Here is the full text of MBTI expert | Jean Kummerow’s talk titled “What’s Your Type?” at TEDxGrinnellCollege conference. In this talk, she walks the audience through the different personality types with humor and personal experience.
Jean Kummerow – TEDx Talk TRANSCRIPT
I’m going to talk to you today about something every one of us does. We categorize everything that crosses our path, including people, and sometimes we do this in not a very flattering way.
My favorite quote about categorizing people comes from the comedian George Carlin. He said there are three kinds of people: those who can count and those who cannot.
I’m glad you got that.
Well, I want to talk about a positive way of categorizing people. It’s called personality type, and it’s based on something called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or MBTI Assessment.
I’m just going to be able to give you a little bit of that framework. There’s a lot more to it than I’m going to get to today.
So, what this is about is it’s about how you prefer to gain energy, gather information, make decisions and live your life.
Now, this word “preference” is a really important thing in this system. So I just want to do a quick demonstration of what preference happens to be.
So, let’s say you’re really skeptical about personality type and you cross your arms and maybe you even tap your foot. Just try that with me, if you would, okay?
Now, you probably didn’t even think, “Which arm do I put on top?” You have a natural preference for how you cross your arms.
So, try crossing them in the other way. You can do it, easily. It doesn’t feel quite as natural. And we’re going to be talking about personality preferences within ourselves. And they’re really natural habits, natural mental habits that you have, for the ways you might like to think, or do, or act.
Now, I think it’s helpful to know about personality type for two reasons. One is, it can help you understand that that other person is not really trying to drive you crazy on purpose. They just see the world in a different way than you do.
And the second reason is it can help you understand more about yourself, about things that come more easily for you, things that might take a little bit more time, that might be a little bit more difficult, so that you can forgive yourself when you’re not perfect.
But that doesn’t excuse yourself from trying. So, let’s start in on this framework.
When I was growing up, I thought family togetherness was everyone in the same room reading a book. I’m an extrovert, I grew up in a family of introverts. My mother thought that my siblings needed to go to nursery school and I didn’t. It probably should have been reverse.
They needed their quiet time and I would have had fun with those other kids. I can assure you we’re all just fine today.
So, this is the first what we call preference pair, and it has to do with where we direct and receive our energy. There’s an extroverted way and an introverted way.
Now, these are not social skills. You can have people who prefer extroversion and people who prefer introversion who are shy. This is about energy.
So, extroverts want their energy to go out and, when it goes out, they’re with people, they’re doing things, it comes bouncing back to them.
And introverts want their energy to go in. By looking at ideas, impressions, facts inside their head, they create more energy.
Now, I need to do a quick aside on this idea of preference pairs. We believe that you have both within you. It’s just that you prefer one over the other. It really does not guarantee just because you prefer something that you’re good at it.
You might need to develop skills with it and, while you’re at it, develop skills with the other preference. That’s going to be helpful because there are times when you need to flex and act in a different way.
If you just do everything according to your preferences, it’s not going to always work.
So, when we look at extroversion and introversion and how it appears in meetings, it’s kind of interesting. So, extroverts in a meeting are more likely to be talking their ideas out.
If I bring it out, it becomes real, and I may start over here and end up over here, because I’ve made it real as I’m talking it out.
Now, the introvert listening to that extrovert may be thinking, “If they just shut up, we would get somewhere.” Well, they don’t understand extroversion is about bringing it out.
So, our introverts are taking things in during that meeting, they’re mulling it through, and our extrovert looking at them is probably going, “Are they awake? Are they listening to me?”
And we assume that they are because they’re working it out inside. Silences for extroverts are space to be filled. Silences for introverts are space to be cherished.
When we think about interruptions, there’s also a different way that people may look at that. Interruptions for extroverts actually may be compliments: “Gee, someone’s listened to what I’ve said! They want to jump right in, you know, build on my idea.” It’s a compliment.
But, for an introvert, that same interruption may be rude: “I’ve thought about it inside, I’m bringing up my ideas, you’re interrupting me. I need to stop and think, ‘Is that new information or is it a pure dribble?’ and then I’m going to continue with my talk.”
Introverts, by the way, once they know people and topics well, will act like extroverts because they’ve done their inside work. We say that, if you want to know what an extrovert is thinking, you haven’t been listening.
If you want to know what an introvert is thinking, you haven’t asked. So, now I want to go on to the next one, which is how we gather data and the kind of information we like and trust.
The preference pairs here are sensing and intuition. Now, I happen to prefer sensing. I like things to be practical, actual, real. I just really want to get down to the here and now of what’s going on.
Now, by contrast, intuitive types like possibilities, meanings, the big picture, and I want to show you a picture that gets at some of these differences.
So, if we look at this particular picture with a sensing lens, we may see pillars, trees, yellow flowers, there’s an umbrella in there, and so forth. If we look at this picture from an intuitive point of view, we might see an ancient lost civilization, where the wild things are, or a ballet of dancing trees.
Now, we both looked at the same picture. So, I use this in a community leadership program and we get people into sensing groups and intuitive groups and have them look at this picture and talk about it.
We had a civil engineer once who pointed over to — he was in the sensing group — he pointed to the intuitive group and he said, “Hum, I always thought they were liars. I would go to a community meeting and present my facts. I would see them a couple of days later and they said I said things I know I didn’t say. Our memories are just fine. So, now I know I need to sit down with them and find out how they got from my facts to what they’re interpreting.”
So, it’s very important, you can miss one another. You’re seeing the same picture, but you’re seeing different things. If we look at well-known figures, we can also start to think about what lens do they see the world with.
So, let’s take Thomas Edison. He’s the guy who invented the light bulb, remember, by putting all those little filaments in and keeping checking hundreds of them, probably. He’s been known to have said:
“Genius is 99% perspiration.”
He probably saw the world through a sensing lens.
Now, if we look at Albert Einstein, with his theory of relativity, he said,
“Not all that counts can be counted.”
He probably sees the world through an intuitive lens.
Now, once you have information in, you need to figure out what to do with it, and that leads us to the third preference pair: thinking and feeling.
Now, I know that I’m a thinking type. I look at the world in a logical way. People come to me with a problem, I want to get to the bottom line and help them solve it now.
But I realized there are some people, when they come to me they just want me to stop and listen and support them. Well, I learned that I need to sort of step back and ask people, at least I remember that some of the time, “Do you want me just to listen, or do you want me to help solve the problem?,” because then I don’t get so annoyed if they don’t take my advice.
So, in this decision-making system, thinking types step back from the decision. They look at the data that they have, the information that they have, in an objective way. They look at the pros, they look at the cons, they make their decision.
But feeling types step into the decision. They become aware of, “How is this going to impact people? How does this fit with my value system?,” and they’re looking for harmony with their value system.
Now you probably already figured out here that feeling does not mean making decisions based on emotions.
There is a structured way of using the values and the harmony. So, if we think about the definition of being fair, we may see some different things.
For thinking types, being fair means treating everyone according to the same standards, or treating people equally.
For feeling types, being fair means treating everyone according to what they need; individuals are different, they need different things.
Now, I want to do another little experiment with you that I sometimes do with my training groups and let’s say you’re working on a project. This hand represents completing the project. This hand represents I’m starting, I’m part-way through and I’m done.
So, I typically ask thinking types, “Tell me when you want someone to give you some appreciation or recognition for your work on that project.”
And my hand will move along and finally, when I get to the end, they’ve finished the project, they will say, “Now.”
And I’ll ask them, “So, what happens if someone gives you some recognition earlier in that work?”
And they say, “Well, I’m a little worried. I think I’m working for an idiot. They have no sense of standards and what is good work.”
Now, I ask feeling types the same thing, “When do you want recognition on that project?,” and they call out, “Now, now, now, now, now.”
All the way through.
“So, what does that look like?” I’m a thinking type, I’m waiting till I’m done. They say like, “Well, it can be things like, ‘Good start!,’ or, ‘Gee, you had some great ideas here.'”
And then, I ask the feeling types, “So, what happens if someone gives you some recognition — if they wait until the end?”
And they say, “Well, I think that they don’t care, and if they don’t care about me, they don’t care about my work, and it affects my morale.”
Now, both thinking types and feeling types can come to the exact same conclusions. They just do it in different ways. And it’s really helpful for thinking types to remember to always ask, “How would this logically impact people?,” and for feeling types to always ask, “What’s the most important thing here?”
But we need to move on.
Our last one has to do with how we like to go about living our lives. And our words are “judging” and “perceiving” in this preference pair, and “judging” here doesn’t mean “judgmental.”
But what judging types like to do is organize things, make decisions, get on with it, and perceiving types like to kind of go with the flow and be spontaneous and continue gathering information.
So, I’ll admit, I’m a judging type, I love to make lists, I love to check off things from the list and I’ve even been known to put things on the list I’ve already done for the sheer joy of checking them off. True confessions. Okay.
Now, I happen to live with a man who prefers perceiving. He thinks I’m nuts. His life is about options, it’s about going with the flow. So, you can imagine what happens when we go to a Chinese restaurant: I’m making my decisions — you know, judging is about, “Let’s make a decision and get on with it” –
And he’s looking over the menu, looking at what other people have, trying to decide what he’s going to have, that’s perhaps new and different, and I’m getting hungry.
But, for perceiving types, it’s no decision before its time. So, judging types will often use words that end in “ed”: “I’ve finished that,” “I’ve completed that,” I’ve decided that,” and perceiving types will often talk in “ing” words: “I’m finishing that,” “I’m completing that,” “I’m deciding that.”
So, if we look at what’s a plan, judging types will often say, “A plan is a systematic way of achieving an objective,” and perceiving types will say, “Plans, they’re options.”
Now, I also have a little activity that I like to do with people, and that’s I’ll ask people to think about the next free day, the next day they have off, okay?
And I typically have judging types start out and I want to know how many plans they have for that day off.
So, I start giving them numbers and, as we get to the higher and higher numbers, the judging types look prouder and prouder. They just love it.
Now, when I do the same thing for the perceiving types, they’ve raised their hands and I can see they get more and more embarrassed as the number gets higher and they’ll often call out, “But they’re not my plans. Someone came up with them for me.”
So, both can have lovely days off and, in fact, sometimes I’ll have judging plans, people coming to me and saying, “You know, I must be a perceiving type because on my next day off I plan to do nothing.”
You heard the word “plan.”
So, this is about how you live your life. All of these come together in a magical way. So, we’ve got four preference pairs. We’ve got how you gain energy — extroversion, introversion; how you gather information — sensing, intuition; how you make decisions — thinking or feeling; and how you live your life — judging or perceiving.
So, there are 16 possible unique types within this.
Now, we use a shorthand for this. You probably have already figured it out. The only trick is we have to use an “N” for “intuition” because we’ve already used the “I” up for “introversion.”
Now, of these types, when they come together in that unique chemical reaction, we say the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Now, my particular type happens to be ESTJ: I’m extroverted, sensing, thinking and judging.
So, you’ve heard a lot about my type. I’m also really responsible: you give me something to do and I will follow through to completion. That’s how I got into the Myers-Briggs in the first place.
I walked into my manager’s office one day and he said, “Jean, everybody in this office is going to become an expert in something. Yours is going to be the Myers-Briggs.”
“Yes sir”, I said.
So, I get to live out my type. I get to write practical materials for people. I get to train people in how to interpret this instrument. I get to use who I am.
But I want to tell you a story about somebody who didn’t get to use who she was. I mentioned I do some training programs and, as part of that training, I would typically find somebody in the training class who wasn’t quite so sure of her type, but was reasonably verbal and seemed to have her act together.
So, this was in Dallas, Texas, a long time ago, and we were going through this interpretation in a very pleasant way, everything was going really well.
And, all of a sudden, we got near the end and this woman said, “I stopped using my ‘F’ and ‘J’ two years ago.”
Now, for those of you who don’t remember, “F” stands for “feeling,” making your decisions based on harmony with your value system, and “J” stands for “judging,” making a decision and getting on with it.
So, I did my good psychologist nod, my good psychologist pause, and the brilliant statement, “Tell me more — Context does everything here.”
So, she said, “Well, you need to understand that my faith is really important to me. I belong to an evangelical church. I work for that church, I believe in its teachings, but my husband came out as gay two years ago. We have children together. He is a good man, but my church says this is wrong.”
Her values had been clashing. She was stuck, she didn’t know what to do. But, suddenly, with personality type, she had a framework to understand what was happening to her and, right then and there, she started moving on.
Well, little did I know that, about 20 years later, the same thing would happen to me. My husband came out as gay. It was tough, but I’m an ESTJ. I need to move on, I need to just do it.
So, with the help of wonderful friends and a great family, who gave me love and support and advice, I was able to move on.
As the writer Garrison Keillor says, “When bad things happen to writers, it’s all just material.” And I’d like to add, as a psychologist, when bad things happen to psychologists, it’s all just a way of building empathy.
So, personality type has been enormously helpful to me in understanding myself and others, so that I can be more respectful of both of us, but I remember that it’s just preferences. I can act other ways when I need to.
So, I’m going to ask that you help me demonstrate preferences for one last time. And that is I want you to clap your hands and just freeze them, if you would. So, clap and freeze. Okay.
Now, you probably didn’t even notice that you have a way of clapping, you have a preference for that. So, I want you to practice, as loud as you can, the other way. It’s a cheap way to get applause.
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