Posts Tagged ‘Psychology and Work’

Work and Philosophy: Psychological Interlude Chapter Three: Temperament (pt.ii)

December 25, 2012

I read that as an INTP, I represent about 1% to 5% of the population; and if I am an INXP (borderline between the T and F, as my tests say) then I am rarer than that.  That helps to explain why I was drawn to philosophy early in life and still am, and why my favorite areas of philosophy are those dealing with personal life questions.  I am happiest thinking by myself or in an intimate conversation, so reading lots of books is no problem (aside from eyestrain).  I would rather learn abstract general principles that can be applied to answering a wide range of questions, and to finding connections between many different phenomena.  I want to find logical connections and arguments, but I am also seeking to understand what the passions are saying to me.  And I am always seeking new answers and a more complete understanding.  So my temperament has had a profound impact on my career choices and my career satisfaction.

Suppose I were my exact opposite, an ESFJ.  Then I would have little patience for sitting alone studying, or intensely focusing on one person or task.  As an Extrovert, I would want to be involved with as many people as possible.  As a Sensor, I would focus on concrete realities and particulars, and as a Feeler I would focus particularly on the feelings of those particular people around me.  As a Judger, I would want to set everything and everyone in order, to ensure social harmony and efficiency.  I might have wound up actually going into the ministry, where the ESFJ’s open heart and interest in providing help and direction to lots of people would have been very valuable. Or I might have gone into sales or worked my way into management, where I would have been comfortable taking charge of people for their own good.  Almost any service-oriented profession would have been a natural fit.

In my experience of the Presbyterian vocational counseling system, the most influential version of temperament theory was that was developed by Marilyn Bates and David Keirsey.  In addition to revising the personality test to focus on observable behaviors more than speculations of internal psychology, they greatly improved the four central temperaments.  Early on, Myers-Briggs and their associates noticed that all NT variants had many traits in common, as do all NF types, whether they are also Introverts or Extroverts, Judges or Perceivers.  They concluded that the two middle letters, representing the “functioning” aspects of the personality, were the most crucial.  However, attempts to establish commonalities between all STs or SFs were not as successful.  Keirsey and Bates concluded that for concrete thinkers, the primary distinguishing characteristic is not how they relate to words and ideas, but how they relate to the concrete world.  Is this Sensor more tempted to accept and enjoy the world, or to try to organize it?  Based on this question, and a fair amount of historical research into personality and temperament from ancient times until today, they developed their theory of the four archetypes:

  1. The Sensing-Perceiving, or SP:  the Artisan.  This is the sort who prefers to live in the moment, to enjoy the here and now.  They tend to be more passionate and hedonistic, and ruthlessly pragmatic—do what works in the current situation.  They are often drawn to the arts, to sports, and to tools, or to any job that is exciting.
  2. The Sensing-Judging, or SJ:  the Guardian.  Guardians worry about the future, and want to provide now for what might happen later.  They too prefer the concrete to the abstract and the actual to the possible, but they ask what can be done with the actual and the concrete.  They like things, and people, orderly and in place. Of the four temperament types, Guardians have the most respect for authority; when in charge they exercise it naturally and expect others to comply, and when not they naturally defer to the leader and are glad to follow a strong authority figure.   T-type Guardians tend towards careers like accounting, number-oriented tasks with clear right and wrong solutions and with significant responsibilities.  F-type Guardians are also responsible, but tend to prefer to work with people rather than things or numbers, so they gravitate towards the helping professions.  The S-types together make up 85% of the population, according to Dr. Keirsy.[1]
  3. The Intuitive-Feeling, or NF:  the Idealist.  As Intuitives, they are more defined by their relation to language and the inner world than they are by the outer world; as Feelers, they focus on values and emotions than on cold logic.  They can make good teachers or ministers, as do Guardians; but whereas Guardians approach teaching or the ministry in terms of upholding social order and traditional values, Idealists want to present new possibilities to those around them.  Idealists like to take abstract principles and present them to those who can benefit from them.  Introverted Idealists tend towards careers that require more personalized and individual attention, such as therapist, or perhaps writing, which allows them to focus completely on the grand ideas and passions without the distraction of actual concrete people.
  4. The Intuitive Thinker, or NT:  the Rational.  We are as oriented towards possibilities, language and the inner world as are the Idealists, but we prefer the logical over the emotional.  Scientists, architects and systems analysts are often NTs.  Artisans want to enjoy the world, Guardians to protect and manage it, and Idealists to save and heal it; Rationals want to understand it.  We tend towards strategic thinking and strategic careers, requiring long-term rather than immediate, crisis-driven thinking.  Many NTs are inventors and innovators; others, like Napoleon, use people rather than physical material to build their systems and to execute their plans.

Having said all this, though, it is important to retract much of it.  While temperament theory can suggest “typical” career choices, the fact is that many, many people are successful and happy in careers that seem odd for their personality types.  Some of our most successful entertainers have been Introverts.  A successful doctor could be any personality type.  Temperament theory can suggest what career you should choose, if you want to “fit in,” or if you want to find what is most likely to satisfy.  But what it most reliably tells us is how you will approach your job.  For example, let’s consider the management at a large company.  Many are likely to be Guardians, the typical “company man,” working diligently at his job (since Guardians tend towards the traditional, a larger number of women Guardians are likely to seek to be housewives or to do “women’s jobs” like teaching or nursing; so I’m saying “he”).  He expects that if he does a good job, he will earn a promotion; and if he has been promoted, he deserves it and therefore deserves the respect and loyalty of those below him on the hierarchy.  He tends to know and follow the rules and expects others to do the same.  Almost as many executives are Artisans.  They are likely the “rainmakers,” the ones who take risks all others would think insane or at least unsettling.  If they win, they celebrate; if they lose, they bounce back quicker than the other types.  They tend to be “players” in every sense of the term, so they can be quite competitive and self-promoting.  They are great in a crisis, but can become bored by the routine—-until their neglect of details and deadlines creates a crisis, which they can then jump in and solve.  Most of the NTs are in Research and Development, but some may have come up with some great idea that has landed them in a position of importance:  for example, Howard Hughes, Bill Gates or Steve Jobs all wound up commanding thousands of employees.  The Extroverted NTs are most likely to appear as management in some capacity, using their innovative and strategic abilities to work with human systems as easily as other NTs work with physical and logical systems.  The Idealists are most likely working in Human Resources, but those in supervisory roles are using their empathy and optimism to understand those they manage, and to encourage them to see new possibilities for themselves and the company.  One job—middle management, for example—can thus be done by any of the four character types, with each type approaching the job in its own distinctive ways.

Temperament psychology can be used to help job seekers find a satisfying career, and it can help employers understand employees’ gifts and find the best ways to harness those for the business.  And perhaps most important to Dr. Keirsey, temperament theory can help us avoid “the Pygmalion Project.”[2]  We are drawn to someone who has something we lack in ourselves, and admire; then we begin to try to get the other person to embrace our values and our temperament.  Temperament psychologists generally believe temperament is inborn; so it is impossible to simply make the Artisan spouse, child or new employee become a Guardian or measure up to the Guardian’s standards.  Instead, we have to learn how to utilize our differences to the best effect, and to be aware of our weaknesses and our strengths.  In the workplace, the Perceivers will have more trouble memorizing and following all the rules that their Guardian managers may have written out, but they will be better able to cope when a crisis arises that wasn’t covered in the employee handbook.  A wise manager will put the square pegs in the square holes, finding each employee’s particular temperament and gifts and assigning tasks matching those gifts.  The unwise one will try to impose one model of “the good worker” on everyone, which generally will leave many out in the cold while the organization suffers from underutilized talent.

Philosophical implications:  Perhaps the first person to apply temperament theory to career counseling was Plato.  In his Republic, Plato identifies three distinct temperaments, which he identifies with the three parts of the soul.  Most people, he says, are dominated by their appetitive part, and thus in his ideal republic he assigns to the Artisan class.  These are the people who most want to work in the world of things, as farmers or crafters or merchants or whatever, in order to attain wealth and physical comforts.  Others are dominated by their “spirit,” or passions or honor.  They want glory more than wealth; they want to be recognized and admired.  These Plato would assign to the Auxiliary class, as soldiers and police, people of action, who take risks for the good of society and crave medals and honors more than wealth.  His model for these were the soldiers of Sparta, who lived lives of poverty and hardship in order to be the absolute best warriors in the world, wishing nothing more than to die with honor and be admired by their society (and fearing nothing more than the scorn of their own mothers if they should return alive and unscarred from a battlefield loss).  Fewest of all are the philosophers, who seek neither wealth nor honor so much as the opportunity to think and learn.  These Plato made Guardians, the rulers of the Republic, the “philosopher-kings.”  Unusually, Plato said that gender should not play any determining role in class assignment; an intelligent and reflective woman could be a Guardian just as well as a man.  The well-functioning state, Plato said, would put the right people in the right jobs, so that each person served society as his or her temperament determined; for the well ordered state needs the gifts of all temperaments working in harmony.  Therefore, he proposed a society where different temperaments were given the rewards that were most meaningful to each, each did the work for which it was temperamentally best suited, and none sought to do the other’s job.

The Founding Fathers tended to look not to Plato for their image of the ideal State, but to a nearly mythological Republic of Rome.  In their minds, the ideal State was one where even the leading citizens saw themselves as public servants.  Washington refused kingship and, after two terms as President of the United States, retired to private life.  In this he was consciously imitating Cincinnatus, the Roman aristocrat who was given dictatorial powers to defend Rome from invasion, only to resign from the dictatorship and retire to his small farm when the crisis was over.  The Revolutionary Founding Fathers were, by and large, men who respected social status, but primarily when it was earned and when it was used for the public good.  Our republic, unlike Plato’s, was designed to allow upward and downward mobility, and to allow the individual rather than the State to determine how the individual could best serve society.  But this idea of different temperaments, each valuable and true in its own right and its own manner, continued from Plato down through the ages, often in conflict with other philosophies that taught a single ideal of human nature, until it gained new life in scientific psychology.  Now, it is common in workplace settings, as well as on-line dating sites and other “pop psych” arenas.  It is a useful tool in all areas where understanding differences between people is important to helping individuals achieve their own happiness and live and work together as well.

[1] Dr. David Keirsy, Please Understand Me II:  temperament, character, intelligence, first edition (Del Mar, CA:  Prometheus Nemesis Book Company, 1998) p. 61

[2] Marilyn Bates and David Keirsey, Please Understand Me:  Character & Temperament Types fifth edition (Del Mar, CA:  Prometheus Nemesis Book Company, 1984) p. 68

Work and Philosophy: Psychological Interlude Chapter Three: Temperament (pt.i)

December 17, 2012

Work and Philosophy:  Psychological Interlude

Chapter Three:  Temperament

When I went through the screening process for candidates for the ministry, the vocational counselor explained part of the process to me as follows:  Generally, you are happiest working in a job where most people share your values and have similar personalities, so part of the screening process is to look at temperament, as well as other psychological factors, to see how your personality compares to results for people already in particular fields.  For example, if you are outgoing, bubbly, and action-oriented, you probably would not fit in with the other accountants, and might be happier with a workplace that fits your temperament:  entertainer, perhaps, where you find lots of other outgoing, live-in-the-moment types.

There are definite legal problems today with using gender in workplace decisions.  In some cultures, that is almost the only consideration; but in the U.S. it is illegal to simply refuse to hire a woman for most jobs based on gender, or to pay her less for doing the same work (though how vigorously those laws are enforced fluctuates with political tides).  There are also challenges with using developmental psychology in workplace decisions or vocational counseling.  If an employer decided not to hire anyone at Erikson’s Stage 8, it could trigger a lawsuit for age discrimination (although enforcement of those laws seems even spottier than those against gender discrimination).  Furthermore, people move through different stages during their working lives, at different speeds.  Two 30 year olds could be at different stages on Erikson’s developmental scale, and the same is true of most other developmental theories (such as Lawrence Kohlberg’s).  It is rarely appropriate to say, “You are not at the right developmental stage for that job,” unless the applicant is clearly in a state of arrested development.  And finally, while gender is usually easy to determine and there are several good tests for temperament, testing for developmental stage is rarely as precise.  Developmental psychology can be useful in a more intensive and ongoing setting, such as therapy; and it can help an individual plan his or her working career.  It is of much less use in choosing one’s career path, or making hiring decisions.

Temperament, on the other hand, is used so often in vocational settings because it is so easy.  There are a variety of well-tried tests, particularly the MBTI, which can help counselors, employers and workers match person with career.  These tests can be administered relatively quickly and scored relatively precisely.  And while developmental stage changes by its very nature, temperament seems to be relatively static throughout life, barring major brain trauma or something of that sort.  Behavior may change, but temperament doesn’t.  Behavior is like the software of our personalities; temperament is more like the hardware.  An introvert may be a shy child who grows up to be confident in social situations; but he or she will still be an introvert, who at the end of the day needs to rest alone or with a few close friends to recover from the stress of so much glad-handing with so many strangers.

It is important at this point to say something about what temperament is, and isn’t.  Temperament theory began with Carl Jung, a student of Freud.  Erikson did most of his seminal work with children, and naturally focused on how people change over time.  Jung’s most important work was with middle-aged people, particularly men who were undergoing a “mid-life crisis.”  Thus, what he was studying was people at a point in their lives where their developmental work was largely accomplished, but who now were questioning their lives.  What he noticed was that even among people of the same general age and developmental state, there were fundamental differences in personality.  For example, some people seem to derive energy from being around others, sharing thoughts and feelings; others find this tiring, and need to be alone from time to time.  Jung thought neither pole was superior and neither was exclusively healthy; the healthiest personality was one that balanced different, sometimes contrary elements.  However, every individual has a preference, a need for one or the other primarily; to ignore this is to court eventual psychological breakdown, as he often saw among his patients.

The mother-daughter research team of Katherine Briggs and Isabelle Myers developed Jung’s theories, systematized and codified them, and developed the most famous test for measuring temperament.  They located four major poles for personality preference:  Introversion versus Extroversion, Intuitive versus Sensing, Feeling versus Thinking and Judging versus Perceiving.  The basic questions to be asked are: (1) Does this person find social interaction more natural and relaxing than solitude? (2) Does this person rely in imagination and intuition, or on concrete facts and observation? (3) Does this person rely on reason and logic, or on emotion, feelings and values?  (4) Does this person want to control and organize his or her world, or to just let things be as they are and merely accept them as they come?

For example, I test out as an INTP.  I have taken various versions of the Myers-Briggs test several times over several decades, and I’ve staid within that general framework.  I am a moderate I (for Introvert), fairly strong N (intuitive) and P (Perceiver), and very weak T (Thinker), virtually within the margin of error.  What does this mean?

Introversion does not mean I don’t like people or seek company, although we introverts are often scolded as children by extroverted adults who think we’re unnaturally standoffish.  Most people are extroverts (exact estimates of the numbers vary wildly), so it is quite possible for an introverted child to grow up with no one in the family who understands.  Introverts value depth of experience over breadth of experience, and need solitude to rest and revitalize.  Most introverts can be spotted as children by the fact that they are shy, perhaps late talkers, more cautious around strangers.  Extroverts need to go out and have new experiences, meet new people and express themselves.  As young children, my extroverted daughter always verbalized every thought or feeling as it occurred to her.  My introverted son would sometimes say or do something that seemed totally inexplicable, and I would have to ask him or guess if I wanted to know why.  He was like a deep pool, and his thoughts would only occasionally bubble to the surface.  Many of us introverts learn eventually to speak up in public, but we always show our public masks to the public and save our true selves for a few confidants.  The introvert is worn out by too much social engagement, and energized by solitary and small-group activities like reading, walking alone or with a friend, or writing 1500 words in a single day for a blog.  An extrovert is worn out by too much solitude, and eventually must go find a crowd.  At a party, the extrovert (like my wife) “works the room,” seeing one person after another to check up on, exchange a few words and then move on.  The introvert usually finds a place somewhere towards the edge of the room, and looks for one person or a small group to talk to.  Since most people are extroverts, and for that matter extroverts are much more visible, introverts tend to be seen as the strange ones, sometimes pitied as “shy,” sometimes resented as “arrogant” or occasionally admired as “deep.”  Extroverts are outgoing, interested in and knowledgeable of the social environment, and generally likely to have a lot going on in their lives.

Intuitives are also a minority, by most estimates.  Most people are sense-oriented.  They notice the concrete and actual and are comfortable with it.  They notice the particular details.  About 25% of us tend to be more aware of the “big picture,” the forest rather than the trees.  Intuitives are more drawn to possibilities, to what could be or could come to be or might have been, or even to what is impossible but illustrative.  I don’t care for dramas with realistic characters and plots; I like science fiction and fantasy, where I can imagine possibilities without being constrained by what someone actually did or actually thought was sensible.  I see how unusual this aspect of my personality is almost every semester, when I teach Introduction to Ethics.  Most of my students struggle with the theoretical, abstract “normative ethics” portion of the course.  To me, this comes naturally, and I can easily see how to apply these abstract principles from Kant or Kierkegaard to my own life and particular moral questions.  Many of my students can barely tell whether an author is for or against egoism, but when the readings turn towards specific questions such as “Is abortion moral” their grades improve dramatically.  I teach theory first and then practical application, because I find it difficult to think without abstract principles to apply, and because my textbook was written by another Intuitive (as are most philosophy books) so it begins with the abstract.

So by at least some estimates, I am a minority of a minority:  first Introverted (I) and then Intuitive (N) on top of that.  For the third letter, I am neither a minority nor a majority.  True, I generally test out as a T, for Thinking preference over Feeling; but I am so close to the borderline that many psychologists would leave me with an INXP instead.  Besides, psychologists have long said that the numbers of Thinkers and Feelers in society are practically the same.  Thinkers trust their heads; Feelers trust their hearts.  Thinkers want reasons and logic; Feelers want warmth and gut instincts.  The classic stereotype is that men are more rational and women more emotional; but psychologists who have tested this question this.  For example, when President George W. Bush said he had looked into Vladimer Putin’s eyes and seen into his soul, that was the sort of thing one should expect an F-type to say.  And generally, F-types are more intuitive than we T-types.  It isn’t a question of whether or not one has emotions; everyone has emotions and feelings.  But the Thinker tends to discount them, finds them unreliable, and instead looks for facts and clues; the Feeler believes numbers can lie and the heart has reasons the head cannot understand.  Generally, I trust my mind more than my heart; but my temperament profile says I can switch between them easily.

I cannot say the same about the last letter in my constellation, Perceiving.  While estimates vary, all the ones I see say it is a minority, and I am pretty strong on the P side.  The Judgers want to organize their world.  They are the people with neat desks, always on time for appointments, and keeping regular schedules.  They are reliable and tend to expect/demand that everyone else be, too.  Perceivers want to take the world as it is, to enjoy or understand it but in any case preferring to adapt to it than to fight it.  About the third time I find I have put a book on the floor next to the computer, I just leave it there; I assume it wants to be on the floor and putting it away again would be pointless.  I told myself to go to bed at 1:00 a.m. tonight, but then I got to writing about 90 minutes ago and I’m still writing so to Hell with my schedule.  I am often late for appointments, or I procrastinate.  I want my schedule written in pencil if not Etch-a-Sketch.  My floor, table, shelves, etc. are all messes, and I like it that way.  Downside:  I lose things, a lot; I forget things a lot, which is basically losing a thought; and I’m often doing things at the last minute.  Upside:  I have a high tolerance for uncertainty, which is helpful in an uncertain world.  I am willing and even eager to hear contrasting points of view before I make a decision, and can respect valid positions which I don’t personally accept.  That’s why, when I wrote my essay on “The Most Dangerous Ideas in Religion,” my nominee was, “I know what I know.”  I find close-minded certainty abhorrent; while I recognize the need for decisiveness, as a P, I always think that I could still be mistaken.

To be continued…..