The Fine Art of Clarifying Type

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We used to offer an advanced workshop, called The Fine Art of Clarifying Type, with the tagline of Get the F.A.C.T.s. I’m seeing the need for this now more than ever so I thought I’d post some thoughts on a place to start.

Frequently people don’t agree with their instrument results or can’t seem to settle on patterns and preferred dynamics in a self-discovery process; they just can’t find a fit. Sadly, they sometimes just accept the instrument results as accurate or they reject the utility of using typology models. I’ve heard people ask what it means if their results on one instrument don’t match the expected results on another instrument that is purported to line up. It is of value to use multiple lenses and instruments as data points to help clarify, but what do you do when they don’t line up? Why is clarifying type often so challenging? How can we meet those challenges?

A good approach is to start with an understanding of what contributes to the confusion, and then do what you can to control for the ‘sources.’ If you are helping others arrive at a best fit, they may be able to sort it out better if you explain some of the reasons. Once they know what is at the root of the confusion, they are more likely to filter that out and reach some clarity. Considering the following aspects should help this process.

1. Human complexity: We need to recognize that we humans are complex systems and don’t fit neatly into categories. Therefore, hold the models lightly and stay open until something really rings true. For some, finding a fit isn’t important enough to spend the time and for others settling on one pattern will never ring true for a variety of other reasons.

2. Measurement error: Let’s face it. There is always measurement error in instruments and in self-discovery processes. Some of this is due to the items and what meaning is made of them in responding. Some is due to the method used. I’ve found that with clients with a lot of life experiences, forced choice doesn’t work as well. If the confusion is with the self-discovery process, an example or negative associations with one of the patterns being described may turn off the individual to that pattern or preference. You can inquire about this and clear up misunderstandings if you are helping someone clarify.

3. Framing: In the framing and set-up of the experience or taking an instrument, it may not have been made clear that they are to think of themselves in multiple situations and how they’ve been over time. Since instruments and workshops are often conducted in the work setting, they may have responded from their Contextual Self or Developed Self, not the Core Self.

4. Safety: Environmental pressures or early traumas might make it not safe to reveal the Core Self. If you determine that the environment wasn’t really safe enough, just let it go. They may find their fit on their own.

5. Relevance: Often the relevance and importance of getting to the Core Self is not established. In a work setting participants want to know how this relates to work they have to do and what the benefit is to them. Since there is often a focus on behavior, they may not realize that how they think about things and interpret events is just as important as their behavior.

6. Type Dynamics and Development: Individuals who have had a lot of life experiences are likely to have some comfort and access to their less preferred Cognitive Processes. In addition, they often have had to flex into Interaction Styles or Essential Motivators (aka temperament) other than their native ones. This makes identifying best-fit challenging.

7. Look-alikes: There are many other influences on who we are besides the type models. Be sure you know enough about the models used with the 16 type patterns so you can filter out look-alike behavior. You don’t have to use all the models with clients, but use them in the background. Familiarize yourself with other lenses such as the Enneagram, Ego Development (aka Maturity Frameworks), and others so you can rule them out as a source of confusion.

How you handle these confusions is just as important as getting to the best-fit type. One of the main things that helps is giving people a resource where they can read narrative descriptions of all the types with the encouragement to stay open. Of course, I prefer our booklet, The Sixteen Personality Types, Descriptions for Self-Discovery. Even when people seem sure of their fit, encourage them to keep exploring. After all, one of the main goals is to learn to become self-aware.

By the way, in our InterStrength Certification Courses we explicitly teach how to set the frame to control for measurement error, create a safe environment, and how to assess safety level and contract for making it safe.