Which Self Are You Talking About?

Posted by

There has been a lot of conversation in discussion groups recently about which typology instrument to use and the upsides and downsides of using any typology instrument or framework. One of the downsides is the tendency to typecast in ways that limit behavior. I blogged earlier about holding the lenses lightly, which helps. Introducing any type lens in a way that creates safety and maximizes growth has always been one of the most important things we teach practitioners to do. There are many ways we’ve devised that help. Here is one of the most important.

Start with setting the frame. If you don’t get participants or clients into the appropriate mind set for exploring their own type, you may as well not bother. There are many concepts to cover there, but the most powerful one is the different selves. Here is an explanation from the draft of my upcoming book, The Communication Zone.

Your Many Selves

It is helpful to think about the many aspects of your personality as your many “selves.”  You probably already think of yourself in terms of how you are in different roles such as employee, boss, parent, friend, spouse, child, sibling and so on. Yet, there is something that is constant to you, something that is at your core.

The Contextual Self

The contextual self is who we are in any given environment. It is how we behave depending on what the situation requires. The idea of a personality “type” doesn’t leave out freedom of action in the moment. Our personalities are always expressed in a context, so behavior is somewhat situational. What we do depends on what the situation requires. If there is a fire, we rise to the occasion and take action even if we’re not really action-oriented people. When we need to learn something in a classroom we listen attentively even though we are usually quite interactive and would prefer to talk and do. We are capable of adapting to varying conditions. This is our contextual self, where we are most flexible if we want to be.

The Core Self

An aspect of our personality exists from the beginning of our lives. This aspect of ourselves is in our genes, our DNA. We are born with a tendency to behave in certain ways, which influences how we adapt, grow and develop.

The Developed Self

If we are continually put in the same situation, that contextual behavior can become habitual and a more integral part of our personality.  The developed self is also influence by the core self. The developed self also encompasses the innate growth patterns that are there from birth. Personality development is influenced by our choices and decisions as well as by interactions and roles.

An important aspect of the developed self is the very strong influence of culture. Much of how to behave in a particular culture is so subtly taught that we may not think of this aspect of ourselves as separate from our core self. It is important to be aware of how  cultural background may look like aspects of different personality models and thus make it harder to find which personality pattern fits the best.

People tell me that this graphic and explanation is one of the most powerful things they use in their work. When we conduct workshops, we often keep it posted during the workshop and reference when people bring up the idea they they are different in different situations. It helps them keep focused on getting to the core of who they are, but it doesn’t take away from the whole of who they are.

When looking at personality types, all three of these aspects must be considered. Current behavior and adaptations may or may not be consistent with the core self. All are interrelated.

Throughout your session, keep reminding participants or clients that typologies are patterns that show up in many ways and they provide maps for understanding our selves and others. Remember that the personality type patterns show up in all these aspects. In many ways, the developed self is who you are. When using typology models, the goal is to help you understand the core of your personality since that is often an unconscious operating system. Once we understand these unconscious operating systems, we can be more conscious and improve our relationships, our job satisfaction, teamwork and more. Once we know who we are at our core, we can better control our stress responses increase our sense of well-being. Probably the biggest benefit of using type lenses in the long run.

End your session with a reminder about these different selves and to tune into what is unconsciously operating from time to time. Use the personality type ‘maps’ as a way to know what behavior is needed in a situation and to recognize that you have having to stretch. We are complex, self-organizing systems and we do adapt and grow. Typologies can help this process or hinder it.

I’d love to hear from you about other ways you have seen work to keep people from typecasting or over stereotyping, so please comment.