Friday, July 1, 2011

You're not my type

I'm an INTJ. Almost no one is my type.

I speak, of course, of that darling of the psuedosciences and manipulative management techniques, the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory. I first encountered Myers-Briggs as an undergraduate at Michigan Tech in the 1980s. At the time I was majoring in social sciences with a Science, Technology and Society concentration -- and within that concentration my focus was on technology and work. That meant taking a fair number of business courses as electives. If the school had been doing declared majors and minors at that point in time, I'd have described it as "major in STS with a minor in industrial sociology." Sort of.

In any case, one of the business professors was thoroughly enamored of Myers-Briggs. She loved it. Of course, this was the woman who was so good at what she did that when I made the mistake of taking her class on "leadership," a course that required massive amounts of teamwork and cooperation, I got to watch it splinter so badly that 20+ years later there are participants from that class who still aren't speaking to each other. I don't think we did the Myers-Briggs in class, just talked about it a lot and how it related to other tools and theories management can use to manipulate workers create a good working environment, like Maslow's hierarchy of needs. I didn't actually take the Myers Briggs until I went to counseling to talk through what I wanted to do after Tech: leap straight into the workplace or go to grad school. And, if grad school, which made the most sense: law school or going for a graduate degree in history or sociology?

I don't know if the Myers Briggs results influenced the grad school decision at all. I do know the conclusion that I was an INTJ who fell so far into the psychotic loner quadrant that it's amazing I ever emerge from my cave to interact with anyone didn't come as much of a shock. It's also not much of a surprise that I am at my happiest working at a task that allows me to work independently, no "team members" annoying me with their stunning incompetence, and that is relatively structured (i.e., clear beginning, process, and end).

I've been thinking about the Myers Briggs lately because I've been observing a co-worker slowly sliding over the edge into complete meltdown and possible padded room territory, and a lot of it comes down to a simple (and common) misunderstanding of human nature. We all on some level believe everyone else is just like us, and, when we hit reality, too often the explanations we come up for why people aren't behaving the way we think they should are just flatout wrong.

Now, I don't know if it would have made much of a difference to my crazy coworker if Large Nameless Agency had a halfway decent employee orientation or a better training program, but it certainly wouldn't have hurt if LNA did a few of the things some of my previous employers did, like subjecting all the peons to a session with Myers Briggs in the name of "team building." (Similar exercises at LNA are strictly voluntary, with a minuscule number of sessions offered considering what a humongous bureaucracy the agency is. The overall management philosophy when it comes to orienting people to either the agency or a specific job is more along the lines of "Let's toss you into the shark tank and see how fast you can learn to swim.") Dubious though I am about the principles underlying Myers Briggs, it is useful to have it hammered into you that everyone is Different: different cognitive styles, different things that motivate them, different responses to being around other people. Or, to put it in Myers Briggs jargon, different people have different preferences. Bottom line, if people don't behave the way you expect them to, don't take it personally.

If my crazy coworker had at some point encountered Myers Briggs, when she started with the journal she might have picked up on the fact that her new coworkers were not particularly social people: they're pleasant enough, they're friendly in an off-handed way, but they're not real big on getting together for lunch, gathering in a crowd around the coffee pot for idle chatter, or socializing much in general, and that they're like that with everyone. They're a rather reserved bunch overall. Considering that people tend to drift into occupations that match up with their emotional and cognitive needs, it's not surprising that people who work at a job -- copy editing, for example -- that requires working alone in a quiet space would tend to be more than a tad private.

Unfortunately, my coworker took it personally. She's one of those bubbly, highly social people who thrives on small talk and idle chitchat -- she doesn't want to just say a casual good morning and get on with work; she wants actual conversations. Even more unfortunately, she interpreted people's being rather off-handed in their social interactions, their lack of interest in lingering over the coffee pot, and their polite refusals to go bowling or get together outside the workplace as "they don't like me. They don't want me here."

It's bizarre. Even worse, it's become a self-fulfilling prophecy. She keeps reinforcing it. Because she thinks no one likes her, her behavior is getting stranger and stranger, so people want to spend even less time interacting with her. The less time people spend with her, the more convinced she becomes that not only do they not like her, there's an active campaign to get rid of her. The downward spiral continues. She sees plots and cabals where none exist, and the rest of us just kind of shake our heads in disbelief and contemplate the potential joys of teleworking so we would no longer have a ringside seat for weirdness.

Retirement's definitely looking better and better.


  1. Hey, that is me too. Long time since I did Myers Brigg but I recall the last time, I was so far over into the Intutive (29/30) that it finally dawned on my why the other science oriented people never had a clue where i was coming from. I made huge leaps and they had to plod along in a straight line.

    I like my own space to work independent of "teamwork". Baseball where I played my own position. Consulting where I do my own reports. I like knowing there are other people around and need people to recharge my batteries but that is about all. Is M-B available on line? I would love to take it again and see what is changed.

    Any possibility to sit down with the problem child and explain what you just wrote or have someone send he/she/it this blog anonymously? Or is it too late?

  2. "Teamwork" is highly overrated.

    While it's important to get along reasonably well with others, I've always been frustrated with working in a group. It seems there are always those who do nothing and expect the others to pick up the slack. Then everyone gets rated on the half-assed job that was completed by half the "team," and all get the same good or bad review, based on the work that was done by half of them. Half end up overworked and underpaid, and the other half ends up underworked and overpaid. So completely not fair.

    I'm all for consulting with others who have shown me that their ideas and contributions are valuable. I will reward their efforts and contributions with reasonable pay for their time and / or expertise.

    I hate the idea of being assigned to a "team" with a bunch of incompetent boobs who expect me to do the work for them.


My space, my rules: play nice and keep it on topic.