25 January 2005

Communications breakdown

    Vogon poetry is, of course, the third worst in the Universe. The second worst is that of the Azgoths of Kria. During a recitation by their Poet Master Grunthos the Flatulent of his poem "Ode to a Small Lump of Green Putty I Found in my Armpit One Midsummer Morning", four of his audience died of internal hemorrhaging, and the President of the Mid-Galactic Arts Nobbling Council survived by gnawing one of his own legs off.
      -The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
      by Douglas Adams
Well, yesterday my leg was starting to look like a viable alternative to the meeting I was in. It was the 2005 kick-off event for my group at the office.

Now when the sales team has their annual kick-off (and, BTW, the mid-year update), they go to a big bash in Atlantic City. The engineers get an all-day meeting in the office. The sales team gets a free hotel stays and open bars. We got the sub platter. To be fair, dinner was at a local Italian place that was good, but spouses weren't invited like (you guessed it) the sales team.

Last year they did have Laser Tag, which is cool and fun. But even that was gone. What we got this year was a seminar about how we can be better communicators. I knew it was going to be bad when presenter began by telling us how her material was designed to help address issues she perceived based on our MBTI scores.

I don't know where everyone stands on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. A standardized test that groups people into one of sixteen personality categories is an interesting exercise that makes you think about how you perceive things. It is not a scientific method for determining how someone will act nor what they are capable of. My favorite MBTI site is this one from the Skeptic's Dictionary.

And the information presented was so lame! I mean, I don't need to small group exercises to learn that I shouldn't tell the customer that the system isn't working because they screwed it up. What's that you say? "Ask the customer open ended questions so they'll be encouraged to give more information?" Wow! You've changed my life!

Everyone in that room had at least eight years of experience working with customers, most had more than ten. Our marketing materials are rife with quotes from the happy customers these people have worked with. They're the best people here (all the others have been laid off). Did they really need this seminar?

Just give me the ice pick for my forehead!


Rob said...

Sorry to hear about your bad experience with MBTI. I think you have to take all standardized tests in stride somewhat - but at the same time, look at how they do group similar thinkers together - enough that you can come up with a reasonable way to relate to each other.

INFJ here - and since discovering I am INFJ (about 7 years ago) things about the way my brain work DO in fact make more sense. I'm on an INFJ email list and I have to say there is a certain sense of relating better to those folks then others. We ARE as diverse as they come but the method by which we all process information is the same. TO that end I think the MBTI can be helpful.

So what type WERE you anyway?


Andrew said...

I think there is insight to be gained from the MBTI. I think it's a good tool to make people think about how they react. My problem is when you take the next step and try and assess someone's strengths and weaknesses based on the test.

For example, because a lot of the people in the room tended toward the intorversion, the presenter assumed we have trouble communicating certain points customers. She was way off the mark, mainly because she didn't consider the depth of the experience in the room.

Read the "Skeptical view" section of the MBTI link I provided (it goes to Wikipedia). In particular:

"The basic skeptical claim against the MBTI is that any conclusions made from the types lack falsifiability, which can cause confirmation bias in the interpretation of the results. It has also been argued that the terminology of the MBTI is so vague and complicated that it allows any kind of behavior to fit any personality type, resulting in the Forer effect, where an individual gives a high rating to a positive description that supposedly applies specifically to himself."


"Still others have argued that, while the MBTI may be useful for self-understanding, it is commonly used for pigeonholing people or for self-pigeonholing."

Rob S. said...

I've always thought the term "pigeonholed" sounds both dirty and completely wacky. I imagine a horny misguided pigeon flapping madly to stay at the ass-height of the pigeonholee.

But that's just me.

Jeri said...

We did the MBTI during our pre-marriage classes at church. Christian and I came out total opposites, he an ESTJ and me an INFP (easy on the I&F, heavy doses of N&P--such an N I might as well be in a sensory deprivation tank, and I was so far on the P side it's a miracle I ever end a sentence), yet no one would consider us incompatible or even much of a contrast. That's because over the years, as we've grown together and learned about the subtleties of each other's needs, I've been slowly, carefully molding him in my own image.

Andrew said...

Have you seen The Shape of Things? We saw the play a few years ago. It's an interesting story about molding your significant other....

Sharon GR said...

Years ago, when I was a Psych major in college, we did the MBTI- of course. I pulled out my results when Andrew did his and it was no surprize the things we had similar and different, but I don't remember what type I was then. I'm sure it would be somewhat different now.

Andrew was telling me about this discussion before I came to read it, and I have been mentally tailoring my basic "standardized test rant" to fit here. (It's a good speech, applicable mostly to IQ exams but fits the SAT and most other tests well too.) However, one look at the Wikipedia link that Andrew provided, in the Skeptical View section, make me realize someone's done most of that work for me. Pointed out elsewhere in the link is that it's a forced-choice test; how many times have you looked at one of those questions and thought you wouldn't really do either of the options offered?

Lastly, most testing like this has applications in clinical settings, as our Psychologist/sociologist friends could easily describe. It also has applications in things like Jeri described; it can help you see how the other person approaches the same things, and help you understand their mindset. But, it can be easily misused, and it sounds like it often is. It's just too easy to use a diagnosis as a scapegoat or a way to easily dismiss someone else. Or decide someone needs to be trained not to tell the clients they're idiots.