Chapter 3: Different personality types
People have different personality types. This will cause differences in communication styles, but also causes more fundamental differences in what people want and how people think. It’s no surprise that if people see the world in different ways, they will communicate about it in different ways.
Personality tests are fun and informative when used to explore different personality types. Are you an ENFP? A Random Gentle Love Master? An Enneatype 7?1 There are hundreds of personality tests out there; have some fun taking them with your partners and friends and discuss your results. These tests are often either eerily accurate or extremely off the mark; either way, they can provide good insight into the personalities of those with whom you interact on a regular basis.
Pace’s Story: It Might Be Nice to See a Movie on Sunday
I’m a P on the Myers-Briggs test.2 I’m so P I always score almost entirely P and very little J (the opposite of P). P stands for “Perceiving” and J stands for “Judging,” as in analyzing. P people see the world as a sea of possibilities and are often said to have their heads in the clouds. J people deal with reality instead of possibility and are often said to have their feet on the ground. P people like to have things open and flexible, whereas J people like to have things settled and decided.
My ex-girlfriend Tessa is a J. This caused many communication problems for us. In one of our phone conversations, I said, “It might be nice to see a movie on Sunday.” She heard, “We now have plans to see a movie on Sunday at 2:00.” I forgot about it, since in my perception we hadn’t finalized any plans. When I heard a knock at the door on Sunday at 2:00 I was surprised and confused. I wondered who it could be, since I wasn’t expecting anyone. Lo and behold, it was Tessa! She was ready to go and upset to find me still unshowered and in my pajamas. Mayhem ensued.
When we first talked about possible movie plans, I was talking about flexible possibilities, but she was hearing settled realities. In a conversation, each person filters things through their own personal worldview. What one person intends may be very different from what the other person hears.
After Tessa and I figured out what had happened, we learned to make allowances for each other. She tried to remember that sometimes I talk in hypotheticals and I tried to remember that she’s more comfortable dealing with decided plans than with a slew of possibilities.
To help avoid this communication problem in the future, I added more qualifiers when talking about ideas rather than actualities: “It would maybe possibly be nice to see a movie on Sunday, or perhaps some other time instead.” These additional possibility words helped Tessa realize that I was speaking hypothetically, whereas a single possibility word might have been silently gobbled up by her J-filter.
Another thing that can be fun to do with personality tests is to read summaries of the strengths and weaknesses of each personality type. Pay particular attention to the strengths of personality types that differ from yours. If you can see the good side of a personality trait that has vexed you in the past, your interactions with everyone who has that personality trait will improve because you’ll be interacting with them out of respect and understanding rather than annoyance.
Everyone has a unique personality. Even two people with the same personality type will have different likes, dislikes, issues, feelings, emotions, and lives. Awareness of these amazing differences bolsters our communication and makes us kinder and more compassionate. Also, appreciating people’s differences helps us avoid the usual error!
1. ENFP is from the Myers-Briggs test (www.myersbriggs.org), Random Gentle Love Master is from the OKCupid Dating Persona Test (www.okcupid.com), and Enneatype 7 is from the Enneagram Personality Type Indicator (www.enneagraminstitute.com).
2. A good book on Myers-Briggs personality types is Please Understand Me, An Essay on Temperament Styles by David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates.