking, these decisions should be made by the project manager, not some committee that has no clue what it’s doing.  Because Claire’s job is project manager, she should just tell people what to do and end it.  This goes on and on and is driving him nuts.  When will this woman do her job?

Claire, on the other hand, has been through the drill of setting timelines more than she’d like to remember.  She knows that without the buy-in of people participating, the project due dates will never get done. Besides, getting people involved is what teamwork is all about, right?  She sees Carlos as just a bully who gets irritated when things don’t go his way.

Let’s look at how these two characters are playing to their preferences and neglecting to determine what skills are actually needed during the decision making process.  All of us are born with our personality preferences intact.  We are who we are when we emerge from the womb, according to Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung.  If we use the Myers Briggs Type Indicator as a model, we can see distinguishing characteristics for each:

Personality Preferences*

Extraversion (E): Draws energy from being with others, bouncing ideas off of others to see how they respond.  Prefers to be with people and finds social activities energizing Introversion (I): Draws energy from quiet time and reflection by oneself; prefers to develop ideas within one’s own thoughts and then share with a few others when ready.
Sensing (S): Gathers information through their senses, like hearing, seeing and touching.  Prefers things to be concrete, specific and sequential. Intuiting (N): Gathers information by looking for patterns and relationships in things.  Likes abstract ideas and concepts.  Often thinks about the future.
Thinking (T): Makes decisions based on logic and data.  Sees people reactions or needs as a piece of data to be considered. Feeling (F): Makes decisions based on how the decision will impact people.  Sees data as a piece of information to be considered in terms of people.
Judging (J): Likes a well-ordered, structured environment; heavily influenced by the decision making function.  Prefers to arrive a few minutes early. Perceiving (P): Heavily influenced by the information gathering function, the individual prefers a spontaneous, unstructured environment.  Becomes anxious if decision making is rushed before all the information is in.

* Adapted from the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory

Most of us play to our preference:

– The extravert (E) will interrupt to talk something through out loud even though others are quietly working.
– The person with an intuiting preference (N) will focus on the big picture and resist getting into the details that will determine if something can actually happen.
– The person with a perceiving preference (P) will struggle making a final decision even though the deadline is looming.
– The person with a thinking preference (T) will show little or no interest in how people will react to a decision; after all, right is right.

How do we begin to react according to the circumstance or situation rather than simply acting out our preference?  In order to do this, we must force ourselves to develop skills in areas that are not our preference.  For many people, our work life demands this of us.  Recently I was talking with a senior director in a scientific department who shared that when growing up and in graduate school, he was much more the intuitor (day dreaming, idea person).  But now his position forces him to focus on budgets, project timelines, meetings, and details – all sensing activities.  I suppose he could say, “Well I don’t like that part of my job and don’t do it well, so I just won’t do it.”  But he’s smart enough to know that he must do these activities, and do them well, in order to keep his job.  Are we all that smart?

One of the most glaring examples for me is the introvert/extravert dichotomy.  Let’s imagine that we are mid- to high- level managers in our departments.  Part of our performance expectation is that we meet regularly with our staffs, manage by “wandering around,” talk regularly with other department heads and customers, and encourage brainstorming and sharing of ideas and concerns to promote continuous improvement. Now, if I’m an extravert (E), these expectations will be easy for me to perform and I’ll probably do them quite well.  However, if I’m an introvert (I), all of this will not come naturally and will require that I plan for it on my calendar, practice what I’ll say, and learn to delay judgment when ideas are shared before they are less than fully developed.  If I don’t develop my skills in this area, I will not be successful in my job because my preferences will encourage me to do the opposite of what’s needed.  I’ll email others, avoid meetings, and internalize idea development and be in trouble as a result.

So, how do we sensitize ourselves to understanding when our preferences will work best and when we need to develop skill? Here are a couple of simple steps:

1.  Review your job description and next to each job task, identify what it requires (extravert vs. introvert, sensing vs. intuiting, thinking vs. feeling, and judging vs. perceiving).


- Identifies projects for consideration (N) and enlists the support of others to collaborate on project completion (E).

- Identifies problems that are occurring (S) and develops remedies that quickly turn situations around to the customers’ satisfaction (F, J).


2. Write down how you are handling the tasks now according to your preferences.


- Identifies projects for consideration (N) and enlists the support of others to collaborate on project completion (I).  (Your introversion preference may cause you to email rather than phone or use face-to-face discussion.)

- Identifies problems that are occurring (S) and develops remedies that quickly turn situations around to the customers’ satisfaction. (T, P) (Your thinking and perceiving preferences will cause you to think you know the customer’s problem and then struggle with making a final decision and moving forward.)


3.  Identify others who are not your style and examine what they do.


- Look at how the E handles the collaboration process with others – how frequently does the E have phone or face-to-face discussions; how does the E write an email to request support; how many behind-the-scenes discussions is the E having to enlist agreement?

- Look at how the F expresses understanding of the customer’s situation and then brings quick closure (J).  How does the F empathize with the customer and gather information on the customers’ needs?  How does the J develop the plan and make little decisions along the way that result in on-time closure?


4.  Start to practice developing the skills you see others perform who are successful completing similar tasks.   In other words, watch your opposite and see what works.


One of the areas most prone to acting out of style preference is in meetings. Typically introverts don’t like meetings and have no problem saying so.  Extraverts like meetings but often waste time by interjecting thoughts and comments at every turn.  A Sensing J will be highly frustrated in a meeting that has no agenda and no actions resulting.  A Perceiving (P) person will feel rushed and annoyed when a Judging (J) abruptly says, “Can’t we wrap this up in the next two minutes; it’s clear to me what needs to get done.”

Let’s go back to Carlos and Claire and see what modifications need to be made.  First, Carlos must stop tapping and learn to control his passive-aggressive body language (clear I, J behaviors).  His T (thinking preference) is causing him to believe that he has all the right answers (e.g. Claire to just decide the timeline) and his J (judging) causes him to define how much discussion is too much discussion.  Carlos needs to develop more F and P skills, perhaps be asking some good questions to clarify the core concerns, or encouraging the team to see Claire as a strong subject matter expert.  Claire, on the other hand, needs to develop more S (sensing) skills to focus the committee on the project deadlines that must be met.  If her P (perceiving) preference is allowing the discussion to go on too long, Claire needs to develop the skill of the J (judging) to bring the discussion to closure.

Let me encourage you to experiment with your own preferences and to identify when skill rather than preference is truly what’s needed.

If you liked this, you may want to read these:

Introverts: How You Can Be Value-Added In An Extroverted World

Managing Up: How to Manage Your Manager

The Link Between Emotional Awareness and Professional Growth

Listen to NDCPodcaster’s interview with the author about this post:

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