Using the MBTI to Resolve Conflict

Using the MBTI to Resolve Conflict

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), if used properly, can be a wonderful tool in so many different ways. The MBTI is based on psychiatrist C.G. Jung’s theories. Jung believed that human behavior is predictable and that people have different preferences, which result in differences in how they behave. Katherine Cook Briggs, and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, became intrigued by Jung’s work and decided to design a psychological instrument that would explain people’s differences according to Jung’s theories. Myers and Briggs were driven, in part, by their observation that many people involved in the war effort during World War II were working on tasks to which they were not particularly well suited.

Over the years, the MBTI has been used in many different ways, ranging from helping people to understand themselves better, to make good career choices, and to understand and communicate well with others. Today, I would like to discuss how the MBTI can be used to resolve conflict in organizations.

Before I can do that, however, I need to give you a quick overview of the MBTI. The MBTI has four pairs of preference alternatives: extraverted (E) or introverted (I); sensing (S) or intuitive (N); thinking (T) or feeling (F); and judging (J) or perceiving (P).

• The E/I pair looks at where people get their energy. Extraverts get their energy from other people. Introverts need to spend some time alone to recharge. They may really enjoy being around people, but it also frequently tires them out.

  • The S/N pair looks at how people take in information. Sensors like facts and details and are often described as being very precise. When Intuitives take in information, they almost instantaneously put it into a larger context. They prefer theories and concepts to details and are often described as being “big picture” thinkers.
  • The T/F pair describes how people make decisions on the information, once they have taken it in. Thinkers prefer to use an objective system to make decisions – “what’s in the best interest of the organization?” Feelers prefer to use a subjective system to make decisions – “what’s in the best interest of the individual?”
  • The J/P pair describes how people like their external world structured. Judgers prefer to have their world be structured and organized. They like things to be decided. Perceivers prefer spontaneity and often like to leave their options open.

    So, what does this have to do with conflict? Frequently, one of the catalysts for conflict is basic differences coupled with misunderstandings and negative assumptions. For example, extraverts often find listening more difficult than talking. Couple this with a tendency to think out loud, and extraverts can take up a lot of air space in meetings. Introverts, on the other hand, often want to think things through before speaking. They prefer to articulate their thoughts and feelings without interruption. So if you have an extravert and an introvert in a meeting, it is not uncommon for the extravert to talk over the introvert, to finish the introvert’s sentences, and to rush in to fill silences when the introvert is thinking over a response. The introvert may begin making assumptions about the extrovert’s behavior and think, “That person doesn’t value my thoughts. She’s pushy and aggressive. She thinks I’m stupid.” And the seeds of conflict have been sown.

    The MBTI can give people an understanding of why they behave differently and can provide them with neutral language to discuss those differences. Using the example above, if the two people involved understand each other’s preferences, then the extravert will understand that the introvert just needs some quiet time to think things through and that it is, in fact, counter productive when the extravert tries to prompt the introvert. And the introvert will understand that the extrovert is just trying to get her thoughts together as she thinks out loud.

    In addition, they can use the language of the MBTI to discuss their differences. For example, the introvert might want to say, “You never shut up. I am sick of hearing you talk all the time.

It’s rude.” Instead, the introvert can focus the conversation on her preferences and needs and say, “I am an introvert, which means that I make better decisions if I have some time to myself to think things through. It would be a big help if you could give me some quiet time to gather my thoughts.”

So, if people in your organization are not working together as well as they should be, the MBTI might be a useful tool to help them understand and communicate with each other better.

In addition to management consulting, conflict resolution, and executive coaching, I offer tailored programs on a variety of related topics, including how to delegate, communicate more effectively, deal with difficult people, manage conflict in the workplace, manage up, facilitate meetings, manage your career, and network.

Please let me know if there are other topics in which you are interested. If I don’t already have a program on that topic, I am happy to develop one that meets your needs.