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Observational Type

Wednesday June 3, 2020

We need a new framework for “typing people”, i.e. getting to know a person, and then sharing one’s best guess of that person’s personality type. In this article I’ll discuss the why and the how and then provide a simple example outcome.

Problems – The “Why”:

  • “Typing and telling” is super frowned upon in some areas of the academic and professional personality type world. (I come from the latter.)
    • What is it? “Typing and telling” is when you basically tell someone what their own type is. Like walking up to someone and saying “HEY. YOU ARE AN ENFP,” for example. It happens! Especially online, where this can happen a lot in personality type communities.
    • You WILL likely lose points in academic or professional circles if you type and tell. Reputation points, relationship points, and more.
  • It’s also generally true that telling someone what type they definitely are can be a pretty lame move.
    • For one thing, what if you’re wrong? (Reminder: “I’m never wrong” is not an acceptable answer, as it just means you haven’t been doing this long enough).
    • Also, it can create the wrong impression of how personality type works, or lead to hurt feelings.
  • At the same time, sometimes people are absolutely begging for a quick estimation of their type.
    • “Please tell me what you think,” they’ll say. “I’ve read so much and taken so many tests and it’s been frustrating. I want input, even just a wild guess.”
  • For a lot of those people, it’s more of a broad, open, perceptive journey anyway.
    • The chance of a wild guess or even a good seemingly-challenging guess hurting their feelings is pretty low, for example. But it’s also not likely that it will completely resolve the question for them.
  • There is no current, concrete model (that I know of!) that resolves this typing-and-telling problem with an ethical approach, effectively allowing people to share their thoughts as to another’s type.

A Solution: Observational Type

“Observational Type” or “Observational Typing” is a very simple solution that can solve a lot of problems.

Here are the ingredients:

  • We offer observational input as to another person’s personality type characteristics, instead of saying something like “I know your personality type for sure.”
    • We emphasize the observational, outside-in perspective. We are not you! We may not truly know you!
  • We talk about what are picking up so far, from observation.
    • We may provide simple examples of things we noticed about the other person, or heard the other person say, and so on.
  • We treat our own observation lightly, in the sense that it’s not the final answer, and needn’t be the final answer.
  • We understand that not everyone will accept, or needs to accept, someone else’s observation as their own final answer.
    • You may even ask yourself: What is it about my own personality that needs to give such a quick and final answer? This can open the door to Jungian studies in topics like the shadow, developmental personality aspects, or a relevant archetype.
  • We understand that it is usually not our job or your ethical privilege to claim the final answer on someone else’s core personality type.
    • Speaking of “core,” consider Linda Berens’ model of Core, Contextual, and Developmental types. The fact that a given person can appear to be different from others of their same type, due to a variety of factors.
  • We keep in mind that immediate certainty in the face of limited exposure or while snapshotting a given context can also be a kind of psychological tell. This over-confidence (how dare we call it that!) often communicates instead a projection of confidence.
    • So, is a quick, final answer actually more like proof that the person doing the typing lacks appropriate, depth-focused education on the person or the theory, or both?

Example Phrases

Some examples of helpful phrases you can use, to emphasize the context, include:

  • “Maybe there are some other factors I don’t know about you, but…”
  • “I haven’t exactly known you for a long time, so…”
  • “I know you’ve had lots of input on this, so here’s just what stands out to me…”
  • “I am reminded of some other people, like (person) who is (type), perhaps because of (some specific reasons).”

And here’s a Before-And-After example:

Before: “Oh you’re absolutely an ENTJ. No question at all,” (This is probably the worst kind of typing and telling)

After: “From an observer’s perspective I’d guess at ENTJ, because…” (In this answer we add depth, detail, and open up the possibilities, creating more ethical headroom)

(Note that you don’t have to actually use words like “observer,” “observation,” or “observationally”.)

Conclusion

This is a simple model, but I think it really helps, even as something to keep in mind.

As an advantage, it holds to a broadly ethical standpoint while also opening the door to what could be a helpful, shared, open discussion about a given person or their personality type.

This method is much less like playing with fire—relationally (I know you so deeply), intellectually (I know everything at an instant), and reputationally (I am willing to give a poor answer, if I can sound decisive about it).

It also better aligns with best practices for helping others discover their personality type.

The Academic and Professional Side of Personality Type

By the way, be sure to join us at APTi if you’re interested in being a part of the community. It’s a very welcoming organization and I’ve personally learned some amazing things from fascinating people.

Speaking of professionals, and since this blog is written by and for INTJs in large part, here is INTJ Richard Owen discussing Introverted Intuition in a fascinating presentation for BAPT, the British Association for Personality Type.

Filed in: Essays /52/ | Relationships /78/ | Ni /42/ | People /72/ | Intuition /61/ | Publications /44/

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