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Personality Typing



Let's look at four approaches to understanding personality. I am not an authority in any of these, and you don't have to know much about them to understand the relatively simple points I'll be making.

Probably the most popular systems for sorting out personality differences are astrology, the Enneagram, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Berkeley Personality Profile. Each of these gives its followers a way of thinking about who they (and other people) are and a way of talking about personality differences beyond such popular stereotypes as jerk and saint.

Not that jerk and saint aren't descriptive: they are. But they are so oversimplified they don't help us generate much co-intelligence. All we know is that we don't like the jerk -- and the saint is so perfect that we couldn't be like her if we wanted to. So there's not a lot we can actually do with these categories to get something co-intelligent going.


In contrast, an astrologer has a more sophisticated, useful articulation of who we all are. She knows that an Aries tends to be intense and idealistic and that if you put a bunch of Aries' together, things could get pretty wild. Better to leaven such a group with a well-grounded Taurus or cool their ardor with some Gemini cheer.


An Enneagram expert may notice that certain people in a group have characteristic blind spots, use particular psychological strategies, and repeatedly fall into typical roles. He knows enough about the way these play out in the Enneagram's nine personality types that he can avoid blaming these people for being who they are. Instead, he will invite them and the group to be more conscious of their personality dynamics. The more conscious group members can be of such dynamics, the more they can tolerate, moderate or transcend their dysfunctions and concentrate on using and integrating their diverse strengths.


Myers-Briggs advocates might note that assigning people to roles for which they are not well suited will result in poor performance. People do best when their role fits their personality type. Each type, for example, has its own favorite forms of leadership and participation. An SP (sensation-perceiving) manager makes a good negotiator, while the SJ (sensation-judging) manager is good at preserving traditions. Team builders would be wise to gather together those with the right mix of personalities to satisfy the requirements of that team's particular mission. On the other hand, a team that had problems might wake up to the fact that all of them are SJs who are resisting needed changes -- and decide together to try to transcend the limitations of their shared temperament.

Pros and Cons of Personality Typologies

Some people question the validity of these models. Is astrology real? Are Meyers-Briggs types true? From a co-intelligence perspective these questions are less important than "Who can best use these models?" and "How can they best use them?" Clearly a group of scientists would prefer a quantifiable method like Meyers-Briggs, while more esoterically-inclined people would find astrology quite useful.

(An interesting test to see how co-intelligent personality typologies or other such methodologies are is to ask how much time their advocates spend using their approach to build co-intelligence and how much time they spend denigrating other methodologies.)

A co-intelligent assumption shared by all these systems (and not by most jerk/saint systems) is that all personality types have a light side and a dark side; none is better than the others; each has something to offer and something to watch out for. A "type" is not a judgment. Tolerance and respect for our uniqueness and diversity are built into these systems -- as is the prospect for growth-towards-greater-wholeness by everyone.

However, typological approaches to personality have an important shortcoming that limits their use for building co-intelligence. They seldom take into account the fact that our personalities change, depending on our context. As organizational consultant Margaret Wheatley says, "whole new capacities come forward in us when we are together.... So why do we spend so much time trying to understand our self (little s)?"

The Berkeley Personality Profile (BPP)

The Berkeley Personality Profile takes a step towards resolving that. Designers of the BPP point out that any personality type is a box into which no one quite fits. So the BPP doesn't say (for example) that you are an extrovert, but rather indicates how extroverted you are. It examines five styles: expressive, interpersonal, work, emotional and intellectual -- five dimensions of personality that have come up repeatedly in research in many cultures. In a move that offers interesting insights for furthering co-intelligence, the BPP is designed to garner diverse responses from oneself (e.g., private personality vs. public image, and how one's personality manifests in various roles) and from one's family, friends and associates. This places our personality in various contexts and invites us to ponder why discrepancies exist among them. We may learn about contexts or relationships that bring out the best in us, or the worst -- or that augment this or that dimension of our personality.

Further research

We still know very little about the relationship between co-intelligence and personality. Among the questions I'd like to see researched further are:

Similar understandings are needed to help us deal better with virtually every form of diversity.* In the meantime, we can go quite far simply by realizing just how different we all our -- welcoming that fact into our lives, our groups and our communities -- and by challenging ourselves to encompass and creatively use an ever-greater amount and variety of difference in our midst.


LifeTypes, by Sandra Hirsh and Jean Kummerow (Warner, 1989) - a popularization of the Myers-Briggs typing system.

Who Do You Think You Are by Keith Harary and Eileen Donahue (HarperSF, 1994) - about the Berkeley Personality Profile.

The Enneagram by Helen Palmer (HarperSF, 1988)

And there are thousands of books on Astrology; I don't know which is best!

* Human diversity includes not only personality, and hot button differences like

· race
· nationality
· culture
· gender
· age
· ability/disability
· sexual preference
· religion
· political party

but also hundreds of other variations, including

· preferences,
· interests,
· needs,
· abilities,
· perspectives,
· opinions,
· attitudes,
· beliefs,
· assumptions about reality,
· ego involvements,
· values,
· dreams,
· connections,
· resources,
· habits,
· lifestyles,
· cognitive styles,
· communication styles,
· stories,
· experience,
· stages of development,
· responses,
· tolerance levels,
· physical looks,
· roles,
· families,
· education,
· information
· health and
· status