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  • June 9, 2011

The Cult of Personalities

In a service industry like ours, we work with a lot of people. Certain people bring out the best in us; others, not so much. Consider your last difficult workplace exchange. How would that encounter have been different if you Decorative Illustration had a better sense of your own personality? What if you understood the person you shared the encounter with better?

Prior to taking the Myers-Briggs test I thought I knew who I was. I would have bet a million dollars I was an introvert. Turns out I’m an extrovert. I thought I was a logical, intuitive thinker. Wrong again! Personality conflicts are often at the root of misunderstandings that can thwart a project’s progress. How can you work well with others if you can’t express or relate how you need to work?

Emotional Rescue

I previously worked as an information technology analyst in financial services. Work was plentiful but successful projects were not. Details fell through the cracks, deadlines were missed, and work relationships were strained beyond repair. Leadership recognized a need for change, and sponsored a personality study. This was my first introduction to a personality test, the Myers-Briggs Personality Test to be specific.

Fast forward two weeks to after all of us had taken the test and the results had been calculated. When presented with the results, I was dumbfounded. All the building blocks of which we were composed were neatly laid out in a variety of charts and diagrams, and it all made sense. I understood why Sally and I couldn’t stand each other. I knew why Mike and I got so much done, compared to my collaborations with Eric. I left the presentation with a much better understanding of who I was, my personal approaches to work, and the approaches of my coworkers. This knowledge changed me forever, and significantly shaped my growth as a project management professional.

In the time that followed, we had to publicly identify ourselves by our Myers-Briggs score. We kept our scorecards prominently displayed on our desks and traveled with them to meetings. This became a personality tell; it was like seeing the hands dealt to all the other players in a poker game. You can imagine how that changed the way each hand was played, and how workplace interactions took place. The result was a gradual, but steady, change. Tolerance levels rose, and people took the time to work around known preferences and styles. Productivity increased. More importantly, it fostered a better relationship not only within our department, but also between our department and the rest of the organization.

One to Another

The Philadelphia office, where I work, functions as one group on nearly all projects. Our levels of participation may differ at times, but we operate as a twelve-person unit. A few of us have been here since day one, and a few of us have been here for one day, but most of us fall somewhere in the middle. On average, we’ve been working together for more than two years. In that time, we’ve completed a lot of projects and, because we already work very well together, I wondered what a personality study might reveal about us.

I asked my colleagues to respond to a series of questions posed in the Jung Typology Test. The results revealed some interesting points about our team that I thought were worth sharing.

The test I used is based on the work of Carl Jung. It’s the kind of test often used in more complex personality studies such as Myers-Briggs. There are three pairs of psychological preference that influence:

  • How we make decisions
  • How we take in and process information
  • How we react to inner and outer experiences

These concepts are at the heart of the work that we do every day. Test subjects are classified by extroversion (speak to think) or introversion (quiet, observant, inward focus) and by thinking preference (decisions from the head: rational, logical, rule-based) or feeling preference (decisions made from the heart: subjective & personal). Keep in mind that we all possess some level of each of these traits. By identifying the degree to which we possess these personality traits, we can better understand how we work as individuals and, ultimately, how we work together.

Take On Me

Our twelve person office leans slightly toward introversion (54%) with a 50/50 split in thinking versus feeling preference. Seeing the individual scores did confirm why many of us do what we do, but they also revealed some exceptions that explain why we have disagreements, or why we take different approaches to problem-solving. This isn’t to say any one approach is wrong, just different.

It may not be a shock that both project managers posted identical scores (ESFJ). This means we are slightly or moderately expressed extroverts, with sensing personalities, distinct feeling personalities, and a moderate level of judging personality. Good qualities in someone who manages a lot of projects. More interesting is that one of our team members matched our scores in all categories and another scored as a moderately expressed extrovert, but with an intuitive personality. Much like a project manager, my liked-minded colleagues prefer things settled and organized. They have a natural talent for leading and they consider people their highest priority. They instinctively communicate personal concern and a willingness to become involved. This is a tremendous asset when it comes to communicating clearly and effectively with others in the office, and with clients.

Another member of the team, a distinctly expressed introvert, falls into the classic Keirsey temperament known as the Guardian. Super-dependable, dutiful, and humble are just some of the qualities I could use to describe this person. This personality type is a must-have on any project team. You need someone with a knack for keeping an eye on the people and products for which they are responsible and ensuring that standards are upheld. In our case, I mean that literally! Needless to say, we always knew this person was special and now we understand why.

Perhaps the most compelling result of our experiment was identifying resources with opposite personality types that fulfill the same role within our team. In one instance, we have a distinctively expressed introvert (INTJ) performing the same job as a slightly expressed extrovert (ENTJ). The former is bound to rules and regulations, with little tolerance for inefficiency. The latter works a bit more loosely, dare I say boundlessly. So how can two opposite ends of the spectrum both be successful in the same role? Their individual scores place them in the rational temperament. Essentially, they share core characteristics, but their personality makeup requires each take a different path to get to the same result. This also means that we, as project team members, must work differently with them to achieve that same result.

Knowing Me, Knowing You

What did this exercise teach us? I think the most valuable lesson is that we revealed our “tells.” When a conflict arises, each of us is a little more in tune with how the other thinks. Knowing is half the battle!

If you find yourself working within personality disputes, here are some tips for fixing problems:

  • Get on the same page – Everyone thinks differently, so start by finding common ground.
  • Check in regularly – Communication is always the key to success in project work.
  • Don’t take it personally – People’s behavior isn’t a reflection on you.
  • Put yourself in the other person’s shoes – This is not always easy, but it is necessary if you are going to use the knowledge you’ve gained for good, not evil.
  • Know your own behaviors – The only thing you can truly control is yourself.

Working together isn’t always easy. People are complex, but a little understanding can go a long way and will definitely impact the work you create.

You, too, can conduct an exercise like this either in-house or you can bring in a professional to lead a personality and self-assessment workshop. If you haven’t participated in a personality evaluation, now is the time. If you have, consider a re-evaluation for a check up. It is a minimum time investment, and you’ll invite discussion among your colleagues, bosses, and partners that may enlighten everyone. Understanding what makes us tick helps us collaborate better and more efficiently, and that’s just good business.

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