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Using the MBTI for personal effectiveness - solving problems

There is a particular way of using MBTI™ type knowledge to enhance personal effectiveness. It is called the Zig Zag and was originally devised by Isabel Briggs Myers to improve individuals’ approach to problem-solving. It was developed further by Gordon Lawrence in his book on the MBTI and education called People Types and Tiger Stripes.

When solving any kind of problem the four mental functions always have a part to play in ensuring the best possible solution is reached. If you look at the Zig Zag below you will see that it sets out the four mental functions and gives a summary of the kind of information, or evaluations most relevant to the use of that particular function.

ZIG ZAG FOR PROBLEM SOLVING

So the Zig Zag forces us to see that when we are trying to solve a problem of any kind it will always be important for us to use all our mental functions. If we do not then we will only come up with a partial solution. Yet type preferences mean this is precisely what most people do a lot of the time.

The two middle letters in our MBTI type indicate which two of the four mental functions we prefer – ST, SF, NT or NF.  Unless we are very self-aware, we have a tendency when solving problems to spend so much time on our two favourite functions that we often don’t even touch base on the other two:

STs frequently spend all or most of their time paying attention to facts, details, practicalities and coming up with logical solutions which stress the importance of cost-benefits. They are usually able to take “tough” decisions if that is what the facts and the logic dictate. What they often fail to do is brainstorm possibilities, look for brand new radical solutions or adequately consider what people’s feelings are now, or how they will be affected by the solution they have come up with.
SFs frequently spend all or most of the their time paying attention to facts, details, practicalities and come up with solutions which have a strong people orientation. They try to take decisions which take account of how people feel now and may feel in the future. What they often fail to do is brainstorm possibilities, look for brand new radical solutions or try to step back from the problem and try to decide the best course of action logically and objectively, irrespective of their own or other people’s feelings.
NTs frequently spend their time generating ideas, considering trends, and generally identifying new and innovative ways to look at the problem. They tend to come up with logical solutions which stress the importance of cost-benefits. They are usually able to take “tough” decisions if that is what their ideas and logic dictate. What they often fail to do is take adequate account of the current facts or practical realities and how their innovative solutions could be implemented. They usually spend little time considering what people’s feelings are now or how they will be affected by the solutions they devise.
NF’s frequently spend their time generating ideas, considering trends, and generally identifying new and innovative ways to look at the problem. They tend to come up with solutions which have a strong people orientation and stress the importance of morale and motivation issues. What they often fail to do is take adequate account of the current facts or practical realities and how their innovative solutions could be implemented. They often do not try to step back from the problem and decide the best course of action logically and objectively, irrespective of their own or other people’s feelings.

Applying the Zig Zag in other ways

The Zig Zag was originally devised to help all types to come up with more sophisticated, all-round solutions to problems. I have found, however, that it is a useful way to improve our effectiveness across a whole range of tasks including giving a presentation or running a project.

For example, an intuitive thinker when preparing or giving a presentation may spend a great deal of time generating ideas, looking at trends and coming out with logical ideas. The NT is likely to put this information across in an objective way and say little about their own personal experience. Their logical conclusions will take little account of the impact on people. This may work reasonably well if the audience is made up exclusively of other NTs but may do little to convince those with a preference for sensing or feeling. It may even backfire with an audience of NTs if the NT speaker has not taken into consideration the impact their logical conclusions may have on their audience. For example, it may be logical to argue that junior members of staff have the attitudes which the organisation needs to promote to survive in the modern world, but the older NTs in the audience may be hostile and difficult because this conclusion has personal implications for them which the NT speaker has not taken account of.

So we can become more effective by making sure we spend at least some time pondering the relevance of the four functions to the task in hand.

To ensure you use SENSING in your problem solving –

Consider all the facts. Try to do this by standing back and then play the part of dispassionate observer. This will help you take account of all relevant facts not just the ones you usually pay attention to. Be realistic about what can be done.
To ensure you use THINKING in your problem solving –
Consider the pros and cons of the possible options. Given the facts and the innovative ideas you have generated what would make most logical sense? Do not consider your own or others’ feelings at this stage. Try to draw conclusions that are objective and impersonal and would be deduced by any “reasonable” person. 
To ensure you use INTUITION in your problem solving –
Be innovative. Generate lots of different possibilities. Don’t discriminate at this stage between what is, or is not, realistic. It may also be useful at this stage to think about trends. Make sure you aren’t limited by how you’ve been seeing the problem or what you’ve been doing up till now.
To ensure you use FEELING in your problem solving –
Ask yourself about how you feel about the various decisions which could be made? How would they affect you personally and the things that matter to you? What impact would they have on the other people who would be affected by the decision?

 

© Carol Craig

MBTI, Myers-Briggs, and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator are registered trademarks or trademarks of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Trust in the United States and other countries; OPP Ltd. has exclusive rights to these trademarks in the U.K.

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