All of the uproar about the Persona video coincides with the deadline for my preparation of a handout for my session at the British Association for Psychological Type (virtual) 2021 Conference (April 15-18). A lot has happened since I submitted the proposal entitled: “The Transformational Power of Type for Today and Tomorrow.” In retrospect, I realized that the criticisms put forth in the Persona video revolved around some real fears that people have and these fears are hardwired into us when a situation feels unsafe. Taking an instrument in a situation where results will be used for selection of any kind makes it reasonable that our fears rise up. Even in workshops in the workplace or in courses online, there are important safety issues that need addressing.
All of this occurs just as I participated in an online session on how neuroscience applied to facilitating workshops or webinars. This particular session pointed out that in a learning context people are hard wired to have some common concerns. This reminded me of David Rock’s model of the SCARF acronym for five primary needs we have and that we are hardwired to perceive threat before we perceive safety.
Status: Will I feel valued?
Certainty: How much is unknown?
Autonomy: How much control do I feel in this situation?
Relatedness: How connected do I feel to others?
Fairness: How equally will I be treated?
These responses to threat are some of the reasons many people are so against the MBTI® instrument and other assessments. And I will be brave enough to say, rightfully so. These instruments are not designed for selection as I’ve said before many times. Yet even if they are not used for job, role, or team selection, they can easily trigger other fears like how will this affect my status? What is this going to be about? How much control will I have in this situation? Will I be the odd person out? Will I be ostracized and treated unfairly?
So, how does the InterStrength™ Approach set a safe environment?
1. Status: We follow the principles of equal time and equal value. Descriptions of each pattern are portrayed positively, emphasizing valuable contributions of each. If we cover the downside of one pattern, we cover an equivalent downside for each of the patterns being tried on. Our certified practitioners are trained to become aware of their own biases against some of the patterns and to be sure to balance how they represent each pattern to be sure those biases don’t come through in what is presented to or conveyed to the client about the patterns. Examples are corrected for imbalance that would show up by status in the workplace and society. So the learner or client will see a level playing field and no differences in status.
2. Certainty: We provide an overview of where we are going and the purpose of our work with typology lenses. We let participants/clients know that they will be on a journey of self-discovery. If we sense insecurity about what that process will be like, we give more details. We use the graphics of the core self, developed self, and contextual self as well as one of different shapes with the same shadows. These and other framing experiences let them know more about the discovery process so they can feel more comfortable in knowing what the process is like and the impact it can have on their sense of well-being.
3. Autonomy: We put the control in the hands of the participants or clients. They ultimately decide what fits them. We rarely use an assessment tool other than one that involves self-discovery and tracking data points. Most of our work uses presentation of the patterns so people can try them on and see if they fit. This can be through video or in-person presentations using animated graphics as well as through providing full narrative descriptions, both in the first person and in the third person. We put them in the driving seat of their discovery process rather than having them give over the authority to an instrument or to the practitioner who tells them what type pattern fits them.
4. Relatedness: We all have belonging needs even if we tend to operate more independently when working with others or if we are by nature less social or gregarious. ‘Do I belong?’ is a question we unconsciously ask ourselves in very early childhood. Many of us know the pain of being the odd person out, maybe because we are in the minority or because we are a little quirky in our behavior, or just because we are the new kid on the block. Some of us have been seen as odd because of our personality differences, so how do we create an environment where we are going to explore personality differences and meet this threat?
In the InterStrength™ Approach, the same things we do for the status threat helps with the felt threat of being left out and not accepted. In addition we do our very best to be sure that we show how different patterns have things in common with other patterns so we do some exercises that help bring out those differences.
We also openly share stories as examples that send a message that we are all loveable and likeable. In my case, I share how much I didn’t feel like I fit in while I was growing up given my type preferences are not very mainstream for women, especially in the 1950’s. When others share their own stories of not feeling okay for who they are, some of the fears of not fitting in are lightened. In group work we do pair and share activities (dyads) early on and a lot of breaking out into groups to compare notes on the fit of different patterns. These smaller groups help build relationships.
5. Fairness: Fairness is shown is how we are very clear to not privilege one type pattern over another. This shows up by giving equal time to debriefing breakout groups as much as possible as well as in the ways we deal with the status issue. Most importantly, we emphasize that our work with type patterns is NEVER to be used for selection. Type information and awareness helps us recognize what energizes us. It is not about what we can do well. We are focused on helping people own their own power so they can develop the self-awareness and self-management that helps them recognize the value of their own contributions.
Some of the guiding principles (aka rules) of the InterStrength™ Approach are aimed at safety.
Do not do ‘test-and-tell’. It is always a discovery journey.
If you use an instrument, give the results as a data point after you have them try on the patterns of the lens you are using. The instrument results given at the end of the discovery process can help them either confirm their best fit or have them look at other patterns they have not yet considered.
Provide narrative descriptions of all the patterns so they can continue their journey on their own. We find first person descriptions based on interviews with people of each type are really helpful.
Provide some short descriptions as well for those who are inclined to avoid the longer one-page descriptions.
Know the theory and models well enough that you can begin to identify the patterns so you can suggest other patterns for clients to explore.
Know yourself and your own biases so you can get them out of the way. If they do show up, correct them on the spot and own up to them.
There are more principles, but I hope this gives you some ideas of how to create a safe environment for self-discovery. And when critiques of the MBTI or personality theories come up, you can assure others that the practices you follow are safe. For many, this self-discovery process leads to a deeper understanding of ourselves and others that no instrument alone can provide.