Using the MBTI in Everyday Life: Understanding Conflict
A disagreement at work, today, took me by surprise. Myself, two co-workers, and the founder of the company found ourselves at a small home that the company wants to flip. The house sits in a relatively quiet residential neighborhood with only street parking. While I locked the red front door, my co-workers finished loading a washing machine and a dryer onto the trailer.
Suddenly, a gray haired man stepped into the street and asked, “Who owns the white Ford F-250 parked in front of my house?” I stood too far away to answer and I figured Bob, the co-worker who owned the truck, would respond. When no one said anything, the older man stated snarkily, and with increased volume, “Is no one going to answer me? Do one of you own this truck? It’s blocking the street.”
In Bob’s position, I would have offered a cursory, meaningless apology and calmly stated that we planned to leave momentarily. Deflect and move on. Bob’s truck really didn’t block the road – a box truck passed with ease a couple minutes later – but arguments reek of inefficiency. And, honestly, I could understand if the homeowner didn’t want Bob’s truck in his parking area.
My co-worker’s heated response surprised me, “Yeah, it’s mine. Do you want me to park in your yard next time?” A few more words traded from Bob to the local before the old man went on his way. When I walked down to the trailer, I found it even more perplexing that both men agreed with Bob. I at least expected Allen, the founder of the company, to chastise Bob for not being more political with potential customers.
A couple seconds later, it came to me. I work for a construction company full of individuals who must use tools on a daily basis to conquer the real problem set before them. The three men before me, two carpenters and an entrepreneur, were all SPs.
Let me explain. In Please Understand Me II, David Keirsey explains how we can define each temperament by looking at how each one values or uses the three tools that, I believe, put humanity at the top of the food chain: community, tool usage, and communication. On one axis, he suggests that, while a well rounded personality uses all items at their disposal, most favor either a more tool oriented, utilitarian philosophy or a more community oriented, cooperative philosophy. On the other axis, he contrasts the different ways in which sensing types and intuitive types communicate. Sensing types prefer a more concrete, factual, and present language, while intuitive types bathe in the abstract questions, theories, and imaginings of the future. This gives us the Concrete Cooperative SJs, the Concrete Utilitarian SPs, the Abstract Cooperative NFs, and the Abstract Utilitarian NTs.
Keirsey goes on to describe how each of these different strengths and values create different intellectual mindsets in each temperament. SJs excel at logistics. Logistics require a focus on the immediate physical needs of a community and making sure that the stores are stocked and the tools maintained so that people in their community never go without. NFs excel at diplomacy. With their abstract vision, they place themselves in the shoes of others and can reach an unmatched level of empathy. SPs best all challengers at tactics. They can drive, play, move, work, etc. anything they enjoy. SPs own the action words. NTs master strategy. We see the world as a giant chess board with pieces we need to move here or there in order achieve a greater level of efficiency or a cunning victory.
A community needs all four forms of intelligence to succeed, and even an individual will need to perform in his or her weaker fields from time to time. In this case, we don’t treat all of the other areas equally. For example, as an ENTP, I love tasks that challenge my strategic intellect. Sid Meier’s Civilization series has taken many hours from my life. However, I show some ability at diplomacy and tactics. I share abstract communication with the diplomatic NFs. Thus, I can put myself in the place of the angry old man even if I never truly empathize. I share a utilitarian focus with the SPs. While I will never quite match their athleticism or hand-eye coordination, I think rationally and accomplish logical goals. Thus, I have had a very successful first year as a carpenter’s helper. I have nothing in common with the SJs and I find their logistics mentally exhausting. I find cleaning and routine maintenance mind-numbing. I did my taxes last weekend and it felt like having a tooth pulled. I find it so hard to update my resume and scour the internet for writing jobs because the whole exercise feels like an inefficient colossal waste of time.
So back to our SP carpenter. As much as I don’t do logistics, he feels the same way about diplomacy. They find it incredibly difficult to see something from someone else’s point of view. Only their goals and their own sense of pleasure matter. Bob only saw an extroverted judging type trying to gum up the works, trying to keep him from performing his utilitarian task. This made him angry in the same way I rage about paperwork and the mindless job search.
However, the SP lack of diplomacy isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The SP is the “beachmaster” personality. During World War II, the beachmaster had to make split decisions about manpower and weapons, whether to advance or pull back, whether to bring up the tanks or push them out of the way and into the sea. SPs become our EMTs, our firefighters, our soldiers. In those moments, seconds mean the difference between life and death. They may not always think to make the best decision, but any decision is a good one. If the SP had to consider how everyone felt in those moments, they couldn’t do their jobs. We need someone there to take action when others can’t or won’t.
Bob may not have made the best decision with his response to the stranger, but a closer look at personality shows the complexity of our daily interactions.