This post is not about out-of-the-box thinking, but about how to keep clients and workshop participants from feeling like they’re being put in a box when introducing them to type models and using type instruments like the MBTI® instrument. Clients often resist type information because of the fear of being put in a box or ‘typecast’ by others. And perhaps the greater danger is limiting themselves by the box they create from the information.
We have a natural tendency to categorize and label. Like the young child with a dog who calls a cat ‘doggie’, we first learn the general characteristics of something, then we generalize them to similar things, than we begin to differentiate.
Set-Up or Getting Started
The way instruments and/or models are introduced can help mitigate the problem of people resisting the usefulness and value of the work being done. It can also make a huge difference in how people apply it to themselves to either "be in a box" or to use it to develop interpersonal agility. Here are just a few of things I use from The InterStrength Approach.
1. Introduce type as a self-discovery process not an instrument result. When you name a workshop name it for the application, not the instrument or model. When you use an instrument or model in coaching, focus on this as a tool to help meet the coaching goals.
2. Introduce type as a language to help them understand themselves and others and communicate about these differences in helpful ways.
3. Clarify the difference between the core self, the developed self, and the contextual self. I tell them that while we are working to get at the core self, who they are is the developed self. I create this as a graphic with concentric circles and post it so we can reference it frequently.
I use other graphics and tools such as plastic filters, shapes and shadows, presentation of both patterns and dynamics, Johari window and more, but if you do just the above things you will have great success in setting the stage for a very powerful session.
During the Session: Watch Your Language and Continue to Clarify
Through out the session try to use language that encourages thinking of the type preferences as processes. I have preferences for INTP, I am not an iNtuitor. I naturally prefer, and therefore privilege, information that is intuitive, abstract information using extraverted intuiting, AND I attend to a lot of Sensing information. Use language that says ‘preferences for…’. I know it is awkward at first, but if you are serious about keeping people out of the box, then it is worth the effort. And you don’t have to use it all the time. Once people are clear among themselves that it isn’t a box, you can use the shorthand. However, using nouns like Sensor or Feeler instead of gerunds (…ing) increases the likelihood of feeling put in a box. For example using ‘preference for Sensing’ rather than ‘Sensor’ keeps us mindful that these are mental processes, not types. When we make it a noun, it becomes a box! Jung described eight psychological types and conveniently named them by the process that predominated (extraverted Sensing types, introverted Sensing types, etc) However, he emphasized that these were stereotypes and that no one was a pure type. With all our years of using type, we can do better than that. We can avoid language that limits.
Also be sure to give them patterns to try on for size like essential qualities of Essential Motivators, Interaction Styles, or Whole Types using narrative descriptions or holistic graphics and themes. Give them all the descriptions to read, not just a report from an instrument with only very brief description. It also helps to show them the dynamic processes or polarities of the chosen model that show them ways they can shift and stretch beyond their natural preferences. And show them things they have in common with others so they can connect.
Keep Self-Discovery Going
As you move into the targeted application of using type keep self-discovery going. Encourage people to stay open. As you close the session encourage them to read other descriptions, get feedback from others, and continue to explore. Factor into the cost of the session a booklet for each participant that describes the other types and the dynamics. This way, they’ll know they are free to chose their best fit and have a tool to do so. This will be much more valuable than an extensive report that may not be their best fit or even if it is doesn’t show them how to shift perspectives and increase their interpersonal agility.
Note: As I’ve finished this I notice how much Directing language I’ve used instead of my more natural Informing preference. Maybe I've become more interpersonally agile. I’ll resist going back and making it more informing. So if you have feedback on that, please let me know.