Richard M. DeBowes, DVM, MS, DACVS
Personalities, they define us and influence our interactions with others. Hardly a day goes by that each of us doesn't engage in a conversation with or about another person and their personality. In today's fast paced world and service economy, we work are always connecting with others and often working in close proximity with others.
Our relationships are mitigated both in person with those who grace our business or electronically over the web through e-mail, social media, etc. Contemporary veterinary practice is no exception; we see many clients every day and interact with many more by telephone. We perform intense, sometimes lifesaving work in close proximity with a number of co-workers.
When high-achieving, risk intolerant people operate in close proximity where expectations are high for delivery of complex, high quality health care work, and we add in some stress and unexpected challenges and our individual personalities can readily complicate the situation.
Most of us have encountered a discussion of personality type at some point in our education. As the importance of professional life skills become increasingly important in veterinary curricula, schools are exposing students to a number of instruments and discussions of team dynamics and personalities. Businesses are not unaware of personality instruments either.
It is not uncommon that a small business would engage a consultant to assess the range of personality types in their workplace to better appreciate how to bring folks into a more synergistic work pattern?
An array of common personality instruments or sorters including True Colors, DiSC, The Animal in You, Keirsey Bates and Myers-Briggs Temperance Indicators (MBTI) are available for use. Note that they are instruments, not tests.
Tests have right and wrong answers. Personality typing instruments have no right or wrong answer, they just have a result that is, to the best of the instrument's specificity and validation, your most probable personality type. In the end, the expert on your type is you! With almost every well-grounded and validated type instrument, it ultimately becomes the responsibility of the individual to review the report generated from or by the instrument and ask themselves, "Does this sound familiar?" "Does this sound like me?" "Is this truly my type?"
With the well-researched typing instruments such as MBTI or DiSC, you will find the results to have an uncanny degree of accuracy. Personality type is important because it provides us with an additional degree of self-awareness that is useful in helping us to interact with others in a maximally beneficial and positive way. The author's preferred instrument is the Myers Briggs Type Instrument (MBTI). It can be used to help us understand some of who we are and why we do what we do, as well as support us in our interactions with others in a variety of work-life situations. Many of the challenges that exist between people may have little to do with differences in goals, visions or intentionality. Rather, those challenges are a result of how people of different personality types see and interact with a specific shared work/life situation. People of different types will invariably look at the same work or life situation through different type "lenses" or filters, almost as if they were looking through different prescriptive eyewear. This affects the perceptions of the observers in a marked and dynamic way. At the end of the day, it's safe to say that personality type matters.
The Myers Briggs Type Indicator is based on the work of Carl Jung. As such, you should know that your preferred personality type is inborn. You don't choose it, although the strength or intensity of your type preference can be influenced to some degree over the years by life experience. It really won't change however. It may appear to change in certain situations, but a well prepared facilitator will set up a properly instructed client to take the instrument correctly and the results of retaking the instrument under those conditions will be very repeatable.
As you become more familiar with personality type, you will see that type behavior is very observable. This is helpful because a student of type can use that awareness and recognition to position their messaging so that they can be better understood. It is also important to note that it the MBTI is non-judgmental. The MBTI does not determine "good" type or "bad" type... it simply helps you determine your preferred type. All types "are what they are"...they are different and each might have greater utility in a given particular situation. That's in part the reason that the developer, Isabel Briggs Myers called her book on type,
It's also important to note that as a personality instrument, the MBTI does not detect psychopathology. There's no need to worry that by taking an instrument like the MBTI, you would receive a diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. That's not what this instrument is used for or even able to detect.
The MBTI sorts type by preferences. While it doesn't measure in an absolute quantitative manner, it will sort on an individual's preference to behave in a certain way. It will address the relative strength of that preference as being a slight, moderate or strong preference for a certain type feature.
The MBTI sorts on four criteria. It looks at our preferences for how we take in energy, how we process information, how we make decisions and how we tend to approach our daily life. Because there are two options in each of those four areas of assessment, there are sixteen possible MBTI classifications in total. While we all have a preferred personality type, it's also true that at different times during the day, even in the same day, you may employ different several different personality types. Never the less, it's useful to remember that you have a preferred personality type and that type is the one that you demonstrate more often than not, all other things being equal.
The first dichotomous choice the MBTI will sort on our individual preferences for how we energize. We refer to individuals as having a preference for either extroversion (E) or introversion (I). It is important to remember we are talking about type, not traits. When these words are used to describe traits, extraversion and introversion refer to a person's demonstration of behaviors of gregarious outgoing nature or shyness respectively. That is not what the MBTI measures. MBTI is an assessment of type which is very different from trait.
Extroversion as a type refers to a person's inclination to gain energy from being around others people and activity. Those of us with an inclination towards extraversion tend to gain energy from group activities or from being around people. We tend to be involved in lots of activities, seek opportunities for involvement and we tend to be prone to action. We connect with others readily and often think out loud. We share our emotions, sometimes "wearing them on our sleeves."
In contrast, those who are inclined towards introversion are inclined toward energizing by themselves or with one or two close friends. Introverts tend to be contemplative and reflective. They think about things and explore concepts in depth versus their extroverted colleagues whose inclination is towards breadth. Introverts are not so inclined to act quite so quickly and are less impulsive. They will tend to hold emotions in and be less likely to share them.
The second dichotomous sorting of the Myers Briggs instrument focuses on an individual's tendency towards sensing (S) or intuition (N). This choice pertains to how we look at the world around us. Sensors are individuals who have a preference for those elements of the world around them that they can assess through the five natural senses. Realistically, this means that they are people who are interested in what is factual, real and probable. Sensors tend to be pragmatic. Sensors prefer dealing with specificity and objective data, things they can measure. They tend to be linear in their thinking and are inclined to proceed in a stepwise fashion, taking challenges one step at a time. A classical example of S behavior would be that they would be inclined to read the directions before assembling a new device or piece of equipment. They are comfortable with procedures and expectations and they live very much in the here and now...the present.
Individuals who have a preference for intuition are very adept at using their sixth sense, the sense we know as intuition. They are comfortable in considering what might be possible rather than be constrained or limited to what "is" right now. Introverts are future oriented. They tend to be very creative and inventive. They are very adept at noticing patterns and the relationship of different elements in a complex situation. They may feel constrained by a step wise process or procedure. They can join in a process at any point in the process and be comfortable.
The third dichotomous choice is about our individual preference for how we make decisions. Some individuals will have a preference for thinking (T) while others will have a preference for feeling (F). Thinkers are inclined to make decisions with their head...they look at a situation and decide their course of action based on the data presented. When looking at a situation, they tend to look at it as an outside observer. The feedback they give may feel a bit harsh, more like a critique, perhaps because T's tend to focus on being firm but fair.
Thinkers tend to look hard at a situation for the truth and they have a strong preference for valuing logical approaches to problem solving.
Feelers tend to make decisions with their heart and as such, are inclined towards personal conviction. They are very inclined to maintain relationships and they want harmony in their work environment. They tend to take a personal stake in decisions seeing every situation through the eyes of a participant...from the inside. Their level of connection makes them very adept at understanding and connecting with people. They are inclined to be empathetic and compassionate. It is important to remember that Thinkers (T's) have a heart and Feelers (F's) have a brain as there are days when individuals differing in this type preference might suggest that not to be the case.
The fourth and final sorting preference of the MBTI focuses on how we approach our lifestyle. Individuals tend to have a preference for being either a Judger (J) or a Perceiver (P). Judgers tend to be folks who enjoy order, organization and structure. They tend to plan ahead and favor closure. They are very comfortable with deadlines and have an inclination to complete tasks ahead of schedule whenever possible. Many have a strong preference for check lists. They like to have their life "under control." Perceivers in contrast are very comfortable with allowing life to happen, they can easily live "in flow."
They are very comfortable with openness and often feel constrained by deadlines. They enjoy the freedom to explore without limits. They will sometimes find themselves rushing to meet deadlines.
Remembering that there are no bad types, we can take the range of type strength in our practice and use it to make our team more impactful and effective. If we have two vet techs of equal competence and we have needs for support in reception and back in the lab, it might be that putting the extroverted tech at the desk with all those clients, questions and phone calls might be a better choice than perhaps a tech who has a strong type preference for introversion. Likewise, the tech who has stronger introversion preference might find the work in the clinical pathology lab or in surgery or in the wards less emotionally exhausting over time than the tech that was inclined to extroversion.
We must remember that type is not an excuse or a disability. Those with a preference for a perceiving and being in flow must still attend meetings on time and those with strong preferences for judging must still adapt to meet the changing needs of the schedule and workload. Knowledge of type will go a long way in helping team members better understand one and other and improve teamwork and the development of synergy by providing a greater understanding of who each of us are and why we tend to do what we do.
1. Center for Applications of Psychological Type, Gainesville, FL, USA. www.capt.org/about-capt/contact-capt.htm.
2. Briggs Myers I. Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Type. Davies-Black; 1980, 1995, ISBN 089106074X.
3. Keirsey D, Bates M. Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Type. Prometheus Nemesis. ISBN 0960695400.