July 2003 - Understanding Personality Differences
Differences between "Computer" folks and the general population
This month we use the Myers-Briggs model to look at the differences in people who tend to cluster in the computer-related industry. These are called Information Services, Information Systems, Information Technology or Data Processing in corporate environments.
A few years ago, we read an article that compared �Information Systems Types� to the general public. It started out, �Computer literacy isn�t enough. IS managers and pros need emotional literacy to build teams and work well with users. The Myers-Briggs method of deciphering personality types can help IS and users achieve a mutual understanding.�
What struck us at the time is that looking at personality differences may really help explain why many business customers are frustrated with their corporate IS/IT folks. And it may help explain why systems are built that end-users say do not meet their needs. In our work with many IS/IT folks over many years, we see this conflict played out in organization after organization, in both the public sector and the private sector.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) organizes people according to 4 groupings, resulting in 16 categories. Since the MBTI is very well known, there is a great deal of information about its use and application. David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates greatly popularized their version of the system in their book, Please Understand Me in the 1980s. That best-selling book was extensively updated in 1998 as Please Understand Me II.
The particular study quoted for this article differs from Isabel Myers� estimates of Temperament Preferences as quoted by David Keirsey. He quotes the general population as Extroversion with 75%, Introversion 25%; Sensing as 75% and Intuitive as 25%. He quotes the Thinking/Feeling pair and the Judging/Perceiving pair as 50%/50% in the general public (see chart and graph below).
What we can see is that for the Computer Professionals / Managers category, which is composed primarily of Managers, there is a significant difference compared to the general population in several of the groupings.
Computer Professionals / Managers � on average according to this study � tend to be much more introverted than extroverted, slightly more intuitive, much more thinking-oriented than feeling-oriented, and somewhat more judging than perceiving.
These differences might help explain why business people complain that their IS/IT department is not listening to their viewpoint or doesn�t understand their needs. The Thinking/Feeling component means that most of the IS folks want hard facts and logical arguments. The general population is much more comfortable making decisions based on their own sense of what is right and their feelings about the situation, not on rigid facts or strict logic.
This difference means that the 2 groups probably aren�t hearing each other or understanding the other�s perspective on the situation. This is a recipe for disaster when one type of person is responsible for creating systems that the other type of person must use to do their job. It's no surprise when friction and blaming result.
The stereotype of a computer person working long hours alone fascinated by the inner workings of a computer clearly point to the introversion aspect. They may be very uncomfortable working on a team with many business customers who love to brainstorm ideas. These are people who are energized by group interaction. The computer person will become exhausted and drained by such meetings and find excuses not to participate.
The Computerworld article noted that computer managers may be even more introverted than their staff, which could help explain their reluctance to find out why their business customers are really complaining.
IS/IT folks are often confused and perplexed at why their customers are unhappy. They have followed what they believe are the facts, made logical decisions and methodically created a system that works the way they want it to work. They may have used their intuition to make decisions rather than actually hearing what their customer said, instead thinking they understood what the customer meant.
Their customers, however, are probably making decisions based on their values and their feelings. A new system may perform perfectly according to the designer�s logic. The customer trying to use it may not understand that logic nor care if it doesn�t get them the results they want easily. They become especially frustrated when they believe they had told their computer folks many times what they wanted.
So, what does all this mean? Simply that in order to understand another person�s viewpoint, you have recognize that they may be different from you and that there is nothing wrong with either of you. Also, neither of you is absolutely right.
Rather, you are both just fine and must learn to work through your differences, really listen to each other and learn to get out of your narrow viewpoint if you want to be successful.
It is important to also note that the "average" does not mean all IS/IT/computer folks fit the pattern described in this article. There are always a variety of people in any department or work group. The differences may help explain why there are often internal conflicts with co-workers as well as external conflicts with customers.
In our experience, most people and organizations are able to bring new understandings to their workplaces, adjust their behavior, change the way they communicate and make good progress toward better teamwork and productivity if they are committed to making their situation better.
(2) Chart figures are from "IS Types vs. General Public" (Page 108 of the same article). Source quoted was: Research of 230,000 personality type profiles by the Center for Application of Psychological Type (CAPT) www.capt.org. The chart notes, "The general population figures are based on study of U.S. and Canadian personality profiles. It generally represents individuals with higher education and professional backgrounds."
(3) Chart figures for "General Population (Keirsey/Myers)" from Please Understand Me: Character and Temperament Types, (page25-26), which quotes figures from Isabel Myers.
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Page updated: October 16, 2023
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