I’m a big fan of using the MBTI in team context to help people understand themselves and team dynamics better. In my experience it always aids in communication and the J’s and P’s end the day laughing about their differences. Recently though, I was faced with a situation where two co-workers just do not get along. Due to the nature of their work they have to work closely together. The underlying tension is affecting the whole team. They are both female, one verified her type as ESTP (slight preference on E as well as T), the other verified her type as ESFJ (slight preference on Feeling). (In both cases their reported and verified types were the same – they were in agreement with their reports). I would really appreciate some guidance on this issue.

This sounds like an uncomfortable situation which could escalate to create a toxic environment if it is not resolved. While I empathize with the challenges of this situation, it feels unethical to make a definitive statement from such a brief description. I will speak briefly from a theoretical perspective which may in fact have very little to do with the reality of the situation. Please use anything that makes sense and leave behind what you know does not apply.

Through the lens of temperament:
These two people have different temperament types. The SJ temperament may predispose the woman with the ESFJ type to want to obey the laws, respect authority and the rights of the others and prefer what has been traditionally done in the past.

The woman with the ESTP preferences falls within the SP temperament. Those with this temperament type are motivated to be where the action is and value being spontaneous and flexible. Sometimes their style resembles “Ready Fire Aim” and can easily conflict with the “Ready Steady Aim and then Fire” style of the SJ.

Depending on the type of work that these two are working on this can have greater or lesser effect. The SJ frustrated with the “cowboy” approach of the SP which they see as affecting issues of quality and the SP feeling held back when they could be getting on with it and correcting as they move forward gaining new and important information as they go.

Through the lens of the T/F differences
Those with a preference for Thinking can be intimidating to others because things are so clear and the logical rational decision making preference can seem cold and unyielding. On the other hand those with a preference for Feeling can seem soft and dithering to Thinking types.

The context of the work being done has an impact as well. People who are working in a therapeutic environment may have a greater need to bring empathy into play in the workplace than a very traditional workplace environment.

Fostering appreciation of differences is not always an easy thing to do. Developing Emotional Intelligence competencies and gaining skills with conflict resolution training can be valuable tactical approaches. Engaging people in conversations focused on what it means to do “good work ” together and having a focus on building a culture that supports the mandate of the organization are more complex but ulimately more sustainable approaches.

Through the lens of the J/P preferences
The differences between these two ways of approaching the world can be (is) one of the biggest sources of conflict in the workplace. A good answer to the impact of this pair of preferences could fill a book. When two people work together – designing the flow of work and having some structures in place for communication can be helpful. For example, if the person with the preference for Judging has to wait for material from the Perceiver due to the sequence of the flow of work that might just be a recipe for ever increasing tension on both sides. Depending on how far things have escalated the best solutions occur when people can sit down and design how they work together informed by the knowledge of their preferences. Also depending on the level of these people in the organization a manager may find it necessary to set a clear framework of expectations regarding timelines.

Through the lens of type
The book Introduction to Type in Teams has some insights.

The ESFJ can irritate others by “trying to please too many people too often or by stepping in to speak for others” and they can be irritated by being given “last minute assignments” especially when their hard work is not appreciated. When under stress they can help the situation by “honouring their own needs and by realizing that solving another’s problems for them may in fact diminish the power of the very people they are trying to help”.

The ESTP can irritate others by “taking the easy expedient route and by being too flexible.” They can be irritated by those who are “too duty bound and structured or overly focused on the future and unknown”. When under stress they can help by ” perservering and maintaining committment when things are complicated or boring.”

Psychometrics Canada has a recent research report on conflict in the workplace. This particular issue maybe beyond the scope of the MBTI to provide helpful insights. In a perfect world, it is always easier to prevent than intervene. As a final thought -there may be a possibility of creating an even stronger team if the this conflict can be worked through in an open way focused on the larger issues beyond ego. Best of luck! Perhaps you will share your insights on the resolution of this issue.

I sent out an invitation to people on Twitter and Facebook and through my blog to submit their burning MBTI questions for answer by Mike Jay. Mike is a Master Coach and a Global thinker – he may even be a one man think tank. He is a voracious learner and understands human dynamics and development which he teaches through his work at BCoach, coach training and Leadership University. Later on this month I will be posting some insights from the session with Mike but right now I wanted to answer these questions from my perspective as a type professional. I hope this sheds some light on these questions for you. Please ask anything that is on your mind about type in the comments below and I will do my best to answer or find another resource for you.


Category: MBTI Facts
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3 Responses to “Burning MBTI Questions Answered #2”

Sandy McMullen March 12, 2009

The blog post by Leadership Sculptor, C.J. Fitzsimons http://cjfitzsimons.com/?p=248 helps to round out ways of approaching this question. He reminds me yet again of the importance of getting below the surface and not being seduced by band-aid solutions.

SharonLR March 12, 2009

The question this raises for me – how curious are they about one another? when you say “just don’t get along” does that mean they have different interests, values, or priorities? Or do they each feel seen and valued by the other? Regardless of what model one might use, in my experience (20+ years consulting and coaching) if two colleagues feel un-seen, dis-respected, or invalidated by the other, that’s where the dialogue must begin.