Our Differences, Our Assets

Flex your strength

Flex your strength

It took me years, but I finally figured out why certain people drive me crazy and how those traits are actually assets that I should try to emulate. This is not rocket science folks, but some people are a little slow on the pick-up.

You probably have heard of the most famous personality type assessment, the Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI), but there are several good tests available.  They identify the common personality types and talents that exist within each of us.  According to these tests, each of us can be described by an amalgam of different strengths and personality types.  Our unique combination of strengths helps make each of us unique.  But understanding those personality types, their strengths and drawbacks can also help us to better understand and appreciate ourselves and one another.

Types of Intelligence – For instance, you may know there are different types of intelligences.  For example, in addition to the traditional intelligence quotient (IQ), there is also kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”), verbal intelligence (“word smart”), introspective intelligence (“self smart”) and so on.  If you’re not IQ smart, then you may think you’re dumb when you actually may be the equivalent of Einstein when it comes to music (musical intelligence), dealing with people (interpersonal intelligence), or one of the other types of intelligence.   Our school system tends to focus somewhat exclusively on IQ, math and verbal intelligence and in so doing, fails to value and develop much of the human potential in our young people.

MBTI – MBTI is a personality assessment that identifies people based on whether, for example, they gain energy from people (extrovert, E) or from being alone (introvert, I) (a common misconception is that this has to do primarily with whether or not someone is outgoing) or whether they make decisions based on feelings and emotions (F) or by thinking (T).  As a T, I could never understand why we would discuss people’s feelings when making decisions.  What is the possible relevance?  How is that fair?  I have since come to appreciate the value of the F approach in certain situations –  it is sometimes a more fair and compassionate approach than the old by-the-rules strategy.  My F friends think I found a heart.

The Judging (J)/Perceiving (P) axis defines whether we tend to be more comfortable with closure and decisions (J) versus keeping options open (P).  The latter used to be frustrating to me, “can’t we just DECIDE and MOVE ON people!?” or “let’s not wait until the last minute to start this project, OK?”     I, in turn, would annoy my P colleagues because they might feel I was being too hasty.   Since then, more than once I have looked back and wished that I had waited before coming to a decision or closure, as sometimes new opportunities or information have become available in the interim. Now, I make a conscious effort to not rush into a decision, and I no longer view waiting as a liability but an asset.

Same is true with the Intuitive (N)/Sensing (S) axis.  As someone who is fairly big picture (N), the details are often frustrating to me.  Sensing folk like details and want to talk details.  Rather than get annoyed by that, I look to them as my savior:  I ask them to identify and manage the important details, as opposed to letting them fall between the cracks.  Note that my inability to manage details likewise would tend to drive them crazy.

Strengths – StrengthsFinders 2.0 and the Authentic Happiness are strength-based tests that identify 34 and 24 categories of talents, respectively.  Understanding the different strengths available in each of us is helpful to realize that every person has the potential to excel and contribute.  In doing so, we have then an obligation to find and appreciate our own strengths and the strengths of others, and to develop them.   Research in this field shows that when people develop and apply their strengths, they become more engaged, productive, creative and happier.  In addition, effective teams can also be designed based on matching the skills needed for the task to the people with the right talents.  So knowing yourself and others isn’t just a feel-good strategy.  It has actual and measurable benefits.

However, like the other personality traits we discussed, strengths may also be perceived as a weakness or annoyance if applied in the wrong context.  You might find, for example, another person’s competitiveness or need to achieve annoying when you’re trying to relax.  But like the MBTI traits, in other situations you may instead find those characteristics a desirable and useful asset.   You might judge your own ability to empathize as a heavy burden you do not want to carry, but that may be an undeveloped talent that you can use to follow your bliss.

We humans tend to judge others who are different from us.  We have a tendency to reject what we don’t understand.   When we do so, by only accepting only what is within our current but limited understanding, we also limit our ability to envision how we can grow and improve.  For example, if I can only value science and technology and traditional IQ intelligence, I may not even consider that I have other skills and talents worth developing.  My Ginger Rogers self will never be discovered.

By rejecting or judging what we don’t understand, we also fail to see the diversity of contribution of other perspectives and how those differences can also have value to our community or to our decision-making.   I already gave an example of how appreciating MBTI-type differences has improved my effectiveness.  Valuing the creative, artistic, intuitive and spiritual endeavors in addition to the scientific and technical makes our communities (and ourselves) more balanced, beautiful, and interesting, and in the end, happier, and more productive as well.

In addition, by failing to value other perspectives, we create artificial and unnecessary divisions between us rather than viewing those differences as a way to enrich our decision-making or our lives.

Every one of us has strengths and talents buried within that can be used to enhance ourselves and our communities.  We can tap into those strengths, follow our bliss and enjoy creativity and productivity, and self-actualization, or we can use those differences to reinforce our alienation from each other or from the richness within we have yet to discover.

In I’m Rubber and You’re Glue, I discuss how forgiveness and acceptance of the hidden parts of ourselves that we hate can help us to be whole.   Our strengths and personality types may also be hidden from us.  Ironically, acceptance and forgiveness likewise may be needed to allow our hidden strengths to emerge.  I was heavily and myopically invested in my left-brained, scientific side for so long, I had trouble identifying my other strengths and passions.  Now, I feel like I’m living the purpose for which I was placed on this Earth.

It’s an inner journey most worthwhile.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy” – William Shakespeare

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