Chapter 4: Unraveling Our Personality
If you have anything really valuable to contribute to the world it will come through the expression of your own personality, that single spark of divinity that sets you off and makes you different from every other living creature. (Bruce Barton)
We’re all sitting in front of the TV. Excitement is mounting. It’s an international rugby test match. The scores are tied and we’re in the final moments of the game. Our winger receives the ball twenty metres out from the goal line. He swerves past one player, runs right over another and dives over the line just as the opposition fullback tackles him.
It’s a try! The game is won. Everyone in the room goes crazy and begins to celebrate. Tony jumps up in the air, punching the air with his fist. Sue screams with delight. Michael just sits there with a huge beaming and relieved smile, nodding his head in approval. Gemma strains her head to see the action replay, while Jeremy and Alan begin to talk excitedly about the lead-up to the try, analysing which players created the space to allow the giant winger to crash over in the corner.
Six people in the room. All ecstatic. Yet each exhibiting such different reactions to their favourite team winning a game. Such is the nature of being human and of the differences between varying personalities and temperaments. Indeed, simple occasions such as watching a rugby match, often highlight just how unique and different each of us are. As the Psalmist proclaims:
“Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God – you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvellously made!” (Psalm 139: 13-14, The Message).
The “inside” uniqueness the Psalmist is writing about has to do with more than just gifts, abilities and motivations. Personality and temperament features are also very much a part of the puzzle that is “me”.
So what is our personality and temperament? They are somewhat slippery terms and difficult to be precise. How hard they are to define is emphasised by the Oxford Concise Dictionary’s rather unsatisfactory answers – personality being “the combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character” while temperament is “a person’s nature with regard to the effect it has on their behaviour”.
Not only do we struggle to identify exactly what these terms describe, we also find it hard to distinguish between them. Are they essentially the same thing, or are they two related but separate elements of our nature? Some say one, some the other.
For our purposes, it doesn’t matter which theoretical position you support. All of us have a unique personality which is a result of both inherited and learned traits. It deeply shapes the way we perceive and respond to situations and other people.
In the popular press, psychology tests abound. Try doing an internet search and see how confused you can get!
There’s nothing new about analysing personalities. Hippocrates put together some ideas on the subject about 2,400 years ago. He was a Greek doctor and philosopher and after years of observing patients, noticed that although none of them were exactly the same, many of them behaved in similar ways in similar situations. He came up with four personality types and gave them names from four fluids in the body which he thought caused them – Melancholic (gloomy and pessimistic due to too much black bile); choleric (bad-tempered and controlling due to too much yellow bile), phlegmatic( calm and balanced because of having too much phlegm), sanguine (passionate and cheerful resulting from too much blood!).
Fortunately the body fluids explanation passed away, but the understanding that people could be “typed” according to preferred responses remained.
Over the years, there has been a proliferation of personality/temperament tests developed, some of which still group certain traits into personality types.
While personality researchers differ to some degree on the number of different personality traits we each have, currently there seems to be some consensus on five broad factors – each composed of a number of aspects.Personality traits (simply defined) offer insights into areas like a person’s tendency to be extraverted or not; the degree to which they are willing to accommodate others; their tendency to be structured or more flexible in their approach to organisation; their tendency to stick with what has worked in the past versus an openness to new ways of doing things; and, their emotional responses to demands and pressure.
The strength of any personality questionnaire is the self-understanding that develops from considering one’s preferences. All of the insights gained from this and more complex personality information have potential for helping us understand how we might fit within specific occupations, work settings, and teams.
The usefulness of personality related exercises depends on how accurately we see ourselves and our behaviour. It’s easy to fall into the trap of selecting certain preferences that are attractive to us because we don’t usually respond that way – but wish we did! For example, if you score more as an introvert, and tend to be reserved and less exuberant by nature, you may find yourself choosing to identify with high-energy, outgoing traits that are more associated with extraversion. The result, if you’re not careful, is that you fill out a personality indicator according to the type of person you would like to be, rather than the person you really are. For that reason it can be helpful to ask close friends or colleagues for their insights. These may either confirm or balance out your own understanding of your personal style.
Personality questionnaires are valuable only in as much as we use them to understand ourselves and one another rather than using them to create stereotypes.
It’s true that our personalities are relatively stable, but we are also constantly growing and developing. Not many of us fit the nice, clean categories described by the personality type approach. A little knowledge about ourselves can become a dangerous thing.
The same is just as true in how we see others. While we acknowledge our own uniqueness and recognise that we don’t fit precisely into certain patterns, we are sometimes reluctant to extend the same courtesy to others. It’s only too easy to put friends and acquaintances in one personality group or another, and then begin to define their behaviour and responses according to that pattern. There is nothing more destructive, and we all need to beware of this.
On the other hand, when it comes to understanding the people around you, knowledge of personality is helpful. You’ll become aware that the reactions of others and their ways of doing things may be different because of their uniqueness, not because they’re trying to make life difficult for you! This can enable you to “give them space” to be who they are. You can learn how to relate and work with them in ways that are consistent with their own style.
There is no “best” personality or personality type! This understanding is fundamental to the use of personality tests. Whatever personality type you identify yourself with will have some strengths and some limitations. My inclination to be decisive and assertive might be a God-given attribute, but if I do not learn to temper it with a consideration for others, it can become very destructive in any leadership I might undertake. Likewise, my inherently tolerant, considerate and peacemaking nature is a wonderful attribute for working with others, but it can easily lead to avoiding conflict. It may cause me to compromise when the right and loving response may well demand that I speak up and voice concern.
While there is no “best” personality type, in certain cultures (including organisational cultures) one trait may be more valued and socially desirable than another. We need to be aware of this, and be able to accept the traits we have whether or not they are considered desirable by the world around us. God has made us unique, and each personal style is a wonderful expression of God’s creativity.
See for example, V.J. Derlega; B.A. Winstead; & W.H. Jones, Personality: Contemporary theory and research (Chicago: Nelson-Hall Publishers, 1999).
While there are a number of appropriate personality questionnaires or inventories in this area, one widely used among career and human resource professionals is the Myers Brigg Type Indicator®. Because we know of many people who have benefited from using the MBTI and there are many resources readily available using this tool, we offer the following introduction.
Developed by Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother Katharine Cook Briggs, the MBTI® is based on the observations and theories of Carl Jung. There are a number of MBTI questionnaire forms available. They differ in length, according to their purpose.
Those completing the questionnaire are asked to choose between two possible preferences. As a result, they are assigned to one of sixteen different categories or types (these are made up from the letters representing each preference).
The MBTI revolves around four key considerations. They are:
How we are energised – is it primarily by interaction with others and activity (Extraversion) or is it mainly by the inner world of thoughts and reflection (Introversion)?
What we pay most attention to – do we focus on facts, data and reality (Sensing) or do we focus on possibilities and respond to hunches (iNtuition)?
How we make decisions – is it primarily through reasoning, analysing and trying to be objective (Thinking) or is it mainly by way of the more subjective and personal issues of values and feelings (Feeling)?
How we approach organisation – is it primarily through being organised, decisive and systematic (Judging) or is it a more flexible and spontaneous tendency (Perceptive)?
It’s Thursday night and the church worship team has just finished running through the songs for next Sunday’s services. Rose is rostered on as worship leader, a role that she enjoys. It is never a problem for her to find words to fill the gaps between songs, and her enthusiasm tends to lift others. The downside is that some nights she goes away from the practice wishing she hadn’t said quite so much, and sometimes she wishes she could be more like her friend Naomi who is on the keyboard. Naomi is an extremely thoughtful person – she plays the keyboard with such sensitivity. As a matter of fact, Rose would love to have talked to her about how she thought the practice went, except that Naomi was the first to leave. Truth is, Naomi is frequently the first to leave most social events. Rose can never understand this. She herself could go on for hours. In fact, why doesn’t she suggest they all go somewhere for coffee?
Meanwhile Will, Stu, Sarah and Steve are discussing how things are going at church with the music. Steve has just come back from a worship leaders’ workshop that the others couldn’t get to, and he is fizzing with ideas of new possibilities for the group. (In fact, he has some suggestions about a couple of new things they could try on Sunday.) He can see that these new possibilities could improve the way worship is done. Stu is immediately cautious. He thinks that Steve is never satisfied, always wanting to go on to something new and untried. Often these things seem little more than gimmicks, and Stu can’t see the point in changing a formula that already works well. This means that they can clash a bit – especially as Stu is the worship group’s representative on the church leadership team.
Will joins in the conversation. He likes the sound of what Steve is saying … and besides it’s never too late to change the plan. In fact, he thinks that sometimes they plan too much and would be better to go with the flow more in their services. Sarah, on the other hand, glances impatiently at her watch and makes the comment that it’s too late to go altering things. It’s the end of the practice and it’s all been decided on. Changing now will just frustrate her and everyone else.
Linda standing nearby picks up on some of the criticism being expressed, and adds her analysis of the music. She is focused on the task – who is doing what, what they could do different, how it could improve. Some of the others become tense as they listen. Will tries to smooth things over. He hates to see team members in conflict. For him it’s more important to preserve relationships and not hurt people’s feelings. He suggests that they shelve this for a while. Stu agrees, but knows the new conflict will remain an issue until they make time to discuss it further. He schedules a meeting for this purpose.
Having a preference for introversion (like Naomi) doesn’t mean that you don’t like people or are not sociable, but rather that you gain much of your energy from your “inner world”. Consequently, those who identify with this grouping find they require less contact with people than those with a preference for extraversion, before they reach a comfortable level of stimulation. Once beyond that, it is easy for them to feel overwhelmed, so they are more protective of how they spend their time and need “time-out” to restore their energy.
People with a tendency for extraversion (like Rose) thrive on contact with people. They are energised by their “outer” world. They enjoy being in the midst of social interaction and having lots to do. They are uncomfortable with long periods of time spent alone.
Many people while identifying with one or other of these preferences (introversion or extraversion), also show behaviours associated with the other at times.
The following summary may help to describe more what these preferences look like:
Energised by being with people Energised by having time to themselves
Tend to initiate interaction with others Tend to let others initiate interaction
Say what they are thinking as they are thinking it Think through what they want to say first
Have a lot of friends and acquaintances Prefer a smaller group of close friends
Become edgy if spending a lot of time alone Can be drained by a lot of time with others
Are happy to be the centre of attention Tend to avoid being the centre of attention
More likely to speak, less likely to listen Listen well, but reserved about own information
Like action Prefer to think and reflect about things
Are stimulated by interruptions Find interruptions disruptive
Enjoying having lots on their plate rather than little Prefer to have one thing happening at a time
One occasion when I was working with a leadership team, I remember gaining an unexpected and valuable insight from my understanding of personality type. At the time I was constantly feeling misunderstood by a woman on the team, even though she was a close friend. It all fell into place one day when I heard someone explain: “Extraverts talk in order to think, while introverts think in order to talk.”
Suddenly it dawned on me that this woman, who was an introvert, was taking everything I said quite seriously, even when I (an extravert) was just brainstorming ideas off the top of my head. More than that, she was getting upset that I was so indecisive and kept on changing my mind. I had to explain that I was just thinking out loud and needed help to clarify my thoughts. At the same time I began to see that when she spoke she had thought carefully about what she was saying, and needed to be taken more seriously than I had realised.
The sensing-intuition dichotomy reveals the types of information that we pay most attention to. This can lead to quite big differences in our day-to-day lives. People who have a preference for the sensing function (S) are very aware of sensory information – things they see and hear. They notice detail, and are good at both measuring and documenting what is around them. They are “hands-on” in their approach to things. Based on their experience they have developed an orderly approach to whatever they are doing, and they value the systems they have come up with. Just like Stu they have an appreciation for the accepted ways of doing things. Sometimes they need help to see “the big picture”.
In contrast, people with a preference for intuition (N) like abstract and theoretical information. They prefer to find out if there is a novel way of approaching a task and (like Steven) are not afraid to break with convention. They spend a lot of time thinking about the future and are “big picture” people. As a result they are sometimes vulnerable because of their low tolerance for details.
Sensing OR INtuition
Very practical with good common sense Inspirational, insightful, and innovative
Focus on accuracy Focus on creativity
Tend to think in terms of the present rather than future Prefer to think of the future
Very methodical when presenting information Present data in an innovative way
Base own practice on past experience Base own practice on inspiration
Identify details but may miss the “big picture” Identify the big picture but may miss details
Enjoy “hands-on” activities Enjoy thinking about ideas and possibilities
Prefer applied information Prefer theoretical information
Have a realistic approach Have an idealistic approach
Literal in expressing and receiving communication Figurative in speech, using lots of metaphors
I remember how much I loved writing essays in high school English classes, especially when having to identify ideas and themes in literature. This continues today in my preference for dealing with theoretical information, which is an aspect of a preference for intuition.
I have learned to enjoy the strengths of the intuitive style but also recognise some its limitations, and try to compensate for those. For example, some of those close to me with a preference for sensing, help me evaluate the practicality of some of my ideas and dreams without pouring cold water on them. That’s something I greatly appreciate.
The thinking (T) and feeling (F) dimension is about what people consider most when it comes to making decisions. Will has a preference for feeling – basing decisions on values, a willingness to provide warmth and nurture, and a focus on relationships. Sometimes this approach makes the person with a preference for feeling seem “easily influenced” because of their reluctance to upset others, and they may tend to try and avoid conflict – even when it may be quite constructive.
The person with a thinking preference, like Linda, values fairness over harmony. Thinkers can be outspoken and can be seen as coolly analytical rather than accepting by others. They are logical and objective in their approach to decision-making – a style which can be infuriating to their feeling friends, who tend to be more subjective in their approach. While thinking seems to best fit a male stereotype and feeling the female stereotype, it is not gender based. However this misapprehension may explain why men who prefer to base decisions on more subjective means, and women who are more logical and fair in their approach, feel as if they are moving against the current of people’s expectation.
Both the thinking and feeling approaches have positive contributions to make to the decision making process.
Thinking OR Feeling
The “flaw-finders” of life; can be quite critical Tend to be the “people-pleasers” of life
May seem insensitive and uncaring at times May seem easily influenced by others
Take an analytical approach to life Are sympathetic in their approach to life.
Justice and fairness are strong values Empathy and harmony are strong values.
Consider truth more important than tact Considers tact important
Enjoy developing ideas for data, structures, and things Enjoys developing ideas for people
Will give praise for results rather than effort Praises effort as well as results
Impartial; their head rules their heart Subjective; heart rules the head
Doesn’t shy from conflict; may invite it Takes conflict personally; tries to avoid it
Tend to be task-focused in a group Tend to be people-focused in groups
I have a preference for feeling – but have become quite comfortable with a thinking approach. When I am with strong “feeling” people I find myself taking a more “thinking” approach as if to balance this, and yet when I am with strong “thinking” people I am reminded that that is not my natural preference – though I do appreciate what a thinking approach offers. As I have got older, and especially with my studies, I have developed my “thinking” side more. However many of my ideas are about helping people to grow and learn – and that, I think, is the clue to my original preference.
The dimension of judging (J) and perceiving (P) focuses on how people approach organisation and planning. Those with a judging preference are very structured people who thrive on pre-planning and organisation (like Stu), and prefer when things are decided (like Sarah). They enjoy the satisfaction of completing a project, and follow through on their commitments well. Sometimes they can be so structured that they miss opportunities that come “out of the blue”.
People with a preference for perceiving enjoy the challenge of beginning a new project, but can lose interest quickly. The result can be a number of unfinished tasks. They enjoy leaving their options open in order to respond to late-breaking information (a tendency seen in Will). They are flexible, but are sometimes seen as unpredictable.
Judging OR Perceiving
Tend to plan ahead Prefer not to plan too much in advance
Use a “to-do” list and a diary and/or timetable If they use lists, they seldom tick off items
Are anxious until a decision is made, then they relax Anxious after decisions in case other options arise
Prefer to work at something before they play Try to make their work like play, or combine both
Feel great satisfaction when completing a task Experience satisfaction as a project commences
Keep to deadlines Deadlines are seen as negotiable
Prefer to make steady, regular inputs into projects End up doing a lot of work at the last minute
Like to have a tidy and organised work area Can tolerate less tidiness and obvious organisation
Can seem inflexible to suggested change Enjoy spur-of-the-moment, spontaneous events
Structured in their ways of doing things Are flexible in their approach to doing things
At one stage I was involved in the leadership of a rapidly expanding organisation. It presented me with a big challenge, and I had to learn some new ways of operating. In particular I found myself needing to have a much better organised diary and timetable, and to put more time into training others to perform delegated tasks. The whole assignment was something which I found quite stressful.
When during this period I did the MBTI for a second time, I discovered that my answers suggested that my natural P had turned into a J. On reflection, I realised that the mode I was having to operate in at that time was influencing my answers. What I learned was that although I can operate in a much more organised mode for significant periods of time, if this is unrelieved I get stressed. As a result, if work demands a lot of organisation and administration from me, I also need time to play in a much more spontaneous way to compensate. It’s good for us to learn to grow in ways we are not accustomed to, but not if we completely lose sight of how we have been put together. We can maintain balance by ensuring that different parts of our lives perform different functions.
While the people in the worship team story illustrate clear versions of the preferences, many of us may find that we present a more mixed picture of either – possibly changing according to different situations we are involved in.
However, most people are able to identify an approach they feel most comfortable with in each of the four dimensions. The combination of their preferences establishes their “type” (identified by each of the four letters of their preferences). For example, a person who prefers Extraversion, iNtuitive, Thinking and Judgement would be an ENTJ type.
The MBTI identifies sixteen possible combinations. The way the MBTI and other related resources develop these types, gives individuals some useful and quite specific information. While it is not our intention to attempt to unpack the types here, we recommend that you pursue some of the resources noted.
Many personality “type” questionnaires can be helpful. Nevertheless they make us quickly aware that none of us fits the mould one hundred percent. We are just too unique for that. The insights we can gain have the potential to help, but is also useful to remember the cautions we have outlined earlier in the chapter.
While it’s impossible to define exactly which careers fit particular types, understanding your preferences can be helpful in identifying job types, environments, and even team situations that are most likely to align with your strengths and preferences.
For more help see Allen L. Hammer Introduction to Type and Careers CPP or Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger, Do What You Are (Scribe Books, 2001). These offer help on interpreting your “type” for career-related issues.
What kinds of approach to spiritual development do different types find most beneficial? A lot of work has been done in this area, exploring the relationship between personality type and the ways we pray and express our spirituality. To investigate further we suggest you look at Soul Types by Sandra Krebs Hirsh and Jane A.G. Kise.
We’ve already mentioned that there is a lot of personality information available in books and the internet. Personality puzzles, tests and questionnaires that are so readily available tend to be less dependable in the information they offer. Even standardised tests differ in their ability to actually measure what they say they measure, and in the likelihood that the result you get today will be repeated on another occasion. If you are really serious about understanding how personality contributes to your SoulPurpose we recommend you seek professional advice.
When it comes to career and vocational issues a good place to start would be a career consultant or human resources professional who is qualified to administer and interpret personality questionnaires. In this way you are more likely to receive a balanced interpretation of how your personality may influence your preferences and options.
Last, but definitely not least - don’t allow the results of any personality questionnaire to dictate your future. It is not the whole truth about you. Use them as one source of information about who you are – not as the only source. Personality is just one aspect of our uniqueness and needs to be kept in perspective with the other aspects we have identified in this workbook section.
Our understanding of these four dimensions has been drawn from a number of resources, some of which are listed at the end of this chapter. Among those we can recommend you follow-up are: Jane A. G. Kise, David Stark, and Sandra Krebs Hirsch (1996) LifeKeys. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House; Renee Baron, (1998) What type am I? Discover who you really are. NewYork: Penguin; Sandra Krebs Hirsch and Jane A. G. Kise (1996) Work it Out: Clues for solving people problems at work. Palo Alto, CA: Davies-Black Publishing.
Some people get confused because they say “I operate differently at work than at home or in other contexts”. However, for the purposes of identifying type it is best to think about the person you are when you can just be “yourself”.
A structure for using this chapter personally
If you have access to some personality information about yourself like the MBTI, think about how your preferences may have influenced your past activities and work. Have another look at the information you came up with in the Autobiography exercise and look for evidence of aspects of your personality at work.
If you’re studying this material with others, you may like to get their feedback on the following possibilities.
1. How might my personal style affect:
The type of work I might be best suited for?
The kind of working relationships I might prefer?
2. Consider your present work or role. How does it allow you to make the most of your personality type? What opportunities does it offer for you to grow further, and to make a greater contribution?
3. Can you identify a particular limitation of your personal style that you could work on?
The MBTI® is well worth doing through a qualified test user. See the contact address below for more information.
The Keirsey Temperament Sorter is available online. It sorts people into one of four main temperaments – Guardians, Idealists, Artisans and Rational – as well as sixteen personality types.
For more information regarding the use of the MBTI® contact your local MBTI service provider. (For example, in New Zealand, NZAPT, PO Box b9842 Wellington.) The MBTI® is a registered trademark of Consulting Psychologists Press, Inc.
David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates, Please Understand Me (Prometheus Nemesis Books, 1984)
Sandra Hirsh and Jean Kummerow, Life Types (Warner Books, 1989)
Jane Kise, David Stark and Sandra Krebs Hirsh, Lifekeys (Bethany House Publishers, 1996).
Otto Kroeger and Janet M. Thuesen, Type Talk (Tilden Press, 1988)
Allen L. Hammer, Introduction to Type and Careers (Consulting Pyschologists Press)
Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger, Do What You Are (Scribe Books, 2001).
Sandra Krebs Hirsh and Jane A.G. Kise, Soul Types (Hyperion, 1998).
Sandra Krebs Hirsh and Jane A. G. Kise, Work it Out: Clues for solving people problems at work (Davies-Black Publishing, 1996).
Renee Baron, What type am I? Discover who you really are (Penguin, 1998).