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Marianne Powers: Forget Myers-Briggs; we are who we are

By Marianne Powers
Tribune Columnist

March 13, 2006

There seems to be a trend in management to try to analyze people, to give them the Myers-Briggs and other personality tests, to determine what their natural strengths and weaknesses are, to label and so understand them.

Forget all that.

People are what they are and it's irrelevant anyway.

More significant than natural ability, personality or background in picking the right person for a job is how important the organization's goal is to the person and how much he wants to be a part of it.

More effective in improving a working relationship with a co-worker is listening to him and getting to know not just who he is but who he wants to be.

That's fortunate because, for example, there are 16 personality types in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (designated by letter combinations such as ISTJ, ENFP, INTP). You would never remember what that many labels are supposed to mean unless you carry the instructions around and consult them before speaking to anyone.

It is true that people are different. We have different styles, different ways of learning and different motivations. In the ways that we are different, putting us in categories is useless, because even 16 are not enough. We are different down to the individual level. In the ways that we are alike, there is just one category. If you're human, you're one of us.

I propose guidelines for just one personality type, homo sapiens sapiens. We could call it HSS.

HSS are intelligent, logical, hard-working, moral and social. They communicate verbally most of the time but have been known to use other methods when that is not available. Their close bond with other HSS make it possible for them to intuit others' thoughts and feelings at times. Unfortunately, this has been known to lead them to rely on their extremely limited psychic ability. The resulting miscommunication often results in conflict. With good communication, this group works together well.

We are all HSS. We can use what we know about ourselves to understand other people at the level at which we are similar, remembering that at the individual level we are completely different. We have strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes they change, even from moment to moment. It's the endless combinations of strengths and weaknesses that make us unique.

People need the skills to do the work, but the most important one is a desire to do it. With that, people are motivated to go out and get the training and experience they need and keep building on it. Without it, their training and experience are wasted. People don't fall any more for the old ploy of telling them they should do something because they are so good at it.

When people complain about each other, they usually accuse each other of being one of these three: lazy, crazy, stupid. These characterizations may not be entirely inaccurate. Not because particular people are lazy, crazy or stupid, but because all of us have been all of those things at some point in time.

If you call someone lazy, crazy or stupid, she will easily be able to point out one of the many times you have failed to achieve perfection. If you approach her with respect for her strengths and compassion for her weaknesses, she will likely do the same. You don't really need her to be anything in particular and, of course, you can't change what she is. What you need is for her to do something in particular. Tell her what you need and she will tell you whether she can and whether she will.

HSS are easy to work with once you understand them. At the individual level, their diversity is a plus because they complement each other. The more HSS you have working on a particular goal or project, the more they are able to reinforce each others' strengths and compensate for each others' weaknesses. Hire and keep as many as you can.

If you decide, after all, that you need to use a tool like the Myers-Briggs to understand people, it is important to use it in the way it was intended. I quote from their Web site, "The core concept behind the MBTI instrument is the value of all types and the importance of a diversity of types in any group endeavor . . . and . . . a core ethic of the MBTI assessment tool is that results are given only to the respondent."

They seem to understand that insights that can be valuable to people for their own growth should never be used to force them into someone else's idea of a perfect fit.

Powers is the Albuquerque author of "Doing the Right Thing and Achieving All Your Goals at the Same Time." Her Web site is

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