Talking about controversial issues can be, well... a bit controversial. While some relish the opportunity to opine, others shy away the moment a conversation stops being strictly “small talk.”
To see how these preferences might relate to personality types, we asked our community whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement “You feel comfortable discussing controversial topics, even with people you barely know.” Appropriately enough, the results revealed a major split between each of the five aspects of personality that we study, with every trait apparently having some bearing on the way we deal with discussions of sensitive subject matter. Make sure you take a look at the full data table below afterwards – it is impossible to squeeze all comparisons into this overview, regardless of how interesting they are.
In some cases, the responses were hardly surprising: for instance, Extraverts tend to be more outspoken (71.52% agreeing) than their Introverted counterparts (47.26% agreeing). But looking at how these traits express themselves through the various personality roles and strategies can help us understand the differences in our styles of communication.
Strong-willed and logical (some would argue, to a fault), Analysts were the group most likely to feel comfortable discussing controversial subjects (75.03% agreeing). While these personality types are not necessarily looking to “court” controversy in conversation, they are likely to feel that being forthright and direct in communication is preferable to worrying about whether someone’s feelings are spared. Assertive Debaters (ENTP-A) are most likely to feel comfortable with controversy, with 87.07% of them agreeing with the statement. There is a reason why we call this type “the ultimate devil's advocate”, after all.
On the other hand, Diplomats also had a majority of respondents (62.22%) who were comfortable with controversy. However, where Analysts might approach such topics bluntly, one might see Diplomats taking a more tactful approach. It is important to remember, after all, that diplomacy is a necessity only in light of disagreement, and Diplomats, in seeking harmony, must first discover where such disagreements lie. It may be that Diplomats are rather comfortable with controversial topics precisely because of their willingness to see another person’s point of view before making up their minds.
Sentinels were the least likely of all groups to be okay with controversial conversation, and they were also the group with the most significant differences between its types. While Assertive Executives (ESTJ-A) were not that far behind Assertive Debaters (with 79.09% of them answering positively), Turbulent Defenders (ISFJ-T) were firmly against controversy, with only 28.16% of them being comfortable with controversial topics. It may not be the best idea to ask a Debater and a Defender discuss religion or politics, for instance.
Explorers were less likely than Analysts and Diplomats to be okay with controversial conversation, but scored higher than Sentinels, with 55.05% of them agreeing with the statement. However, just like Sentinels, the Explorer group was far from uniform. For instance, while Turbulent Adventurers (ISFP-T) strongly disliked controversial topics (only 33.76% in agreement), Assertive Entrepreneurs (ESTP-A) welcomed them with open arms and minds – or at least 80.81% of them.
The two Extraverted strategies, People Mastery and Social Engagement both had wide majorities agreeing with the statement (74.31% and 68.23%, respectively). Interestingly, although the more confident People Mastery types, Assertive Extraverts, were slightly more likely to venture an opinion, even the more self-conscious Social Engagement personalities (Turbulent Extraverts) overwhelmingly agreed that wading into the waters of controversy was preferable than standing safely at the shore of debate.
The impact of self-confidence is also visible in the case of Introverted Strategies. Personality types falling under Confident Individualism strategy seem to be slightly more likely to broach a sensitive subject than their Constant Improvement counterparts (53.21% vs. 44.35%). As it turns out, of the four strategies, only Constant Improvement had a minority of respondents who were not comfortable discussing controversial topics.
Although in many ways, controversy is in the eye of the beholder – what one might consider a “safe” topic of discussion can inadvertently spark a ferocious debate – the core of controversy is conflict, the clash of personalities. How comfortable we are with this conflict speaks volumes about how we feel about the role of communication, namely, whether something meaningful can be gained from a messy, heated exchange of ideas, or whether some topics should be discussed only in select circumstances, if at all. But, as is often the case when we discuss personality types, it is not simply the choice whether or not to pursue a controversial line of discussion that is most interesting; instead, it is the reasoning behind why we make the choice itself.