I like working from home as a freelance writer, but sometimes I feel left out of the stimulating activities happening in “real” offices. At those times, I imagine a room full of professionals sitting around a mahogany table. The leader begins a PowerPoint presentation, and soon everyone is oohing, aahing, and marveling at the upcoming year’s strategic plans.
More likely, I remind myself, those meetings are mostly “boor-ing,” and the various personalities are simmering, beaming, bickering, or doodling in the same way they were back when I worked in high-level jobs in Boston.
But that was a long time ago, and today I work in the lower level of my house. I’m free to create my schedule and to choose my assignments, work style, and, to some extent, the people with whom I associate. I adore it all and miss little about working en masse.
Except when I hear about organizations embarking upon personality testing. A friend’s company is undergoing this extensive methodology to determine managers’ personality types: leaders, introverts, planners, nitpickers, and so on. A consultant is helping them use the knowledge to maximize differing work styles based on co-workers’ “types.”
I am a frustrated psychologist, never choosing to pursue it as a profession, but always helping friends sort through personal issues. Combining psychology and work via personality testing with colleagues fascinates me.
The only way to avoid feeling left out of this process, I decided, was to carry out the testing at my home office, albeit in a simplified manner.
I studied up on Myers-Briggs, the most popular of the personality type studies, which borrows from Jungian typology. The Myers-Briggs process determines a person’s partiality on four scales, with each scale representing opposite preferences. Depending on participants’ answers to a series of questions, they are designated a “letter” for each scale.
Combining these four letters determines a person’s “type code,” one of 16 possible combinations. The letters stand for introverted/extroverted (I/E); sensing/intuitive, (S/N); thinking/feeling (T/F); perceiving/judging (P/J). The goal of learning one’s “type” is to help individuals better understand themselves and their interactions with others.
To begin the process, I answered 72 wide-ranging questions on an online test posted at one of the Myers-Briggs pirate sites (apologies if this is like illegally downloading music). Questions asked everything from “Do you get pleasure from solitary walks?” (You mean there are people who don’t?) to “Do you feel involved when watching TV soaps?” (Is that what people think I do all day long here at home?) to “Do you value justice higher than mercy?” (Do I really need to reconsider my stance on assisted suicide to learn my type?)
The test results, tabulated in minutes on the website, discerned that I’m an “ENFJ,” which in Myers-Briggs speak means I tend toward being an extrovert (E) who makes decisions based more on intuitive (N) thinking instead of senses, and I rely heavily on feelings (F) instead of analysis of cause and effect.
Translation: I tend to shoot from the hip rather than analyze, or in Dave Barry-speak, I eat before checking for mold.
The personality test also revealed that I am a well-organized planner (J) who dislikes spontaneity. Put into action, this means if my neighbors ring my bell at 9 a.m. and ask me to go for a walk, I will chase them away, because while it looks like I’m hanging around in sweat pants watching TV soaps, in reality I’m about to begin writing an article wearing my finest work attire.
Once I possessed this newfound grasp of my personality, I thought about what it all means and landed on this: It means nothing without co-workers.
Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I considered “typing” my kids and husband to learn which of the personality types they might be, and how we can tweak our dealings with one another to reach greater harmony. But I already know my husband is the complete opposite of me. Do I really need Myers-Briggs to tell me that?
And my daughters? At nearly 15 and 20, their brains are in major flux right now; why would I want to document insanity?
The only alternative was to perform a Myers-Briggs evaluation on those who keep my work life flowing well. So I tested my office mates, two cheerful cocker spaniels. They prefer being around people to being alone (extroverts for sure), but they do sleep an awful lot during the workday, so they probably have an introverted streak. When it comes to making decisions, they rely solely on their noses, without forethought or planning … definitely ESFPs.
Next I evaluated the fellow in my “shipping department”: the shy UPS guy. He drops off packages without ringing the bell. He’s either introverted or afraid of the ESFP dogs that like to tug at the pant legs of men driving noisy brown trucks and wearing brown outfits. The UPS guy is definitely a planner, arriving at 10 a.m. sharp, and all he wants are facts, facts, facts, no talk about feelings, not even any acknowledgement of how angry I was about a recent late package. An ISTJ for sure.
Then there’s my “information systems manager” who updates my website. During the workday, this webmaster prefers the company of computers to people, and she spots the little details I often miss while I’m busy intuiting the big picture. But she’s also emotional, in a positive way, so she comes up an ISFP.
Finally, there was the sweet, hard-working women from Brazil in my “facilities department.” They vacuum and dust my office, not to mention nine other rooms in this three-level structure, and they never complain. There’s no category for that on Myers-Briggs, unfortunately. (If so, I can imagine the new questions for the survey: Do you point fingers outward at others or inward at yourself? Do you think of “wine” as a beverage or something you do all day long that’s spelled with an additional “h” whine?)
By the way, I didn’t bother to test the hamster. He spends half of each day in his wheel pretending to be busy while, in actuality, going nowhere and getting nothing done. He’s just like someone I once fired.
After collecting all of this data, I shared it with everyone involved. I told the canines to start being more productive, or no more treats at break time, fellas! They lifted their heads, passed gas, and returned to sleep. The UPS guy began leaving deliveries at the bottom of our steep driveway, probably wondering what kind of a pervert I was, tracking him instead of my packages.
The webmaster asked for a pay increase because I called her a spontaneous “P” when she insists she’s a methodical “J.” The cleaning people kept smiling like they always do, because they’re kind, considerate, and smart.
So instead of using the Myers-Briggs test at my home office ever again, or envying friends with access to such stimulating projects at work, I put things to rest: I took a nap. Can’t do that in the middle of the workday in a cubicle, no matter your personality type.