Self-leadership, Type, and Getting into The Communication Zone(R)

Posted by

Adapted from an article published in Volume 38.4 of the “Bulletin of Psychological Type,” March 4, 2015.

Linda Berens and Stephanie Berens-Kiler

Maybe this is familiar…At dinnertime, they had some leftovers and she said to her partner, “You don’t want the spaghetti.” She noticed that he seemed confused and somewhat irritated. He even said something about why was she so negative? Obviously she wasn’t in the communication zone like she usually saw herself. Read on to see how she used type to help her develop more self-leadership.

It is said that leadership starts with self-leadership. It is also said that we all need to do more self-management as our organizational systems flatten and we receive less direction. Self-leadership requires self-awareness and the capacity to step outside ourselves. Self-leadership is most like what Robert Kegan[1] called the self-authoring mind. Jennifer Garvey Berger[2] describes it in this way:

People with a self-authored mind are those who own their own work, make their own decisions, and mediate among different perspectives with relative ease.

Communication is the medium for this development. Communication involves how we listen to others, how we interpret what they say and do and make meaning of it, and how we talk to others. It also involves how we talk to ourselves.

The Communication Zone® is where it all happens. It is where we decide if we will move forward in relationships, if we value their opinions, or even if we will listen to what they say. [3] Of course we want to be ‘in the zone’ and have communication go well, to feel heard and understood, and to understand in return. So how do we ‘get in the zone’ in our communications and at the same time move forward with developing self-leadership?

While developmental lenses such as Kegan’s can help, type lenses give us an easily accessible way to prompt this development. When they are used to foster perspective taking, they can help us develop this self-awareness and increase our capacities to self-manage.

What rules are you following?

Yes, we all follow rules of some kind! Some of these are internally driven and some come from outside ourselves. The most difficult ones to manage are the unconscious ones. How can you lead yourself if you don’t know the rules?

We all have many unconscious operating systems, or unconscious automatic ways of being that drive our behavior. These come from many sources—our upbringing, life conditions, traumas, stages of life, and many others we could think of.

Some of the most significant unrecognized operating systems are those that come from the core of our personality—tendencies and inclinations that have been with us since birth. When we know what these systems are we can make choices about whether they will drive our behavior or whether we will decide to flex.

We must detect the underlying rules of some of these most complex aspects of ourselves. Once we know these rules, we can see how to satisfy deep needs and drives, how to engage our talents to get those needs and drives met, how to better manage our stress, and how to set them aside when we need to—in other words how to lead ourselves.

Knowing the Rules, Choosing to Follow the ‘Rules’

Different lenses help us see the different aspects of ourselves so we can locate the source of miscommunications and identify ways we are being judgmental of ourselves, and of others. The Integrated Type™ lenses[4] of Essential Motivators (aka Temperament), Interaction Styles, Cognitive Dynamics, and the new lens of Intentional Styles help us identify those rules. Each of these lenses contributes to our understanding of various aspects of our Whole Type pattern, which has a set of rules as well. We will not go into these lenses here, but instead offer you some ‘how-to’s’ of using type to help move ourselves and others into self-leadership and get into The Communication Zone. Choosing when to be guided by those unconscious rules and when to not be ruled by them takes several steps and practice.

Talking to Yourself

Becoming aware of type differences and your own best fit, and ways you are alike and different from each other changes how you communicate with yourself. It changes how you feel about yourself and about others. It shapes your self-talk as you notice the type patterns at play in your interactions. You begin to notice ways what you thought was clear was not understood in the same way you intended it. Or you notice that you have made meaning of something that someone did or said and wasn’t what they intended. This is the beginning of getting into the communication zone. You start to recognize your own perspectives and that sometimes those perspectives are not the most helpful.

The Steps

Here is a practice for you to follow that will increase your capacity to self-manage as well as get into The Communication Zone.

You say something.

  1. You notice it was not well received. Sometimes you read the non-verbal clues and sometimes your partner gives you feedback about it that tells you it didn’t land the way you intended.
  2. You start to ask yourself, “Where did the communication go wrong?” To do this without blame of yourself or the other person, you can mentally run through the various type lenses to see what you intended and what drove you to communicate the way you did.
  3. Once you realize where it was coming from you can explain your intentions.
  4. With practice you can become more mindful so you catch yourself before you mindlessly let your style or motivator drive you.

Now back to our opening scenario. This example comes from a one of the graduates of our Certification workshops. Her type patterns:

  • Interaction Style: In-Charge
  • Essential Motivator Pattern: Catalyst
  • Cognitive Dynamics of the ENFJ pattern: leading with Connecting (Fe), supporting with Foreseeing (Ni), gaining relief by noticing (Se), and aspiring to Analyzing (Ti)
  • Intentional Style: Customizing

At dinnertime, they were deciding what to eat. They had some leftovers and she said to her partner, “You don’t want the spaghetti.” She noticed that he seemed confused and somewhat irritated. He even asked her why she was so negative. He had really liked the spaghetti. She then asked herself why she said it that way and quickly shifted through which aspect of who she is had kicked in to help her get some of her needs met. She realized it was her In-Charge style that was mostly about getting a decision made quickly and also she usually knows what people want ahead of time (Connecting with what they like and don’t like and Foreseeing their responses). Then she explained that she was just trying to get a quick decision and they laughed about the miscommunication since he knows the language of Interaction Styles too. She then vowed to slow down and inquire in a more positive way to leave open the possibility that she doesn’t know what he wants.

She told us that this is a repeating pattern and she was a bit impatient with herself for not doing it right in the first place, especially since she is usually quite diplomatic. We assured her that it takes practice and suggested she might look at what she else might be at play. As it turns out, it wasn’t just style related, it was also her own sensitivity to trying new recipes and some new cooking skills so she assumed he didn’t want the spaghetti. Using the multiple lenses of Integrated Type got her started noticing differences and sent her on a path of self-reflection and perspective taking. Then she could be in the relationship in a new way with baby steps. Knowing when she was moving in and out of The Communication Zone increased her capacity to reflect on deeper issues that were getting in the way and gave her a tool to continue to grow in her self-leadership.

Once you know more about the voices in your head, you can change those voices. Some of these are type related and some of them are related to other unconscious operating systems like the thinking and communication habits we get from our upbringing or culture. It helps to use the type models, held lightly of course, as a starting place for looking at where a communication went wrong. Then observe ourselves and practice, practice, practice being mindful. Soon we will be able to shift our perspectives and get out of our own way and into the communication zone before the miscommunication happens.[5]


[1] Kegan, Robert. In Over Our Heads. Harvard University Press. Cambridge. Massachusetts. 1994

[2] Berger, Jennifer Garvey. Changing on the Job. Stanford Business Books. Stanford, California. 2012

[3] For more about the different lenses we recommend the books from the Understanding Yourself and Others series published by InterStrength Press:

  • An Introduction to the 4 Temperaments, 4.0 by Linda V. Berens
  • An Introduction to Interaction Styles 2.0 by Linda V. Berens
  • The Sixteen Personality Types, Descriptions for Self-Discovery by Linda V. Berens and Dario Nardi
  • Understanding the Personality Type Code by Linda V. Berens and Dario Nardi