Many years ago, before I’d heard of this thing called the Enneagram, I took a job as an office manager where I had to share an office with the company accountant. He was a consultant and had several other clients, so he wasn’t there all the time. Besides, it was quite a large space with exterior windows on one wall and lots of glass on another. Our desks were across the room, in opposite corners, about as far away from each other as they could be.
He seemed an affable sort of guy at first glance. I probably seemed pleasant enough to him, too. But within a month, it became obvious we saw eye-to-eye on almost nothing. The situation became so disagreeable that he tried (and failed) to get me fired, and I threatened to bring a roll of duct tape into the office and run it from one corner to the other to mark off our respective halves of the room.
Then I had another thought. I was already familiar with the Myers Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI), which is based on Carl Jung’s “Psychological Types.” The MBTI classifies our personalities according to four sets of preferences:
Extraverted or Introverted (E or I)
Describes whether your source of energy is inside you (Introvert) or outside, in the wider world (Extravert).
Sensing or iNtuiting (S or N)
Describes how you take in information: do you have to see it, touch it, feel it, etc. or are you less literal and more conceptual?
Thinking or Feeling (T or F)
Describes how you make decisions: based primarily on logic or from a more subjective perspective.
Judging or Perceiving (J or P)
Describes what some call your life-style orientation. Do you prefer things to be structured, orderly, and decided? Or do you prefer to be flexible and keep your options open?
Here’s a link to a test you can take. After figuring out your four preferences, which gives you a four-letter type designation, you can see which box (for purposes of illustration) you belong in:
Grid labels from “Type Talk,” by Otto Kroeger and Janet M. Thuesen
When someone fits right in the middle of one of the four preferences, the designation for that preference is an “x,” (ExTJ, for example). Most of the time, it’s easy to recognize our preferences once we understand the basis for them.
Back to our designated corners
So my bright idea in regard to my adversarial officemate was to find out if he would be willing to take a short MBTI quiz to determine his type. After I explained a little about it to him, he agreed—which was a good sign. He took the test home and brought it back the next day. As soon as I saw what type he was, I nearly fell on the floor laughing. Just as our desks were arranged in opposite corners of the room, our MBTI types were also nearly completely opposite. I’m an ENTP; he was an ISTJ. We had the Thinking preference in common, but that was it!
I copied his and my type profiles from “Type Talk,” and he read both of them. I gave the guy a lot of credit for being open and willing to check out this weird thing he’d never heard of before, especially since it was coming from me. But after I read through his profile, and he read both his and mine, our working relationship was nothing short of transformed.
Learning that we were so different—and how we were different—not only helped us understand each other, it became a regular source of hilarity. I can’t remember how many times one or the other of us said, “Well, this is what I would do, so of course, you would do exactly the opposite.” And it was true. But we also found ways to work together that took our differences into consideration. He ended up becoming a good friend. I doubt that would have happened without some kind of intervention. If I hadn’t already been sold on the benefits of understanding personality and temperament—both mine and the other person’s—that experience would have sealed the deal.