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Behaving Out of Type

Posted by Steve Read on November 17, 2011

We are all ‘of a type’.  We have preferences, which psychologists are good at describing and grouping.  They have developed plenty of tools which are immensely useful in our line of work.  Our leadership and management development programmes invariably use of one of the main psychometric tools (Myers Briggs and the like), which really helps each individual understand themselves, and their interactions with others. What fascinates me is the varying degrees to which people are able to behave ‘out of type’, and do something other than their automatic, preferred behaviour. I have recently seen examples of people demonstrating a clear ability to operate out of type and a seeming inability to do so. 

The first example involves Fred who has a liking for detail.  She enjoys spread-sheets.  She has a tendency to take them to meetings and show people the contents, whether they are interested or not.  I recently heard one of Fred’s colleagues (we’ll call him George) muttering to himself, about what he would do if Fred brought one of her spreadsheets to the next meeting. Sure enough, Fred did, and took delight in showing all her colleagues it’s functions, layout, attributes and colour coded cells.  George behaved true to type and told Fred exactly what he thought of her spread-sheet.  Fred behaved true to type and told George that he “simply didn’t understand…”  The resulting altercation wasn’t pretty, and was completely pointless and unproductive.  George’s preference for the big picture and Fred’s love of detail are equally valuable, but neither of them were giving any leeway.

The second concerns Alex who has a strong tendency for introversion (using the Myers Briggs Type Indicator).  Alex works with a team who all have a preference for extroversion. Alex gets good results, and interestingly, his colleagues are unaware of his introversion.  This is because of his ability to operate ‘out of type’ and take steps towards extrovert behaviours (for example forcing himself to join in the lively discussions and debates that develop during meetings).  Alex describes this as “absolutely knackering, but necessary if I want to influence my colleagues”.  He makes time for his introversion preference though, to reflect, internalise and organise his thoughts.  The results of this he brings back to the team, which would be less effective without it.

Teams need difference, but difference creates the possibility for tension and misunderstanding.  When we learn to be flexible, to understand the needs and preferences of others, and to behave ‘out of type’,  we can often achieve even more than when we use our automatic, preferred behaviours. People like Alex impress me, and as a result, I’m going to use more spread-sheets.  Completely out of type.

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