Unity through difference

I have a passion for personality assessment systems that explain how people see and interact with the world differently. Although I’ve known people who find these systems off-putting because they talk about the differences between people, I find them to be a great help in building bridges between people to improve relationships—both personal and work. In gaining a greater understanding of other people operate, I am better able to adjust my style and expectations to minimize the impact of the differences.

The first personality system I encountered—and the one that is still (by far) my favorite—is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). I remember the first time I took the test and realized that so many of the traits that I had been trying to change based on negative feedback were an inherent part of who I was and were responsible for some of my greatest strengths as well. (I’m an INFJ, by the way.) This enabled me to take a first step toward self-acceptance for me (a continuing journey) and also helped me to relate better to others as I began to understand that they simply did not see the world as I did. I still find myself guessing at other people’s MBTI types as I get to know them as a way to better determine how to work with them or relate to them. For me, this is always a bridge, not a dividing wall.

At a former workplace several years ago, I was introduced to the DISC model. This model has four basic styles of working and interacting that can be seen as four quadrants with one axis being the degree of task or people focus, and the other axis being the degree to which someone is expressive or reserved. Everyone has a score in each quadrant, but is highest in one style than the other three. I found this model to be much more helpful in the workplace where the focus in on the interaction between our different work styles. The simplicity of the model (four styles) makes it easier for everyone to remember than the sixteen types involved in the MBTI. My experience with this model in the work place is that it can depersonalize interpersonal conflict by allowing people to focus on the difference in their styles and how they can flex their styles to better meet the other person where they are rather than continuing to attack the other person for being different. It can also give everyone a more holistic view of others’ styles by pointing out the strengths as well as the weaknesses of each style, and it emphasizes the importance of each style to the overall success of the whole.

At a class I attended yesterday, I learned a bit about Dawna Markova’s Open Mind system of looking at the different ways that people interact with the world around them. This is a new one for me. In this system, there are three different channels of receiving information: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Everyone has all three channels, but we use them differently. We all have one channel that feeds our conscious mind, a different channel that feeds our subconscious mind, and a third channel that feeds our unconscious mind. These differences strongly affect the way we perceive and experience the world around us. Again, the understanding of how other people are different than we are enables us to interpret their behavior in a different light and to improve our ability to communicate with them in a way that maximizes their ability to receive our messages. Additionally, this model allows us to look at ways we can best receive information from our conscious, subconscious, and unconscious minds. I think (but am still not sure) that I am a VAK in this model—meaning that my visual channel feeds my conscious mind, my auditory channel feeds my subconscious, and my kinesthetic channel feeds my unconscious. Knowing this will allow me to better access my intuitive knowing because I can focus on using my auditory and kinesthetic channels to access that information instead of using my visual channel.

There are even more models out there that I am not very familiar with—astrological signs, enneagrams, etc. In my opinion, though, these systems all do the same thing by helping us to better understand ourselves and others. When we can truly understand how someone else sees and experiences the world in a different way than we do, it is much easier to take less offense at their differences and much easier to find ways to bridge those differences. That understanding is what allows us to create unity out of differences by showing us that the other person is really not all that different than we are; they are being as true to their perception of the world as we are to ours, and this is a cause for celebration, not division.

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