Understand personality to solve communication difficulties!

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July 21, 2019

Understand personality to solve communication difficulties!

Having trouble understanding yourself? Having trouble understanding others? Understanding personality can solve many communication difficulties.

Much misunderstanding between people is because we imagine that all people are the same. In other words, we believe that we all perceive the world in the same way.  However, nothing could be further than the truth. I began this discussion here in an earlier post. In order for you to understand the personality type of yourself and your partner, I guide you through Jung’s personality types.

This is really solid, practical information!

Jun's four personaility types go a long way in understanding different personalities.

The four personality types are all perfectly normal ways of functioning and perceiving the world. They are present from birth and modified by environment and experience. Jung’s typology is about how you orient yourself habitually in the world, or how you make sense of it.

Here is Jordan Peterson talking about the Jungian personality types in action. In a forthcoming Insight, I will introduce more of his ideas on personality.

Brief theory on Jung’s personality types

The idea of four personalities or four humours did not begin with Jung. Hippocrates, the Greek physician, for instance, developed his healing systems on his observation of “humours.” Even at that time, the houmours had a psychological component and Jung used what he took to be a universal, or at least very enduring truth, on which to base his own work.

Jung observed that we are born with a tendency to one of the four types, thinking, feeling, intuition and sensation. We see the world primarily through that lens, with a second function adding its weight. For instance, thinking and sensation are considered to be pairs, and feeling and intuition another pair. Ideally, in the course of our experience in the world and our education, we gain skill in a third function.

The fourth function, or inferior function

Finally, there is the fourth function, or the inferior function, in which we are not skilful at all. We truly feel “inferior” in this function, because we are least well-developed in this area. For Jung, gaining skill in all four functions is the mark of a well-developed, well-balanced person. We become less lopsided as a result. When we are less lop-sided we are able to relate to all personality types with more ease.

Jung theorized that the dominant function characterizes consciousness, while its opposite is repressed and characterizes unconscious behaviour. When a behaviour is unconscious other people know more about ti than we do ourselves.

Already you can imagine that if your partner is very skilled in your “inferior” function you are going to feel like a klutz and they are going to think you are an idiot. And maybe superior, because they “get it” and you don’t!  Ouch. For example, if you are an intuitive and your partner is a thinking type, you will NEVER win an argument because the argument will always be on their terms.

This happens more often than you might imagine!

Our personality type changes over time because we develop our weaker functions. For instance, we might become more introverted with age –  this is common. And we become more skilled.

Personality types are not psychopathology

C. G. Jung proposed four personality types as a way to create a tolerant, non-pejorative understanding of personality difference. Jung said the types are important because it is one’s psychological type which from the outset determines and limits a person’s judgment. It is wise to know what these limits are.

“Psychological Types” occupied a whole volume of Jung’s Collected Works, and is one of the main foundations of his depth psychology. This was developed by Myers-Briggs, with Jung’s encouragement, into an analysis to show how radically people’s perceptions and instincts can differ. The Myers-Briggs is still used – and sometimes misused, today.

The Myers-Briggs is often used in the hiring process by big corporations, but its validity in such settings is limited. For instance, it does not predict behaviour, only personality tendencies, and corporations rely on behaviour. Also, incorrect generalizations can be made on the basis of type, rather than on knowing the individual. This can happen when you try to classify your partner, too.

I need to say right off that personality types are styles of functioning, and have nothing to do with psychopathologies. The four personality types describe four very different normal expressions of what it is to be human. Every one of us has some of the four personalities –  it is the ratio that makes us so different. Each of the personality traits is a continuum, from weak to strong. You might be extremely introverted for instance or almost balanced between introversion and extraversion. This will make a lot of difference in how you interpret your results in the personality type questionnaire.

In addition to the four types, Introversion and Extraversion give added definition.

Introversion and Extraversion

Introverts gain energy and are comfortable being alone and in small groups or one on one. They do not thrive at parties or working in an open-office environment. They often get bad press for not being “outgoing” enough! The book, “Quiet: the power of introversion in a world that can’t stop talking“,  gives an in-depth understanding of the excellent qualities that introverts possess. Many people who come to therapy are introverts, and this book helps them to feel valuable and normal! I’d make a guess and say that therapists are introverts too!

An introvert values quiet holidays, while an extrovert craves adventure.

An introvert values quiet holidays, while an extrovert craves adventure.

Extraverts gain energy from being with others and love parties and crowds. They are talkative, often loud and thrive when they are in the limelight. The former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke was extremely extroverted.

You can see already that if you partner is extrovert and you are introvert you are likely to clash about social events –  you are energized by different things. However, you might also help to balance each other out.

The thinking function

I’m taking thinking as the first of Jung’s personality types because it is the one that is generally most valued in Western culture. In other words, those who are naturally thinking types are going to get on well in the world because it functions as they do. Rationality and logic are kings here. A thinking type will always win the argument! That does not mean they are right –  though they are likely to think so. Such a person might need to hold back and listen to someone who does not express their opinion so forcefully.

Anyone who goes far in Western education needs a lot of thinking/rationality, especially if you take post-graduate degrees. Doing my PhD went totally against my natural type, so it was a particularly hard slog.  On the other hand, it developed this weak function, so that I am now more balanced in personality and can relate on an intellectual level.

The feeling function

The feeling function in Jung's personality types loves beauty and anything that will create a harmonious and beautiful atmosphere. Music, flowers, gardens, balance, harmony.

The feeling function in Jung’s personality types loves beauty and anything that will create a harmonious and beautiful atmosphere. Music, flowers, gardens, balance, harmony.

The feeling function is not so much about feelings as such, but a way of evaluation. You might think that a feeling-dominant personality would be warm and fuzzy, but not so.  Yes, your extraverted feeling-type hostess might give you a wonderful experience at a dinner party, from beginning to end. But your introverted feeling-type next-door neighbour might be shy beyond belief and so aware of the complexities and weight of interaction that any connection is difficult. Specifically, a feeling personality values people and relatedness more than ideas.

The sensate or sensation function

According to the personality types of C.G.Jung, the sensate personality enjoys touch and texture. including patting animal!

According to the personality types of C.G.Jung, the sensate personality enjoys touch and texture. including patting animals!

The sensate person does very well in our culture, second only to the thinking type. The 3-year-old who dismantles things – and puts them back together, is demonstrating the sensation type. Sporting heroes and musicians of all kinds are exercising the sensation function. Tradespeople are our sensate heroes, keeping the nuts and bolts of our world working smoothly. Anyone who works with their hands is strongly sensate, so your gardener and dressmaker have strong sensate abilities.

The intuitive function

We say, "trust your intuition" almost as a mantra. But many people do not know what their intuition is, and couldn't recognize it, let alone trust it!

It is significant that in a culture so dominated by thinking and sensation, we have a deep curiosity about intuition. Think of the TV shows where the clever sleuth discovers something that no one else can, often to the embarrassment of the establishment. The long-running series “House” is an example. We also prize visionary thinkers, such as Elon Musk who have a sense of knowing outside the range of most of us. We have scientist like Benoit Mandelbrot who envisioned the Mandelbrot set long before complex iterations could be demonstrated by computer technology.

While we value such demonstrations of intuition, we find someone irritating if their mind does not proceed in a linear fashion. Or if they can’t read maps! Or seem to day-dream a lot. My PhD supervisors had a hard time getting me to demonstrate what I already knew.  I thought it would be obvious if I just put in a framework.  Not so. Intuitives often have trouble explaining themselves, and where they are coming from. And the other types are inclined to respond impatiently.

What is your personality type based on Jung’s four types?

The personality types of C.G.Jung are useful tools to understanding yourself and your partner

The personality types of C.G.Jung are useful tools for understanding yourself and your partner – your differences and your similarities.


Here is a site where you and your partner can do a basic personality test, for free.  

How to use your knowledge of personality types to assist communication in your relationship

When both you and your partner do the personality test, you can discover clear differences and similarities and how these might contribute to your misunderstandings. How to spend the weekend might require negotiation, if one of you wants to party all night and the other wants to sit with a book and the cat!

Understanding personality types should make you curious about how other people perceive the world.

How might personality type information be misused?

In the introduction, I alerted you to the possible misuse of personality type information. If you take a fatalist attitude and say, defensively, “You can’t expect me to think, because I’m an intuitive type” you are fixing yourself into something that is a concept, not an absolute. Rather, understand that it is going to take more energy for you to apply and develop your thinking faculties.

Likewise, Intuitive types are inclined to avoid commitments, avoid writing things down (for example lectures and papers) because they avoid being held accountable.  They prefer open-ended possibility, rather than being confined to a specific course of action or relationship.

Partners need to be particularly careful about using personality type information in a pejorative way.  Your personality type is not the grounds for criticism, or worse still, contempt!  In other words, your knowledge about your partner’s personality type is to aid compassion and understanding –  not as a tool through which to judge.

The aim is to understand personality to solve communication difficulties, not to create communication difficulties.

Here are some examples of what NOT to say –  but you will get the point:

“Can’t you be less black and white!” (to a sensate type)

“Can’t you just make a decision?” (to an intuitive type)

“I need to know where I stand with you”. (from a sensate perspective to anybody else)

“You can’t expect me to be practical, I’m an intuitive! ” (to anyone who will listen, from an intuitive type)

I will add more as I think of them.  Or as you think of them!



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