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Have you recently tried to help a loved one feeling stressed, yet everything you did only seemed to make it worse?
Are your household members seriously getting on each other’s last remaining unfrayed nerve?
Are others in your family or circle of friends not coping with the coronavirus crisis in the ways you think they should?
If you are nodding emphatically with any of these questions, you’re in good company. It really is okay that you’re not okay. Can we all agree to retire the need to be “fine” right now? All of us are confronting challenges for which few of us are accustomed. It is well past time to recalibrate our high expectations and instead focus on the more modestly herculean task of keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe and moderately sane.
With the constantly unfolding coronavirus crisis, new sources of family tensions (along with any unhealed old ones) may be breeding like bacteria in a petri dish. How each of us responds to the stressors of this pandemic — on top of other challenges we were already facing — could mean the difference between a relatively calm household and all-out war.
And for Global Healthy Living Foundation and CreakyJoints members managing a chronic illness — which, for many people, already feels like a full-time commitment — along with juggling family needs, the threat of this virus can feel like the precariously dangling boulder about to break the proverbial camel’s back.
How Personality Drives Coping Behaviors and Habits
If you notice that your normally decent coping skills have flown the coop, know you’re not remotely alone. With so much uncertainly and fear permeating our world lately, it’s a natural human reaction.
But I’m here with some good news (maybe for a change).
When it comes to how we respond to situations — even a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic — each of us has our own personality styles. These play a vital role in influencing our preferences, coping behaviors, and habits.
In their book about personality types, I’m Not Crazy, I’m Just Not You, authors Roger R. Pearman and Sarah C. Albritton detail how the more clearly you understand your and others’ personality style preferences — and differing needs — the better equipped you’ll be to respond and not overreact.
When you’re bothered by someone in your workplace or community, you may be able to avoid that individual and insulate yourself from conflict. But this strategy won’t work well for long if you share the same roof — especially if you may be under that roof together for a who-knows-how-long period of time.
Understanding personality type gives you a framework to see how other peoples’ behaviors may not be your *own* preferred way, but they are no less valid.
As you learn to appreciate another’s style differences, you’re less likely to experience that person as “frustrating” or “wrong.” Whether the family issue is managing time, approaches to schoolwork or child-rearing, decision making, household rules, or creating fun time, knowing each other’s personality style preferences can help family members more peaceably coexist.
As an international leadership trainer and professional coach, I credit understanding personality styles for my 22-year marriage and successful personal and work relationships. For over three decades I have used various personality type assessments with my clients for self-development, problem solving, relationship counseling, and leadership development.
Needless to say, we can all become more self-aware, more flexible with other people’s personality styles, and significantly less stressed when we have a deeper understanding of our own and others’ personality style preferences.
Myers-Briggs and a Short History of Personality Type Psychology
The concept of personality type was developed by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961). Furthering the theme of personality preferences, Katharine Cook Briggs (1875-1968) and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers (1897-1980) created the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator as an instrument to understand normal personality differences.
Psychological type is a holistic model of human beings, accounting for some of the differing ways we each cope and adapt. Remember, personality styles assessments (MBTI, DiSC, True Colors, Kiersey, etc.) are never intended to measure everything, account for all existing problems, assess competency, or stereotype others. Every human being is a blend of personality styles, neither good nor bad. Each of us uses a mix of styles in varying situations. Yet like being right or left-handed, most people have a preference or tendency for certain personality styles over others.
While there are multiple types of personality assessments, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is one of the world’s most popular personality tools, backed by 75 years of continually updated research. Additionally, it has been used by more than 88 percent of Fortune 500 companies in 115 countries, and it is available in 29 languages. I have been a certified Myers-Briggs practitioner for the past 30 years.
Undoubtedly, building an understanding of your own and others’ preferences, strengths, and blind spots is valuable in tackling challenges such as communication, handling conflicts, and managing change in the face of uncertainty. I believe it can be especially valuable right now when there is so much change and uncertainty occurring in our daily lives.
The 4 Myers-Briggs Scales of Personality Preferences
1. Outer World or Inner World: Where Do You Like to Focus? Where Do You Get Energy?
Extraversion Style Preference (E)
- Are you someone who enjoys initiating social interactions with other people and participating in group activities, organizing group video chats to stay connected during this time of home quarantine?
- Do you prefer to communicate and problem-solve by talking things through?
- Do others describe you as sociable, participative, and expressive?
Note: Extravert does not mean talkative or loud.
Introversion Style Preference (I)
- Do you prefer directing your energy and attention inward and get energized when reflecting on your own thoughts, feelings, etc.?
- Would you rather communicate in writing or after more time for reflection?
- Do you find yourself saying “I need to think about this?”
- Do others describe you as private, calm, succinct, or contained?
Note: Introvert does not mean shy or inhibited.
2. Basic Information or Interpretation/Making Meaning: How Do You Prefer to Take in Information?
Sensing Style Preference (S)
- Are you generally attuned to practical realities and highly observant?
- Would you rather focus on what is real, actual, and familiar? “Just tell me the pandemic facts and skip the editorials please.”
- Do others describe you as realistic, factual and concrete?
Intuition Style Preference (N)
- Are you more inclined to focus on the big picture, relationships, future possibilities?
- Do you tend to trust your hunches? “My gut about COVID-19 tells me…”
- Do others describe you as imaginative, verbally creative, intuitive?
3. How Do You Prefer to Make Decisions?
Thinking Style Preference (T)
- Do you prefer to use logic and objective standards when making decisions? “Is this news statement logical?”
- Is your preferred style critiquing and analyzing when you’re faced with a current problem?
- Have others described you as critical, logical, or “tough-minded”?
Feeling Style Preference (F)
- Do you prefer to use empathy and compassion when making decisions? “Will more people be hurt?”
- Is your preferred style to assess impacts of decisions on people, striving for harmony and positive interactions?
- Have others described you as accommodating, appreciative, or “tenderhearted”?
Note: Feeling does not mean emotional.
4. How Do You Deal with the Outer World?
Judging Style Preference (J)
- Do you prefer to live in a planned, structured, orderly manner? Have others described you as “controlling”?
- Would you rather make decisions, come to closure and move on? “I’ve made up my mind; case closed.”
- Do you like having routines, as well as making and following organized schedules and plans?
Note: Judging does not mean judgmental.
Perceiving Style Preference (P)
- Do you prefer to live in a flexible, spontaneous way, without trying to control things?
- Are detailed plans and final decisions confining?
- Do you prefer to stay open to new options and information as long as possible? “Let’s wait and see.”
- Do others describe you as flexible, spontaneous, open-ended?
Note: Perceiving does not mean perceptive.
The Myers-Briggs assessments yield 16 possible personality types, based on interactions between these four scales — for example, ENFJ means a combination of Extraversion Style, Intuition Style, Feeling Style, and Judging style. ISTJ means a combination of Introversion style, Sensing Style, Thinking Style, and Perceiving Style. You can read more about these combinations and find out how to get tested at myersbriggs.org.
How to Use Your MBTI to Cope Better with Coronavirus Stress
Know your personality style preferences — and your triggers
Some of my clients report their way of dealing with the current coronavirus stress is through a home-organizing obsession bordering on fanatical, even to the degree of irritating family members. Judging styles especially want a sense of control and order, whereas Perceiving styles tend to be more relaxed about quickly getting things done.
Like many strong extraverts, I deal best with stress by talking my thoughts out loud, then thinking, then talking some more. More than once, this “thinking out loud” style has frustrated a more introverted loved one who wants to shout, “Get to the point, Shoshanna!” Alternatively, someone with a strong preference for Introversion will likely want time to think and reflect on stressors prior to discussing them.
For Sensing styles, managing stress may come through keeping apprised of the latest data and statistics, while pursuing activities grounded in specific and concrete steps. More Intuition-based styles may find the onslaught of daily news overwhelming and instead prefer to focus on the bigger picture and future possibilities.
Whatever your preferred personality styles are, if you don’t know your hot buttons and the myriad of ways your styles can collide with those of others, misunderstandings leading to conflict likely will occur.
Keep a log
What annoys you about someone else’s behavior? How might personality style differences be an influence? For example: You or a loved one may need more quiet space, a more empathetic listening ear, or more time to make a decision.
Ask yourself, “What am I not noticing about myself and my preferred styles?” For example, my strong extraversion preference for participating in big virtual Zoom events with friends doesn’t necessarily thrill my more introverted partner. I’ve learned to understand that it doesn’t mean he is anti-social if he’d rather read a book or watch a film than Zoom with me.
Identify your self-soothers
Think about, what brings you some relaxation or comfort? Make sure to respect that your loved ones’ self-soothing activities may be very different from yours.
For example, Sensing styles might prefer to focus on familiar and concrete activities, whereas Intuition styles may enjoy imaginative activities, such as daydreaming time or creating a vision collage. Extraverts might prefer attending a virtual group yoga class or joining an animated virtual book club, whereas introverts often choose to recharge by going inside themselves, drawing or journaling ideas from their rich inner world of thoughts.
Practice the power of pause during potentially stressful moments
This may come more naturally for introverts, but is equally important for extraverts, particularly during difficult times.
When you feel upset or annoyed, employ the 3 Cs
Catch it: Notice what you’re thinking and feeling with self-awareness and empathy. Remember, negativity screams while empathy whispers. This coronavirus crisis has created the perfect storm of stressors that will only continue to amplify if we don’t lean in to new learning and adaptive behaviors.
Challenge it: Do a reality check: Is what I’m telling myself factual or simply my perspective? Would it help to hear different points of view? Hint: It usually does.
Change it: Exercise your choice muscle. If you notice you’re annoyed by your partner, look for ways you can improve the situation externally (through honest dialogue) and/or internally (by reframing the story you tell yourself).
How Different Myers-Briggs Styles Can Support Each Other
Pay attention to personality style differences in your household and work to accommodate them. Practicing behaviors from your non-preferred style has demonstrable payoffs. Here are some examples:
Having Family Meetings/Virtual Gatherings
Consider how to include everyone in the household during family time. Ensure that everyone is heard and their styles are respected. For example, if your home includes both the Judging (prefer structure) and Perceiving (prefer flexibility) styles, you might decide to schedule a slot of two hours a week for family time but wait to decide the specific activities until that day.
Giving Feedback to Each Other
Strong Judging styles (like myself) can tend toward micromanaging, being overly critical and blunt. When dealing with Perceiving styles, these “J” behaviors can create misunderstandings and hurt feelings. At the same time, Perceiving styles can flex their style to support the Judging styles preference for more structure and routine.
Sensing styles prefer directness and details, so Intuition styles can offer others more explicit input while Sensing styles can offer Intuition styles space to be imaginative and big-picture focused.
Talking Out Loud
In a household with Extraversion styles, Introversion styles can offer more spoken appreciation, whereas extraverts may want to support quiet spaces for introverts as often as possible. In order to set healthy boundaries, you may need to grant Introversion styles more space.
Feeling styles tend to worry for everyone and want to smooth things over, but this default isn’t always helpful if conflicts need to be addressed. Run-away empathy can lead to bad decisions. Thinking styles may want to quickly fix things, forgetting that for Feeling styles, feelings are facts too. One client told me, “With my strong Thinking style preference, I can see I’m often the conflict catalyst because I like to play the devil’s advocate.”
As you take steps to understand the various personality styles in your life, remember to communicate honestly starting with deep listening (especially important for us more talkative extraverts to remember). The safer someone feels, the better they listen. If you don’t talk it out well, you’ll act it out poorly.
Finally, whatever your personality style preferences, choose to be positively contagious. Spread gratitude to others, as such is a healthy contagion.
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