Are you an introvert or an extrovert and does that label hinder you or empower you?
On a team training day the subject of personality types came up again, this time with animals instead of colours, or shapes, or abstract names that are supposed to inform us more accurately about someone’s psyche than their horoscope.
We all have a key VARK learning style.
We can be parent, adult or child in our social interactions.
We are either introvert or extrovert.
And we have 6 types of patients according to Michael Gerber.
Except we don’t.
We don’t exist in a neat little box, there’s far more overlap than absolute. I may come out as a reader/writer learner when you ask me a series of questions with fixed answers, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn effectively kinaesthetically.
I may have been very introverted as a child but that doesn’t mean I can’t train myself to be able to stand on stage in front of a group of strangers and talk about teeth (or more usually fake teeth in my case).
These sorts of summaries that categorise all 8 billion humans into one of roughly four types can be misleadingly reductive at best or dangerously condemning if applied badly. They can lead us to stereotype and discriminate against others or limit our own development if we take them too literally.
To say I hate them though would also be a bit too, well, categorical.
These labels can be useful when used for the right reasons, in the right context, with an acknowledgement that they’re a rough guide and not in anyway absolute.
In a complex world, we need some categorisation to allow us to comprehend the world around us. It allows us to recognise things based on previous patterns. Like how you know a pen when you see one, even if you’ve never seen that exact pen before.
Our brains are hardwired to categorise things, making our decision-making easier, reducing our cognitive load so we can get on with our lives.
We can use these categories help us understand where our blind spots are, where other people may see things differently to us. I might be that personality type that craves every conceivable detail, but my patients sometimes only want to see the big picture, telling them the nuanced surgical steps for placing a dental implant is likely to make them run a mile.
Categorisation can help us understand the differences between people in broad sweeping strokes. Reading through these Myers-Briggs type exercises has highlighted where I tend towards though I know I don’t fit neatly into a single category and so it would be unfair to assume anyone else does either. But remember, people aren’t pens. People are complex and changing. We may fit more in one category today and a different one tomorrow.
My advice? Learn about these categories, understand the variance in human behaviours, attitudes, strengths and weaknesses, then dismiss all forms of categorisation and focus on the individual rather than which pigeonhole we can nestle them into.
Oh, and I’m an owl by the way. Which is probably why I’m taking such a cold logical approach to all this lark.
He’s just a stereotype
He doesn’t really exist