Five Tips for using the MBTI® Instrument in Conflict

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From conflict to confluence

Written by Patrick L. Kerwin

“Is there one dichotomy that creates more conflict than any other?” That is the million dollar question that is often asked in MBTI ® workshops – and wouldn’t it be great if it were that easy?! But alas, it’s not. Each dichotomy can contribute to conflict for entirely different reasons.

Even the notion of what truly comprises “conflict” can create conflict! A few years ago, when preparing for a type and conflict workshop, I embarked on a mini research study to gather some data from the proverbial horse’s mouth. I surveyed people from each of the 16 types, with the first question being, “How do you define ‘conflict’?” And guess what? They each had different definitions!

Here are some tips to remember when you are using type in conflict situations:

Tip #1: Got Change?

This is always the starting point when working with type: Everyone has the innate urge to grow and develop. If people aren’t interested in making changes to their behaviours, then all type will do is provide them with even more language to label the people they’re in conflict with! Starting with who you are is essential – but examining where you need to stretch is critical. And that’s true for everyone in the conflict situation.

I’ll never forget when someone with a preference for T said to me, “What type has taught me is that when I’m working with F’s, I just can’t be myself.” At first, that comment seemed like it completely missed the mark. That is what type has taught you – that being around others who are different means checking yourself at the door?! But the more I thought about it, the statement isn’t completely off. Stretching into your opposite preferences means you have to do things in a way that you wouldn’t naturally do them. It’s the type dance – you start there, I start here and with some consciousness and commitment, we meet in the middle. Does that mean I’m not me and you’re not you when we get there? Hopefully not. In fact, we’re probably more complete versions of ourselves, using both our preferred parts, and our lesser preferred parts as well.

Tip #2: What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate

The words that are usually missing at the end of that sentence are, “…MY way!” While the functions are often used in addressing conflict, and are extremely useful (we’ll get to that later…), I like backing up and examining the communication process used during conflict first. The E-I dichotomy is the communication dichotomy, and it’s critical to make sure it’s working properly in the conflict situation. If E-I isn’t working, it’s hard to address any of the other preferences!

Since the natural drive for Extraversion is immediacy, E’s tend to want conflict addressed immediately. And since the natural drive for Introversion is reflection, I’s tend to want conflict addressed after careful thought and consideration. Then toss in a pinch of projection. When you have a preference for E, if you don’t speak up in conflict, it often means you’re not engaged or interested. When you have a preference for I, if you jump right into a conflict, it often means you have completely had it. This is then what prompts E’s to say to I’s, “You’re avoiding the issue!” Or I’s to say to E’s, “ Calm down – you’re in my face!”

Here’s a simple solution that requires some stretching on both sides of the fence. If I’s make a verbal statement that they are fully engaged in the conflict, but need time to think, that verbal cue lets the E’s know that there is indeed engagement. In turn, if E’s give I’s the space to process, then E’s will be rewarded with many more extraverted conversations to address the conflict. Cha cha cha.

Tip #3: Look In the Middle

The functions pairs are the core of type, and often can zero in on what people are focusing on in conflict situations. There has been so much written about the function pairs as a tool for conflict and decision making. A good resource is page 39 in the Introduction to Type® booklet, which presents a great model for using the functions in problem solving. Pages 11 and 12 in the Introduction to Type® and Coaching booklet also present a useful guide for using the four functions for resolving conflict.

Tip #4: Wrap That Baby Up

And leave it open! Adding the two last letters in a conflict situation can help answer the question, “What next?” Using the J preference helps a conflict situation by addressing issues like next steps, timelines and who’s accountable for what. Using the P preference helps a conflict situation by ensuring that new information can be included as it emerges, and that all parties can be open to making changes to the conflict plan when it makes the solution even better.

Tip #5: Don’t Get Too Comfy!

Recently I was talking with a client about some conflict situations in their organization, and how type could address some of the conflict. After reviewing some of the tips above, I finally said, “You know what the upshot is? Using type effectively requires a lot of consciousness.” And the trouble is, it’s so easy to stay put where we’re most comfortable – and not even be aware that we’ve burrowed right in. So keep your antennae up, and check in on how you’re using your opposite preferences in conflict.

Remembering these tips can make a marked difference in how conflict is perceived, addressed and resolved.


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