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A Failure to Communicate - Myers-Briggs MBTI to the Rescue [50]

Updated on April 25, 2015

FOR THOSE OF YOU EXPECTANTLY expectantly waiting on the edge of your seat for another hard-hitting, fact-laden, logically indestructible diatribe against some new or old Conservative assault on us poor Progressives this writer is famous for (if you haven't read me, you should ... who said that?), your going to be sorely disappointed. Instead, I am going to wander off into some territory I haven't visited for awhile to have a little intellectual fun, at least for INTP's like me. So Conservatives, read on, you might even enjoy this one :-).

This hub springs from a very short conversation I recently had with my wife; I made an observation and she made an unexpected response. What follows are my research and thoughts coming from this brief exchange which delves into how different personality types lead to simple and sometimes not so simple miscommunication between two intelligent people.

11/24/14: ADDENDUM - Just to give you a taste of things to come. We just saw on CNN's HLN a report of this "miracle" one-handed catch for a touchdown by a New York Giant's rookie Odell Beckham Jr's: a beautiful thing to watch. My Intuitive response was "I bet he will get a bonus for that!" and my wife's Sensor response was "We don't know that".



The Miscommunication

RECENTLY, on our way home from the Jacksonville, FL airport, I turned West onto Interstate 10 where we noticed construction was STILL going on after two years with no apparent end in sight to the project. I commented to my wife, "I wonder if they will ever finish this in our lifetime?". Now, from my point of view this was simply an amusing rhetorical question not really requiring an answer or maybe just a derisive "hurmmph".

Instead, my wife responded, very seriously, "Well, it depends. If we die tomorrow, then probably not. If we die in a couple of months, maybe. If we die in a couple of years, then yes, they probably will be finished in our lifetime." That, as you might guess, left me pondering. She is right of course, but if you have read many of my hubs, you will know that I am an INTP (introverted, intuitive, thinking, perceiver) and that means I ponder things. So I started pondering why my wife didn't perceive that my statement was simply a piece of sarcasm about how slow the construction was going rather than a serious question.


OFTEN underlying simple questions like this are more complex insights which, if my dilemma can be resolved, might provide a framework for understanding a much larger set of communication problems. For this hub, I don't intend to go to deeply into this but just keep it light and fun for I am sure others have tackled this in a more intelligent and serious manner.

Here, I turn to my favorite standby, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) which, if you want more detailed information, is the subject of another hub of mine, "How To Develop Your Own Personality...". But, if you don't mind a little simplicity, here is a brief synopsis. Myers and Briggs (sisters, Briggs is an INFP), based on work from Karl Jung, conducted research that concluded our personality can be described by looking at four distinct, yet interconnected facets:

  • Attitude - Extravert/Introvert; whether we operate in the External world of people or the Internal world of our own mind
  • Perceiving - Sensing/INtuitive; how we gather information, whether it is strictly through our five senses and the links between information is clear and concrete or whether the information is more abstract in nature, where current data may be linked with something remembered, either consciously or unconsciously (those eureka moments).
  • Judging - Feeling/Thinking; how we come to rational decisions, be it more toward the empathetic, balanced, consensus view or the logical, causal, consistent, rule-based approach.
  • Lifestyle - Judgment/Perception; when dealing with other people, this is how you prefer to show yourself, either as Judger, i.e., decision making Feeling/Thinking type or a Perceiver, i.e., information gathering Sensing/INtuitive type.

For this little musing, the two characteristics that come into play are the S, Sensing and J, Judging functions for my wife and the N, Intuitive and P, Perceptive functions for me.

NPs live in a world of theory and ideas, we wonder a lot, we cogitate (the N-type). It is rare that something is final with us, there is always more information to be had or knowledge to gain (the P-type)that may change the answer, open a new door, lead us down a different, more exciting pathway. Therefore, it is not surprising that upon seeing the construction still going on after what seemed like forever, I started considering what they had left to do and how long it was going to take them, which, in turn led to my sarcasm.

SJs, on the other hand, live in a world of concrete certainty; no ifs, ands or buts for a SJ, that is for sure. If a SJ can't touch, feel, see, hear, or taste it, it doesn't exist (the S-type). At the same time, SJs are trustworthy, dedicated, loyal, and have a tremendous respect for facts, not theory (the J-type). When you combine these two traits, it is easy to see, for an NP anyway, why my wife's totally rational response should not have surprised me as it did.

Looking back then, doesn't "I wonder if they will ever finish this in our lifetime?" sound a little NPish and doesn't "Well, it depends. If we die tomorrow, then probably not. If we die in a couple of months, maybe. If we die in a couple of years, then yes, they probably will be finished in our lifetime." clearly sound like a SJ?

Expanding the View a Bit

What if my wife had been an INTP as well, just think how much differently that conversation might have gone? Most likely, it wouldn't have ended with my wife's observation, in fact, she probably wouldn't have said it the first place; rather, we would probably have analyzed it all of the way home. What if I had been an ISTJ? I doubt that I would have said what I did either and I wouldn't be writing this hub.

But my point, of course, is that all of us are different, within our own skin, from everybody else. We aren't trying to be difficult, not at all. Its just that each of us interpret the inputs that our senses provide our brains in different ways and come to sometimes opposite conclusions even though similar mental processes are used on the same set of inputs. Does this sound familiar? It can drive a person crazy sometimes or maybe lead to a stalemate in Congress, don't you see.

Why? I suspect some of the reason is due to how we are physically wired, such as whether you naturally gather and process information externally through the senses (S) or internally via intuition (N). A lot, however, is environmental, i.e., your life experiences that filter the inputs you receive. Whatever the reasons, the impact on interpersonal relationships would seem to be profound!

Getting Along


Getting Along

SO, what does all that gobble-d-gook mean, it means if you want to lower your stress level a bit when dealing with other people, take the time to try to understand how they perceive the world. This is the counterpart to my conclusion in hub on "How Do You Change Your Personality?", Know Thyself First.

  • Determine if they are comfortable around people and groups or would rather be alone (E/I)
  • See if you can tell if they are from the "Show me State" or have flashes of insight (S//N)
  • Watch how they come to conclusions, is it logical or people oriented? (T/F)
  • Figure out if they are the type that like to get things done now or would rather let it wait awhile (J/P)
  • Read a little on what these various combinations tell you about how a person might react in certain situations.

In one management course I had many years ago, a nifty little anecdote was related to the class about a worker who learned how approach his boss with new ideas. It wasn't that his boss was unapproachable and against change, although at first blush, it may seem like it. What the employee learned to do was gird his loins, go into his boss' office and lay out his idea. After being soundly deflated with reasons why this was the stupidest idea of all time, he left. A week or so later, he would approach his boss and bring it up again; now his boss was ready to sit down and listen. What the worker had learned is that his boss needed time to mull things over even though he was extremely opposed being asked to change coupled with an inability to express his objections nicely. Now, I overstated, well my instructor did, the boss' reaction a bit, but apparently it still wasn't pleasant.  What the employee learned about his boss is that he wasn't against new ideas at all, he actually embarrasses them.  What the boss wasn't able to do, I am thinking he was an ISTJ-type, was process information on the fly, he simply needed time for it to sink in.

Now think of how 99% of employees would react in a situation like this, my bet would be they would stop offering ideas. But our stalwart worker knew better.  He took what his boss initially said with a grain of salt and came back knowing he would get a fair review of his proposal later. Granted, this is an extreme example and may or may not be true, teachers have a lot of latitude that way I guess, but it hopefully illustrates the point. I have a general idea of what drives my wife (you really never know, do you) and I knew, after my initial shock, that she was being honest and serious and not sarcastic; she simply saw it that way which was no less valid than the commentary I was making.

So, the moral is, besides knowing thyself, know thy opponent as well.


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    • My Esoteric profile imageAUTHOR

      Scott Belford 

      7 years ago from Keystone Heights, FL

      Thanks, PHDast, it is interesting, isn't it. I made my decision to hire my Director of Accounting based on Myers-Briggs a few months ago; we felt the two remaining candidates had equal, yet different, talents to offer otherwise.

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      7 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Excellent Hub, laid out nicely and with great examples, clearly explained. I have been a fan of Myers Briggs for 25 years. The college I attended gave me a battery of tests that the end of my sophomore year and one of them was Myers-Briggs. Understanding the various types and combinations has been very helpful to me especially in my career.

      I am an Air Force brat, teach college history, and several of my Hubs (only 15 so far) focus on the concentration camp system the Nazis built during World War II.

    • My Esoteric profile imageAUTHOR

      Scott Belford 

      8 years ago from Keystone Heights, FL

      Thank you for your vote, Ms Dee, I appreciate it.

    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 

      8 years ago from Texas, USA

      Great examples! People sure are different :). Voted Up!


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