One of my paralegal friends worked for a law firm that held regular team building and training exercises. The attorney who owned the law firm felt that this was an excellent way to help everyone understand each other better to enhance communication skills.
While I agree with the concept that understanding different personalities is very useful in avoiding conflicts (see below and my posts on office politics here and here), improving communication skills, and improving the relationship between managers and employees, I would have drawn the line at the paintball wars!
What's the Myers-Briggs Personality Test?
Many companies use the Myers-Brings Type Indicator to enhance productivity and reduce conflict in the workplace. In fact, there’s a strong argument for understanding and applying the characteristics of personality types in the workplace, especially for “increased communication, more effective teams, and more satisfied employees and customers.” You have to remember that personality traits are not an indication of how well employees performs. They simply allow us to understand someone's typical motivation so we can interact with them in a manner that doesn't raise conflicts in the workplace.
The Myers-Briggs personality test is designed to determine how you make decisions and deal with the world around you based on four cognitive functions. Carl Gustav Jung identified 4 psychological functions that he believed influenced how a person experiences the world. They are thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition. For each of the 4 functions, there are 2 opposite psychological types.
Isabel Briggs Myers and Katherine Cook Briggs developed a questionnaire based on Jung’s theories to measure psychological preferences and tendencies. It assigns a specific preference in each of the 4 categories to reveal a “psychological type” for that person. Based on the type, the Myers-Briggs questionnaire can describe how you perceive the world and make decisions.
What are the most common personalities in an office setting?
If you know what makes a person “tick,” you can adjust your communication and management styles to make working with this person more productive. An added benefit of understanding personality traits is that you can use that information to avoid or overcome conflicts. Below is a brief overview of the personality traits identified by the Myers-Briggs test.
Introversion vs. Extraversion – These two interaction styles are complete opposites of each other. A person who scores closer to the introversion end of the range is a thinker. This type of person takes their time to review relevant information, analyzing the details before rendering an opinion. On the other hand, someone scoring closer to extraversion prefers to “think out loud” by discussing the problem and working through the details verbally to arrive at an opinion or solution. You can probably immediately identify co-workers who “mull over” questions quietly compared to those who want to talk through a question in detail with their colleagues.
Intuition vs. Sensing – This personality trait plays into making decisions. If you’re the type of person who considers the big picture rather than the details, you score closer to the intuition end of the spectrum. You’re not afraid of trying a solution to see if it works, switching gears as needed until you find something that works. In contrast, someone who identifies as sensing wants the facts, details, and all relevant information before deciding on a course of action.
Feeling vs. Thinking – This may be one of the easier personality traits to identify in your co-workers and speaks to the way someone makes decisions. Someone who scores higher on the feeling spectrum is able to be consider multiple viewpoints when making decisions. They tend to lean toward “going with a gut feeling” rather than blindly following what has been done in the past or what is recommended by others (not relying on rules or routines established by past experiences). In contrast, a thinking person makes each decision based on the current context, using rules and routines as a guideline.
Perceiving vs. Judging – This personality trait addresses how a person controls their environment. A person scoring higher on the perceiving scale is more of a “free spirit” who is open to trying new things and acting on a whim without much planning or serious thought. Someone scoring higher on the judging scale wants order, not chaos. As each situation arises, judging people carefully consider various options before taking action. If a problem arises, they usually want to find a solution to deal with the problem to maintain a sense of stability, calm, and control.
For a more detailed description of each personality trait, I suggest you read Mary McGuiness’ book. She provides an excellent, detailed analysis of each personality trait including strengths, communication tendencies, and the potential flaws associated with each personality trait. McGuiness warns that personality traits are not set in stone nor do they determine exactly how a person will behave.
Do you know your personality traits?
If you’re curious how you would score on the Myers-Briggs personality test, you can take a free test online. Once you have your score, you can explore the various personality types in more detail to help you understand yourself as well as your co-workers, managers, and attorneys.
In my next post, I’ll discuss in detail how to user the personality information to communicate better with co-workers to avoid and overcome conflicts.
Tonya Pierce is a paralegal with over 24 years experience in several areas of the legal field (17 years as a bankruptcy paralegal and trustee paralegal).