One of the most important skills that managers can develop is the ability to communicate effectively with employees with different personalities. Diversity among people and personalities can provide balance on a team, and a manager’s ability (or lack thereof) to work with individual personalities can be a strength (or hindrance) to a practice’s success. Add the manager’s own personality to the mix, and it is clear why good communication comes naturally to some individuals but is a struggle for others.
Communicating effectively starts with recognizing how people with different personalities like to communicate. There are many ways to categorize personalities, but we have found a modification of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality inventory1 to be a practical and useful guide to help to identify and manage the array of personalities on our team. (An overview of the MBTI personality inventory is shared below.)
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
Individuals can be categorized into 16 distinct personality types using four dichotomies:
- Extroversion or Introversion: preference to focus on the outer or inner world;
- Sensing or Intuition: preference to process information at face value or to interpret and add meaning;
- Thinking or Feeling: preference to make decisions based on logic and consistency or by looking at people; and
- Judging or Perceiving: preference to create structure by planning and deciding or by being spontaneous.
As the clinical manager at Empire Eye and Laser Center, one of us (Mrs. Le Van, an extroverted thinker) has found that using only two of the MBTI dichotomies is useful when deciding how best to communicate with and manage employees. The two dichotomies I use are extroversion/introversion and thinking/feeling.
Simplifying the personality assessment by using these two dichotomies, rather than all four in the MBTI schema, allows me to place an employee in one of only four categories, rather than 16. Depending on my (intuitive) assessment, I can accentuate my innate extroverted and thinking traits in dealing with this person, or I may have to curb them. Let us explore each of these personality type divisions further.
Extroverted thinkers like me have no problem communicating their well-reasoned opinions. Employees who fit this category express themselves easily, so you can ask them how they are doing—and be prepared for a lengthy answer. They enjoy conversation, stories, and personal interaction, so face-to-face meetings work better than, say, an email dialogue for these people. Take the time to relate to them on a personal level before entering into specific business discussions.
Approach extroverted thinkers with facts. They operate with a logical approach to problem situations, so facts are essential. Try to use reasoning when explaining why a change or decision has been made, and list the essential pros and cons related to these decisions in order to create stronger buy-in. Once extroverted thinkers have bought in, they are all in. These employees can be your biggest cheerleaders.
Extroverted thinkers can be bottom-line focused and often don’t pay much attention to other people’s emotions, making them sometimes appear cold or uncaring. Challenge them to be more mindful of others in a given situation. Communicate to them that recognizing others from all angles will help them to become more in tune with their feeling side, which is not an innate skill for them.
Introverted thinkers typically deliberate on issues but may have trouble expressing their thought processes effectively. Approach these employees with a listening ear, and take care not to interrupt because perceived rudeness and disrespect may cause them to shut down. Listen intently; ask careful, clear, and concise questions; and read between the lines because, despite the time they have spent analyzing, they may not express that analysis verbally. In my experience, it takes time to develop a trusting relationship with introverted thinkers, but when you slow down, show patience, and value their input, they have a lot to offer.
It is also important to provide clear objectives and decisions when communicating with these employees and to address only the facts. Introverted thinkers don’t need a lot of fluff. In fact, they often prefer communication via email or messaging over face-to-face interaction.
Once a decision is made on a topic, introverted thinkers will assume there are no alternatives. Challenge them by asking questions that require them to think outside the box and to see the grey area in situations. Avoid presenting things as either black or white/right or wrong, and explore all options or scenarios that can lead to a successful outcome. In particular, remind them to be more feeling toward the needs of others.
Further, challenge these employees by asking for their input in a group setting. They often have great, well-thought-out ideas, but they don’t always know how to initiate conversation in a group to express themselves effectively.
Introverted feelers are often reserved and tenderhearted. Take time to understand their personal values first, in order to understand how they perceive a situation. This strategy is helpful in approaching these individuals effectively with an issue. Make sure to value the perspective of introverted feelers regarding how others may feel in a difficult situation, and go to them for insight. In our practice, this has been incredibly useful during shifts in staff morale.
These employees can be a challenge to manage because they would rather not communicate face to face. However, lack of communication can leave too much to interpretation of tone and intent of message. Introverted feelers require a delicate balance of in-person communication and messaging in order to achieve optimal communication of true and honest intent.
Honesty and transparency go a long way with introverted feelers. They often have an opinion but may not express it. Therefore, challenge them by regularly inquiring about their thoughts and views on decisions and situations. They may not be comfortable expressing themselves, but challenging introverted feelers to have enough trust in your relationship to talk about their feelings helps them to grow, and they often provide great insights.
Extroverted feelers are expressive of their values. Being expressive yourself in return goes a long way with these employees. Try to relate their values to your own actions and feelings about a decision, and discuss things face to face. Extroverted feelers appreciate the face time, and these discussions also provide the opportunity for you to show them you care with your tone, expressions, and demeanor. These employees can view emails or messages as cold and robotic, and they do not thrive well when that is the primary source of communication.
With extroverted feelers, take care to give clear step-by-step directions, leaving no room for interpretation. These employees can easily get distracted from the task at hand, so be sure to schedule regular and appropriately timed followups.
Further, approach ideas or suggestions for these employees with caution. They are often open and agreeable, but is hard to know what they really think because they often accept all ideas equally. Ask their opinion on the ideas, and create a safe and open communicative environment. With a little coaxing, extroverted feelers will share their true feelings.
Help develop their thinking skills by encouraging them to solve their own problems. Ask leading questions so they can think and discover a solution on their own. Additionally, recognize them publicly for their accomplishments.
Extroverted feelers can sometimes over-share. In a management role, these employees need guidance on what is appropriate to be shared with other staff members. Actively participate in these employees’ management roles, and make an effort to engage with them on a daily basis. They appreciate a closely involved relationship.
FROM MANAGING TO DEVELOPING
If you are having difficulties communicating or managing an employee, consider his or her personality type using the model explained here. The personality traits of extroversion and introversion tend to be easily identifiable, but whether a person is a thinker or a feeler may be more difficult to determine. Before reaching for published personality tests, simply consider the employee’s decision-making style: Does he or she put logic and consistency first, or is he or she more concerned about people’s needs?
Learning how to better communicate with employees is important to the success of any organization, and effective communication can provide more than just practice growth. By understanding each individual’s personality and challenging employees to grow, you can provide them with success and fulfillment, both at work and in their relationships and lives outside of work.
At the end of the day, your practice can be more than just a place to take care of patients and to earn a living. It can be a vehicle to develop the incredible people with whom you share the majority of your waking hours.
1. The Myers & Briggs Foundation. MBTI Basics. https://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/. Accessed April 19, 2019.