Recently I watched a class of first year medical students practice communication skills with a “standardized patient,” an actor playing the part of a newly diagnosed diabetic. The students were tasked with explaining diabetes and negotiating a plan for further testing and lifestyle modifications. Blood testing, exercise, and dietary choices were broached and each question posed by the patient was answered. Each student took a turn, picking up where the last student left off. What was striking was how differently each student carried the discussion – some were quieter and listened intently, validating the concerns that the patient was experiencing; others were more animated, their contagious enthusiasm infusing the patient with hope that she could manage all that was before her. The actor provided each student with feedback and reflected the fact that each approach was effective and helpful in understanding her condition and gaining confidence that she could face what was ahead. The Myers-Briggs personality assessment provides a description of the preferences we each have for what we pay attention to, how we like to take in information, the methods we use to process that information, and how we prefer to deal with the outside world. When I ask a physician coaching client to take the Myers-Briggs, I’m careful to emphasize that there are no good or bad answers, and no good or bad personality types. What’s important is to understand who we are and what we bring to our relationships, groups, and interactions. Each of us has something special to offer. It’s crucial that we recognize and acknowledge that. Otherwise, we risk withholding skills, talents and information, thinking that our way is not as valuable as someone else’s. Or, we aggressively try to dominate, believing that our way is the only relevant way to approach a situation.
It’s taken me years to understand and accept my own preferences. A strong introvert, I opted for a wonderful conversation over a quiet dinner with a friend rather than the boisterous gala at a recent meeting. An extroverted colleague later shared her delight with the evening of laughter and dancing. We each chose appropriately and emerged energized and ready for the morning sessions. I prefer to plan and follow an uninterrupted path toward my goals. My husband is happy to divert his attention to various interesting things along his path. Because of my focus, most of our arrangements flow smoothly. But it’s his willingness to shift his attention that makes our life more interesting and fun.
In what ways are your preferences important in your relationships, activities and work? How do those of others complement what you bring? By appreciating and contributing each person’s ideas and strengths, we make our own lives more enjoyable and enrich our workplaces and homes.