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Engage and Evade: The dangerous personality dance of Extraversion- iNtuition and Introversion-Sensing

danceNote: a basic knowledge of Psychological Type as measured by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is required to get the most from this article.

I found myself in a familiar dynamic in which I’ve danced for all of my fifty+ years. I was having an e-chat conversation with my good friend Tim about an upcoming party we were holding together.

Out of the blue, the phrase, “We’ll just have to agree to disagree” appeared on my screen. I’d heard him say this before, and agree that sometimes, it is a necessary conclusion. But, I was not even clear on what the issues were that we were either agreeing or disagreeing about, and now the discussion was over! I was shocked.

I communicated (in cryptic e-chat) my desire to explore this some more. We attempted to continue the conversation to clarify what it was that we were agreeing to disagree about. This continued for a few more minutes, with volleys back and forth through the ether. Finally we agreed that we had different values about the issue and that we could accept that. But the process left a painful lingering stain on the relationship.

I phoned my mentor, Dan, in California, looking for someone to support my point of view. He provided the opposite, telling me how my dogged pursuits of keeping this discussion open (my ‘N’ and ‘P’, you think?) showed that I was oblivious to Tim’s (ISTJ) need for closure and self-protection. And that Tim took my wanting to explore it as trying to convince him to do it my way! Thanks a load Dan, for poking me in the forehead to help me see my part in the control aspect of this dance. If only I’d learned this 30 years ago!!

While I was licking my wounds, the pattern emerged for me. I’ve seen this struggle a hundred times. I’ve seen this between my parents (ENTP and ISTP), with numerous clients (many of whom have EN or IS preferences), and with my lovely bride of ten years and myself, (ISFP and ENFP). It is the dance of those preferring Extraversion and Intuition (EN) with those who prefer Introversion and Sensing (IS)! While the other two Type dimensions are surely in play, I’m certain that this dynamic is common and significant.

How it plays out.
Take the fictitious parties of (IS) Isabel, who prefers introversion and sensing and Enrico, who prefers Extraversion and Intuition (EN).

Some issue of potential disagreement arises; it could be anything, whether to hire an applicant, how so spend some money, who should come to the party, and so on. The two briefly exchange their opinions.

In short order the facts and conclusion are crystal clear to ISabel and she seeks to end the discussion. She has had enough and sees no need for any ‘excessive bantering’ to continue. In her mind, the thing is done and there is no need to make a mountain of a molehill. She says something like, “that’s enough”, or “we’ll have to agree to disagree”. Or, ISabel says nothing at all and just proceeds to getting busy with other things.

The quick clarity and finality of the conclusion that ISabel found are not present for ENrico. Rather, he has something else in mind and is hoping to create a different, if yet unformed solution. The abrupt ending of the discussion shocks ENrico and disrespects his inborn desires to talk, explore and process. He is inflamed! He continues to engage ISabel in the discussion, pushing harder (like a pit-bull in her view) for interaction and additional ideas. She withdraws, refuses or acquiesces.

The relationship is in danger. The risks of this dance are familiar and can damage personal, work and intimate relationships. They can include irritation, hurt, anger, and false perceptions about the other person. These reactions impact trust and the tone of future communications, if not downright avoidance of them. The dynamic can even be responsible for ending the relationship.

How can we make this dance work?

Reflect on past dances we have done and consider how this may have played a part. Recognize our own biases and needs and do our best to let go of our need to prevail. Do our best to understand the needs and biases of the other and to satisfy them, rather than change them. Remember that our way is not the only way, and our answer is not the only one. Choose our battles carefully and fight them thoughtfully. Express what we need and what we want from the heart, including our fears and discomforts, so that we stimulate compassion in the other, rather than competition. Lastly, we can realize our own and the other’s strengths and limits with regard to taking steps to heal the relationship and be willing to extend the hand of invitation to rebuild it.

If we are to dance, then we should both enjoy it!

A Point of View

Just like a dozen times before, I settled down into a cozy chair in a small town library in Wisconsin. When on the road I find that libraries provide a comfortable and productive place to work, writing, emailing, attending webinars or wasting time on the internet.

As I plugged the cord of my laptop into the electrical outlet, an elderly man, probably in his seventies, muttered accusingly to me, “you are stealing. ” He pointed at my power cord plugged into the wall socket.

I was unprepared for this minor assault. Fortunately, I have learned to manage my knee-jerk response by pausing in a week-long 5 second pause. I thought several things: “What!, Why are you bothering me?”, “Get a life”. (I do not use ‘old man’ as an insult, since someone said that to me not so long ago, but that guy was a punk (haha). Then I took on the fault, “could he be right?” Seemed unlikely, but who knows? I thought of inviting him to go ask the library authorities to determine who was right; but figured he might lie about it. I considered ignoring, him, and just getting to work. But what if he was right, and the library did not want me ‘plugging in’. I know another library where a guy can bring his laptop, but is prohibited from plugging it to a power source. After all, this place with the cozy chairs is the periodical reading room, populated entirely by folks age 70 and up, getting out and catching up on the news (i.e. these folks at the reading room may not be users of the internet).

So I went to check. I asked a librarian. She said, “of course, that is not a problem”. Later, I noticed a long table in the next room, complete with power outlets for folks just like me to plug in and use the library’s free wi-fi. And free electricity. I was relieved. I returned to the cozy chair by the power outlet and I held back my feelings, saying to him only, “you are mistaken, they tell me it is fine”. He said nothing, but looked away.

As my brain rested, I wondered about this event. What was his motivation for this? Why did he affront me about this seemingly ridiculous action?

I can only makeup a story to explain what happened. Here is man, likely of limited income but perhaps significant wealth, who is accustomed to watching his money carefully. Maybe he is a local official or gadfly watching the use of tax dollars. Perhaps he sees computers, and people like me (I have a gray beard, but am still a long way from 70 years) as incomprehensible, wasteful and maybe even threatening. Maybe he is grieving and angry because his wife of a lifetime has passed away, or left him for a nicer person, or because his adult child doesn’t speak with him, or he has learned that he is dying.

I really don’t know, and I didn’t believe that he was interested in discussing it. Neither was I. So I got to work, the stress hormones gradually retuning to a normal level. The man and I had a short adventure together. And he went about his day. I wonder what he did next?