Holding Type Lightly

Posted by
“Holding the models lightly” is a phrase used by many in the circles I run in these days. I really like the phrase and have been using it. I thought I’d share it with you all since you might find it useful too.

A previous blog was about the use of typology models getting in the way of development. If we hold the models lightly, then there is less likelihood of that happening. So in addition to the brief recommendation I gave in that blog, I think we need to hold the models lightly.

What does it mean? When we hold the models lightly we recognize that they are models—just models, not the ‘truth.’ From Dictionary.com I found this definition of a model:

“a simplified representation or description of a system or complex entity, esp one designed to facilitate calculations and predictions” (n.d.). Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition. Retrieved, September 01, 2012 from Dictionary.com website

When we hold a model lightly we keep in mind that it is a simplified representation of a complex entity. We are human complex systems and no one model will full describe us. Some models work well for most people, but there are always people for whom they don’t fit and for all of us, there are always more influences on our development and behavior than just our type preferences.

Why is it important? When we treat a typology model as if it is ‘the truth,’ we can easily over stereotype and then misunderstand others and ourselves. We can be inaccurate in our applications of the typology to the point of creating a story that doesn’t match who we are. For example, one of my workshop participants, who I’ll call Joe, was an avid type enthusiast who had been using type for over 20 years. During our work together Joe came to realize that his best-fit type is ENTP, not ENFP as he had been thinking for 20 years. In the workshop on temperament, he frequently reported out the Catalyst group results, but the other members of the group disagreed with him. It looked like Joe was a poor listener so that led to some relationship issues in the workshop. Finally, it occurred to me that ENTP might be a better fit so I suggested he explore that type pattern. Low and behold he told me the following history.

Joe’s first exposures to type were based on some frequently-used MBTI®-instrument related descriptors of the dichotomies. When he reported ENTP on the MBTI® instrument, he rejected the Thinking preference because the stereotypes of ‘T’ were that they weren’t friendly people and he saw himself being a nice, friendly person. Therefore he concluded that his preferences were for ENFP. Of course in the type model, these two types share the same dominant process of extraverted iNtuiting, so in some ways they are similar. However, this early introduction led him astray because the dichotomy definitions were held tightly, not lightly, and the presentation of type did not factor in other aspects of the full type patterns. When he added temperament to his understandings, he just assumed the Catalyst Essential Motivator (aka temperament) was his best fit because he had identified as ENFP.

As most people tend to do, he listened with the models as filters rather than to what was being said. Therefore, he didn’t really attend to what was being said in the activities, but rather referenced his internal models (held a bit too tightly) to make sense of what people said rather than the actual information he was hearing. Since he referenced what he heard against his own version of what he thought the Essential Motivator pattern was like there were errors in his models, which led him to misinterpret what he heard.

Joe told me some time after the workshop that this insight was transformative and I look forward to hearing more from him as he now continues his development in a more centered way.

It is a tendency for all of us to interpret what we hear according to the lenses we hold. Most of these lenses operate outside our awareness. Paradoxically, having lenses that help us value the individual differences and reduce negative judgments can also get in the way when we hold the models behind these lenses too tightly. We need to practice listening with an open heart and an open mind.

How can we do it? Here are a few suggestions.

Use more than one lens. That will help increase the likelihood that you are holding models lightly since there are some look-alikes. If you know what the look-alikes are, then you can more easily help someone find the explanation for why they are drawn to another pattern. In the above example, a skilled facilitator might have taken Joe’s rejection of his reported to as an opportunity to explore more and encouraged Joe to look deeper. Often rejection of a reported type is an indication that the reported type on an instrument is not the best fit and other times, it can be an indicator of a misunderstanding of the type pattern. This facilitator would have pointed out to him that those with ENTP preference often look friendlier than some other types with T preferences because of other influencing factors. In the background, such a facilitator would know that the ENTP pattern goes with a ‘Get-Things-Going’ Interaction Style. With this style there is a drive to involve and be involved with an engaging energy that often looks like what is stereotypically attributed to a preference for Feeling.  Also, the ENTP pattern includes not only N and T, but also engaging extraverted Feeling to connect with others. In fact, one of the themes of the ENTP pattern as a whole is a desire to be diplomatic and consider others.

Reference patterns, not dichotomies. Realize that the typology lenses of Temperament, Interaction Style, and Whole Type are patterns, not sums of parts. Living systems are organized in patterns, not made of random parts put together. These patterns have a core driver that influences which processes or dichotomies serve the driver of the pattern the best. Therefore, patterns precede processes (aka dichotomies).

Encourage exploration with holistic, narrative descriptions. This is becoming increasingly more difficult because we have become a bullet point culture. Often the facilitator has to really push the client to read and reflect. Seek out descriptions that are not artificially composed, but are holistically written such as those in the Understanding Yourself and Others™ series of books as well as others.

Recognize that there are other aspects of who we are that might be influencing the behaviors and meaning making rather than the type information. This is why I made Outlook an integral part of the CORE Approach. Our outlook influences our behavior and our outlook comes from many things including culture, ego development, relationships, stressful events, life conditions and more. In the end, this realization may be the biggest one to help us hold models lightly.

These are just a few of the things we can do to hold the models lightly. And maybe the simplest one of all is to start using the phrase as we work with our clients or share our type knowledge with others.

I look forward to any comments you may have.


Add a comment

You must be logged in to comment.