Thursday, 16 July 2009

MBTi, learning and development in groups

So, the first insight of personal preferences has been: oh, that's what I like, and there's a name for it. It's simple and rather fundamental - it's about personal positionings (rather than identity).

What made this first set of insights significant is for a good part the person who offered them - S. did her PhD in Chemistry and did so being intensely unhappy - struggled with her lab team and her supervisor with the result that she left feeling incompetent and unable to complete the task in hand - finishing her PhD. She eventually left academia and begun working as a trainer and consultant - offering training courses for PhD students and academic researchers. And relatively late in the process discovered MBTI and her strong preference for intuitive information gathering and a decision-making based on feeling. And realised that her supervisor - along with many other academics do prefer sensory fact finding and rational decision-making.

Now: do we value difference or do we relate to people who do things similar to ourselves?

Now (ad 2): I loved my Phd, it excited me and I loved working on it. And, thinking about it, I always knew that my supervisor contributed extensively to me loving my PhD and the process. He loved ideas, concepts, and connections - and that is the level we connected. He was excited to figure out what ideas and concepts I was excited by. He also, and much stronger than I, made decisions based on the social rather than logic and that meant that he validated my endeavour (and therefore myself who never thought of herself as an academic) and in turn fed my enthusiasm.

Things changed since. And I very much struggled with people with other information gathering and decision-making preferences. One in particular was also clear that - while my creative thinking was intriguing - I wasn't quite able to articulate, put it into a clear language and relate it to what he perceived the core of academic scholarship. 'Gesa, what you identify as your (inter)national area of expertise sounds wishy-washy to me'*, sticks in my mind. - Try harder....

And, yes - I tried harder and did so fairly successfully. But, and that is where S. and her finding her preferred way of working comes in: Logic and facts aren't any better than social and intuition. Thus: knowing what your preference is then enables you to take a position, reflect on it, develop it and change it when it's important...

It's fairly straightforward person-making and reflective abilities. And, while I'm having my head a bit far up my backside at the moment, this is nonetheless intrinsically social. It is made within a set of relationships, is validated within these and, crucially: at points ignored and dismissed.

So, just as much as MBTI can provide such acknowledgement of this is what I'm good at and this is what I'm likely to ignore and therefore opens up the possibility for personal development, it also provides a way of understanding (or at least: looking at) group dynamics.

Most obvious for my work is that in the context of research teams but also in the student supervision I am doing, notably at postgraduate level. One of the first points we discussed referred to giving feedback - commenting on academic work and progress. Here, what one hears as feedback is often strongely shaped by thinking/feeling preferences. If I make decisions based on logic, I want to hear what worked well and what went wrong - I want to have constructive feedback and the piece to be recognised on the strenght and quality of the piece of work I've done; alternatively, I am very concerned with the personal effort I put into the work and the relationship between me and the supervisor, if I have a strong preference for feeling.

Thus, in order to communicate, if I am the person giving feedback, I will need to (a) know my own preference and to have the ability to recognise how that makes me assess a piece of work; but also (b) to appreciate that the other person may have a different preference, may hear differntly to what I mean to say and therefore (c) need to provide a range of clues to communicate.

One way to help? Ask the person what they think about the piece, and the way they frame their response may give you a clue (e.g., if they emphasise the effort they've put into it, they could prefer feeling).

As you may see... this is about difference, and recognising such difference. Consequently, it makes a lot of sense to team teach in teams of people with different perference patterns. Then, some of the students say: well, I really couldn't stand Gesa, but I liked x, and the session probably worked for them. It is also about not assuming: one cannot easily identify preference styles - these are also shaped and modified by so many contextual factors - e.g., in work-contexts I often communicate with a strong Thinking preference, but really that is too straightforward (and possibly not only leaves me but also other confused if I pursue decisions in a different manner).

It's a simple model - and as such limited. Yet, it seems a rather dynamic model: it doesn't say anything about ability but simply about preference; it also doesn't provide an excuse for saying 'oh, I can't deal with detail or with logic'; and it allows for some understanding into group processes and the stuff that can go wrong. What I also like about it is that it offers strengths for each of the preference combinations - rather than saying Sensing is superior to Intuiting it explores the abilities that arise out of each combination.

And that leads onwards and backwards to collecting information and to knowing. I've kind of always known that I pick up stuff from everywhere and most often non-verbal. And it used to confuse the hell out of me because quite often the verbal communication was the complete opposite to all else I knew. So, for as long as I can think I have been communicating with ghosts - the stuff that people do not say. Often with rather disastrous outcomes. That kind of knowledge moved much more to the surface since I started painting (yes: this is a post about art!) and MBTI as a tool validated that. And it also made it clear that it is something precious, important and something to develop further.

So, I'm back with the ghosts and what is important for the paintings I do...

* and me accepting this as a valid question of course also demonstrates the extent to which human capital development and competitiveness is intrinsic to academia.


Anonymous said...

Yes! At work all managers do MBTI and we get our staff do do a mini-MBTI. Why? Because it helps us lead effectively. I need to give my staff feedback in ways that enriches and enlightens them, and our relationship, not based on what I want to hear from my manager.
How awful to have a PhD supervisor who could not relate to your work - no wonder S struggled. It sounds like you were fortunate. And now your students are in turn...

Dr Michelle Frantom (aka Dr Mad Fish of Mad Fish Designs) said...

Doing post-grad study myself and giving feedback to students as a 'lecturer' I have experienced both sides of the equation. Whe I was an undergraduate student I simply walked away from one lecturer and never went back, intuitively feeling that she was trying to 'possess' me so I would paint like her!

And yes, the ghosts. For me it is that strange feeling of watching someone's mouth moving, hearing the words and seeing hidden and often conflicting aspects of them revealed.

I am not familiar with MBTI but I will look it up.