Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Style, Personality Conflicts, and the MBTI in Forgiveness

We've explored the limitations of people who are too wounded or afraid to work through offenses with us, and we've considered that timing can be everything when forgiveness is understood as a journey rather than a destination that one must arrive at immediately. We've also looked at putting aside fantasy in the forgiveness process and have considered the important role that expectations play in the development of pain and bitterness. But we've yet to consider a more basic problem that can hinder our ability to communicate and forgive: personality and style conflict. Sometimes we may feel like forgiveness always involves moral issues, but there are times when we just don't see eye to eye with others because of our natural differences which are neither good nor bad.



Conflicts of the Old and New Testament Patriarchs

At first blush, this subject may sound like little more than psychobabble or what some call the Christian version of a horoscope. I don't agree, especially considering the number of personality conflicts described in the Old Testament in particular. Joseph's brothers didn't like him, and we see the personality strengths and weaknesses which created conflict among Jacob's many sons. And look at the relationship between Jacob and Esau and Isaac with his sons! How could we want for more simple examples of people who preferred one person over another. Even among their wives, we see stories about the conflicts of personalities and how our own preferences can greatly interfere with how easy we find our loved ones to love. (For more about the Biblical perspective about relationships and understanding them in terms of “systems theory” visit Overcoming Botkin Syndrome, noting in particular, the tag for posts about triangulation.)

Even more so, I like the example of how Paul and Barnabus negotiated their personality conflict in the Book of Acts. Paul had been known as a rather rough character, what the Hippocratic personality typing system would call a choleric. He was more businesslike and academic in his style of ministry, and in the days before his conversion, he could be quite aggressive, to put it in gentile terms. For a time Paul ministered as a Christian missionary to the Jews in Asia Minor with Barnabus. One might consider that Barnabus was more people oriented, traits that some Bible teachers describe as a sanguine or a phelgmatic personality, noting that even his name meant “son of consolation.”

The two men experience conflict over what to do with young John Mark, the relative of Barnabus, and whether he should accompany them in their travels. Both men had good reasons for believing what they did about whether John Mark should go with them, but they could not come to a workable agreement, experiencing what Luke describes in the Acts account as “sharp contention.” Rather than becoming increasingly frustrated with one another which produced strife that could not be resolved, the men decided maturely that it would be best for them to part ways. They remained in unity concerning doctrine, but they just didn't see eye to eye.


Respecting Personality in Offenses In Christian Literature

No matter how you prefer to observe differences in personality and style, we are all wise to consider that we just don't always get along with everyone, and sometimes, it has nothing to do with moral issues or doctrine. Tim LaHaye's book, The Spirit-Controlled Temperament which revives Hippocrates' model for health also incorporated personality types became quite popular among Evangelicals during the '70s and '80s. Gary Chapman's Christian self-help books about the Love Languages also described people as having five different styles of behavior, too. Cynthia Tobias wrote several books using Gregoric Theory to describe learning styles for children, and Focus on the Family published her first books about how these styles affect the ways that we relate to one another. As a person who tends to love models and theories like this, I just loved all of these books, so I naturally thing that they are worth while reading. Tobias' books have probably been the most helpful to me as an adult because of the heavy amount of teaching that I do as a part of my professional work, and they also helped me understand my coworkers, a primary theme in her later works. (And I think her approach is one of the best concerning the management of strong-willed children and adults alike.)


Type Conflict as a Means of Fostering Respect

In all of these titles, at some point, each author points out that certain types of personalities lend themselves well to one another, and some mixes of types set us up for particular problems. Tim Lahaye and his wife have developed a whole series of books devoted to the subject of this concept of personality compatibility and conflict and how we can better relate to one another within certain types of relationships. w to relate to others by reading some of these titles. They were so popular in my youth and young adulthood that I take for granted sometimes that most all Christians are familiar with them.

When teaching in a nursing program years ago, I passed out the inventory to my students and was not surprised to learn that I had a Gregoric style conflict with one of my students. I she seemed to ask questions about things that I didn't see as important, but I needed to respect her learning needs if I wanted to be an effective teacher. The way I took in and processed information was foreign to her, so collaborated with her about how I could best make sure that I was explaining things in a way that she could best understand. Even though I understood our differences, I never ceased to be amazed about our differences. It was quite a lot of work at times, because without respecting her unique personality and style, I could have become irritated with her rather quickly.  (I'm Concrete Random, and the student was a Concrete Sequential.)

The kind wisdom that I believe that they bring to the discussion of offense and conflict can help us put matters into perspective in a way that helps extend greater understanding to others. I think that was the whole point of this genre of books, something that was of great importance to the generation of Christians who wrote them. I don't see them as a “Christian horoscope” in that respect. I believe that they point out what Chris Thurman notes in The Lies We Believe when he quotes the Bard (and young Hamlet), noting that many things in life are neither good nor bad, but it's our thinking that makes them so through our prejudice and perspective. We can fall into error and hurt others if we fall into the trap of labeling everything that is different from our preferences as bad on a moral level – particularly when they have nothing to do with morality. We see this in spiritually abusive groups who force social preferences as mandatory doctrines taught in the Bible when they are nothing more than preferences.


Myers-Briggs Conflict Pairs

There's also a good bit of information that we can glean from the Myers Briggs Type Inventory concerning conflict and compatibility in relationships. The MBTI classifies people in terms of how they take in info, process it, think about it, and then interact with the world. (I noted my own MBTI type here in this almost silly post and used it to point out how it relates to spiritual abuse.)



Feeling/Thinking Pair Conflict. It seems that in terms of handling conflict, Thinkers and Feelers find themselves at odds with one another, as do Perceivers and Judgers. In the most simple of terms, the Thinker prefers analytical or comprehensive thought over feeling as they make sense of what happens to them, and the Feeler tends to make more sense out of life through feelings as opposed to analysis of ideas. Each individaul prefers one trait over the other, and each trait comes with its own inherent strengths and pitfalls. (Keep in mind that either is better than the other.)

It seems that when Thinkers and Feelers approach conflict with one another, they handle it in entirely different ways. Thinkers approach conflict as a problem to be solved, and they pay special attention to objectivity and fairness as a principle in the process. Feelers focus special attention on the impact of the conflict on the people themselves. It takes quite a bit of work for the Feeler to come to a more objective understanding preferred by the Thinker, and by considering the objective elements of the conflict. The Thinker must then work to consider the subjective aspects of the situation, bringing some sense of balance to what seems like too much sensitivity and wishful thinking to the Thinker and what seems like cruel, callous disregard to the Feeler. If they can work to collaborate and can break through the style barriers to communication, they can actually arrive very good decisions that bring balance to one another's preferred perspective.

Judging/Perceiving Pair Conflict. Judgers and Perceivers also tend to struggle against one another when facing conflict. Judgers tend to focus on the outcome of the conflict, and they only experience satisfaction when a matter resolves. Perceivers tend to get focused on the present and the procedure used to work through the conflict. They're less concerned about the outcome and more focused on clarifying the primary points being raised in the conflict itself. The Perceiver feels more more satisfaction from ensuring the quality of the collaboration than they do the outcome. Judgers want to resolve things and Perceivers want to clarify everything well before moving through the conflict into resolution. Judgers tend to get very frustrated with the Perceivers, as it seems to them that they're concerned about much that is not necessary. But the Perceiver can feel as though the Judger has rushed through the process, just to dispense with it.

Introversion/Extroversion in Combination with Overall Type. Things get even more complicated when you look at the larger personality in combination. Feeing Judgers tend to avoid conflict, and even more so if they are quite Introverted (another MBTI indicator type). Extroverts who are both Thinkers and Perceivers get laser focused on the process of being fair and objective to all of the parties involved, making sure that the process is respected. They tend to like to use confrontation to solve problems. The degree to which a person prefers competition presents another significant factor that determines whether or not a person is inclined to work through a conflict or avoid it instead.


Type and Style in the Resolution of Conflict

Whether we choose to look at a style or type paradigm or whether we just stop to consider that each person has a unique style when approaching conflict that we need to respect, the consideration of style and personality can help us communicate more effectively. This respect for others as we realize that not everyone things of things and does things in the same way that we do can help us when both considering offenses and how we go about resolving them. This consideration can also help us avoid mistaking general irritations of a personal matter from sins which we think of as more serious matters. And the idea that others go about things differently than we do can help us have more patience with others as we work through the discomfort of conflict. Respect of our unique differences can help us all love one another more effectively during the challenges of offense and resolution.

Some online references for further reading:




More to come on personalities
and how knowledge of them can help us
work more effectively towards forgiveness.