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Managing conflict: How MBTI helps me create team harmony
Harmonious team play is pivotal to a team’s success, as any sports coach would tell you. Only the luckiest of us would ever find ourselves in a team where everybody magically gels together. In most cases, clashes among team members are inevitable. Major clashes, which lead to resignations, are also not uncommon. How does one contain such a situation? In my experience of running a few small businesses, understanding some of the inclinations of your employees, based on psychometric testing and your own knowledge of human nature, can help you diffuse the tensions somewhat.

Now I know that psychometric testing, and MBTI in particular, has received a lot of stick over the years. Critics have called the tests unreliable. Not that I think these criticisms don’t have any merit, but in my opinion they miss the whole point – that something is infinitely better than nothing when it comes to understanding people, especially rank strangers, as most newly hired team members are to each other.

So the test does not do complete justice to an individual’s personality? Bite me. No one will ever be able to capture an individual’s personality adequately, much less a test comprising multiple choice questions. And I know there will be generalizations galore in even attempting to do so. But these tests give you a start.
What I look for in these assessments

Team members present all kinds of difficulties. Some take everything to heart, some take nothing seriously. Some don’t speak up when they have a problem and instead prefer a passive aggressive approach, whereas others are too vocal. The problem is mostly with those who tend to go to extremes, and psychometric testing is rather good at capturing that.

The MBTI assessment gives you a rough, albeit helpful, idea about a person’s overall inclinations – whether they are introverted, extroverted, a thinking type, or acting type, so on and so forth. While the tests give you a lot of personality-related terminology, I prefer to keep it simple and am more likely to refer to them when faced with employees who are better or worse than average.

So what does one do with the information produced by these tests?
It helps you manage conflict by making you sensitive to people’s personalities

If my best-performing employee, Mr. X, consistently turns down invitations to attend office parties or get-togethers, despite being very friendly during work hours, I won’t jump to the conclusion that he is being rude or doesn’t consider us worth his time. My mind is now open to the possibility that he simply is not a social butterfly and would feel awkward at an office gathering.

I have also become more aware of my own bias and the natural ability to get along with certain types of employees more than others, and a complete lack of understanding toward certain others. Anything that deepens your understanding of human nature is a good thing for a leader. You may not be able to solve each and every difference between your team members, but the very fact that you display a sympathetic attitude toward them will tell them that you care, and inspire confidence in them.
It makes you appreciate variety

Another scenario, you have a brainstorming session going on – everybody is coming up with ideas but employee Y keeps mum for most of the time. The only time he speaks up is to shoot down a suggestion, while not proposing any ideas of his own. You wonder what’s up with him. Why is he being so difficult? Is he plain uninterested?

If you know that personality wise this guy is a ‘thinker’, it would explain his indecisive behavior somewhat. Thinkers like to consider a hundred points of view before accepting an idea. They sit on their own ideas for long so that they can do all types of mental gymnastics and come up with (what they consider) a fool-proof suggestion. No suggestion is fool-proof, but as a leader you ought to admire that you have an employee who is willing to think that far ahead about ideas being passed around, as opposed to criticizing them for not doing enough in a meeting.

But isn’t this employee really missing the whole point of brainstorming? Yes, they are. But then spontaneity isn’t usually their thing. Be patient with that understanding.

At the other end of the spectrum are the ‘activists’ — people who are rather gung-ho as a rule and love to come up with new ideas, and get on them without thinking them through. In a problem-solving meeting, thinkers and activists typically clash. The activist thinks the thinker is not pulling their weight around, and the thinker accuses the activist of being overbearing and forcing their ideas down people’s throats.

This is where you blow the whistle. You know where both of them are coming from, and you can make them see that, too. That will help them calm down and try to be patient with each other’s working style, instead of getting lost in personal attacks.
Finally, it makes you a better manager

Would I hire on the basis of psychometric testing? I never have; I hire on the basis of a person’s experience, capabilities, and their personal interview. I use MBTI testing when I already have people onboard. I also encourage employees, typically those who don’t get along well, to learn about each other’s MBTI type so as not to let their personality differences affect their working equation.

It’s true that personalities exhibit change from time to time, but at a fundamental level people do not change. A typically withdrawn person is never going to become completely outspoken and outgoing. The MBTI test results will display subtle changes in some traits over time but the scores will stay within a range.

How much of this should be taken seriously is down to the individual managers to decide. These assessments have pointed me in the right direction more often than not. More than just reading the results, you should know how to interpret them. I personally feel the understanding gleaned from such tests is an excellent tool in a manager’s arsenal. I’m a huge believer in being very hands-on when it comes to managing people. People are our business. And I don’t mean just the customers, but also our employees. It’s in everybody’s interest to make them feel happy and valued.
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