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How Personality Type Theory Saved My Social Life

Kyle 4 weeks ago 14 comments

Can personality type theory help your social life? Well, that depends on how much you’re willing to grow as a person. (Yep, I throw gauntlets in opening lines.) I’m a pedantic Architect (INTJ), and this is 16Personalities! We like challenging questions – and meaningful answers.

Okay, let me put my Serious Hat on (I’m pedantic and distractible) and tell you how learning about personality types has revolutionized my social life, such as it is. Maybe my story will inspire ideas about what you can do.

A Nerd and His Limited Tools

Personality type knowledge isn’t a tangible tool like a 10mm socket wrench; it’s far more flexible, and it’s always available (unlike constantly vanishing 10mm sockets). Since personality types are based on people’s behavior, personality typing is especially helpful for getting along better with others.

I can attest that most Architects would benefit from improving their social skills and personal relationships (though few may admit it).

Personality type theory has given me self-knowledge to fight my flaws (the greatest battle of all *Gladiator theme blares*) and led me into a deeper understanding of loved ones. But what’s really amazing is how it helps me get to know people so quickly and accurately that it’s like having a social life cheat sheet.

Honestly, personality typing isn’t something I worship. Nor do I just relegate people to a type. Personality typing doesn’t tell me everything about someone, but it dang sure helps me see things more clearly, like a torch lighting my way. (If only that could help me find those missing 10mm sockets…)

Personality Type Knowledge as a Social Life Cheat Sheet

Ohhhh-kay, management has now firmly duct-taped the Serious Hat to my head. (That’s gonna hurt later.) I’ll try to explain how personality type knowledge helps my social life.

A Translation Tool

Understanding someone’s personality traits helps me get past the surface to their true inner self (as best as I can).

Let’s say I meet a Turbulent Thinking Introvert who seems a bit egotistical in his opinions. I know these types often value intellect above social grace, even when they like someone. Considering that, I might look past his boorish surface for any deeper potential for friendship. A handy Type Translator might shed some light on things:

Maybe he wants to be respected for something he values: intellect. We could have an intellectual exchange, build mutual respect, and let the warmer feelings grow over time. That’s a decent recipe for friendship – especially for Analysts like me.

Or, let’s say I’m chatting with a guy who’s a Turbulent Feeling Introvert, and he smiles but doesn’t offer much more than basic replies. What might that handy Type Translator say?

Ruh-roh! I must be doing something wrong. (Perhaps I’m acting like the previous guy.) Time to use personality type knowledge as:

A Communication Tool

This Feeling personality type views me in terms of his prime values, not mine. So, my pointed opinions might not be the most appealing part of myself to share, initially. It would be better if I could first connect with him on an emotional level before exposing him to whatever my brain passes off as wit.

Dang. How can an Architect like me make that happen?

Well, I could try to demonstrate one of those odd Feeling-type values like “kindness.” I could ask how he feels about crowds and socializing. (Since we’re both Introverts, exploring mutual vulnerabilities might spur a bond.) I could offer to refresh our drinks or get us some snacks – any considerate gesture might kick-start a connection.

I wouldn’t try to fake any warmth, just to be as empathetic as I can be. My niceness isn’t effusive, and I find that sharing my authentic self creates more genuine friendships. (Albeit, fewer friendships. *shrug*)

The approaches I’ve mentioned above are basic. (Even I can do them.) But understanding personality types helps me decide which approach might best improve my interaction with any individual.

It also helps me foresee what’s likely to happen in social situations when it’s used as:

A Predictive Tool

As a Turbulent Architect, there’s a little part of my brain that’s always trying to figure out what will happen in any situation: “I think, therefore I am concerned.”

But personality type knowledge helps me feel more comfortable around people because I have a better sense of how they’ll likely act. When I (sort of) know what to expect, I can make better decisions and have more fun.

For example:

  • A new Consul (ESFJ) friend invites me out to a nightclub and promises to get me home by 1:00 a.m. I believe them and join in the plan.
  • A new Debater (ENTP) friend makes the same offer. I join them but plan to get home on my own (because who knows what will happen).

Now, I’m not knocking the inspired vagaries of the Debater species – that’d probably be a super fun night out. But predictability helps me relax, even if it’s just knowing when to expect the unexpected from Prospecting personality types.

Understanding someone’s likely trait-related tendencies helps me meet my own needs while also appreciating their style of fun.

However, there are some things that make it less enjoyable for me to spend time with people. Fortunately, personality type knowledge also functions as:

A Social Assessment Tool

Any personality type can have an “unbalanced” side and might struggle with certain behaviors or areas of life (myself included). We help people of all personality types address such issues in our Premium Profiles and members’ Academy, and I constantly read and contemplate this information. (Heck – I help write some of it, based on our research.)

I believe this enhances my awareness when meeting someone. I don’t judge people by their personality type, but personality type knowledge helps me more quickly and accurately get to know them as individuals. In some cases, this insight tells me to be careful about how I include someone in my life – or to grant them time and space to grow, instead of my friendship.

In other words, having a little help spotting a social monkey wrench (yes, I am doggedly extending the wrench analogy) has saved me from a lot of social drama.

Why, is that a shiny, appealing 10mm socket wrench over yonder? I’ll just reach out and – OH DEAR GOD NO, it’s a monkey wrench! Reverse course! Decline friend request!

It can work just that easily in real life. Personality type knowledge vastly enhances your natural instincts about people.

For me, social compatibility doesn’t require sameness, just a decent mix of understanding and appreciation. Personality type theory increases my understanding, which makes appreciation more likely. So, I try to practice all those useful social tools above to help me make satisfying connections with people, whatever their personality type.

But enough explanation. Let me tell you a real-life story of how my personality type knowledge helped me navigate a potentially challenging social situation.

Barely Meeting a Social Savant

My partner had mentioned a client of hers to me several times, saying, “You should meet him.” I could feel a social thing approaching. Yay! (That’s Introvert-ese for “ugh.”)

She accepted an invitation to his housewarming party so I could meet him. I stabbed myself lightly in the foot, but she said that, unless I cut off a toe – and a big one at that – I was going. Plus, she said her client was making smoked brisket. My stomach perked up.

I put my heavy-duty pruning shears away and got out my personality type tools, and we went to the party.

It was a nice house in the country, and after meeting our host and the many diverse people inside, I decided he was an Extravert. He’d included his new neighbors as well as people from his professional and personal life. Even his boss was there. That’d be an unusual amount of social exposure for most Introverts to choose.

I also noted how socially adept our host was, chatting cheerfully and bustling about with vigor. He seemed comfortable juggling countless people and things, from dinner prep to introducing his many pets. But there seemed to be no guiding order to any of it, just energetic adaptation. I recognized another trait: Prospecting.

How he related to people was especially interesting. He had a way of conforming to situations like a conversational shape-shifter. He was “reading” people and adapting to them, handling each interaction differently and skillfully. Even his style of speech varied, depending on who he was talking to.

This guy seemed to reflect many research statistics I’ve read about the Social Engagement Strategy, so I decided that he was likely a Turbulent type. Perhaps that trait was behind his effusive energy – he was driven to impress. By recognizing the man’s traits, I was getting to know him in broad strokes.

But with so many guests, I barely met him. Our primary interaction was brief, when he served the brisket. My partner had talked up my culinary dabbling, so our host presented various (delicious) samples to me as if I were a judge in a cooking competition, even though it was his expertise that had produced them.

Fascinating.

On the one hand, he was showing grace and generosity, and respectfully seeking my opinion. On the other hand, I realized that his keen social skills were being artfully applied to me. Just as I’d watched him adapt his approach to other people, he was now offering me something I would personally relate to – and making me feel important at the same time.

My trait detector was sensing the Thinking trait. (I think.) His intent to create a genuinely positive interaction seemed as strong as his ability to do so. Still, it seemed to me like learned behavior being expertly employed more than innate feelings being expressed.

Some people might see that as manipulation, but I just saw it as him deliberately trying to establish rapport using his personality type skills. Nothing unseemly about that. Besides, he was feeding me. (I loved that savory, juicy, slow-smoked brisket.) But we barely talked. Then, it was over.

Blame It on the Traits

Without personality type knowledge, I might have found the whole evening confusing, tedious, or disappointing.

After all, I didn’t really connect like I wanted. Of course, if I were a different personality type, we might have hit it off wildly. I could have put forth more social energy, but as an Architect, that’s not my style. And I can’t fault a Turbulent, Extraverted, Prospecting type for prioritizing quantity in his socializing.

The interaction of our traits created the outcome, with him playing the briefly alighting social butterfly to my reserved wallflower.

You’re probably wondering how that story illustrates the benefit of personality type knowledge. But for this Turbulent Architect, it was a big help.

Let me sum it up:

  • Observing the guy through a lens of personality type knowledge helped me see past his surface behavior and understand and appreciate him better, despite our very limited interaction.
  • I was able to understand that the reason we hadn’t connected well wasn’t a fault or result of dislike, just differing social priorities and preferences related to our personality traits.
  • Because my awareness helped my expectations match reality in real time, I didn’t experience negative emotions despite the lack of my intended, desired outcome.
  • Having a decent understanding of personality mechanics helped me feel secure in a busy, unfamiliar social situation – not an easy thing for a member of the Constant Improvement Strategy like me.

As a result of these things, I enjoyed the evening, and not just because I ate wonderful food. And because I didn’t feel bad or dismiss the experience as a failure, the potential of friendship was still open. I’d like to tell you that things went better at some point.

So, I will.

A Very Different “Next Time”

My partner and I went back another time to have dinner with the guy and his wife. He was no less charismatic without a crowd to cater to, but he was able to be more relaxed and focused.

Having recognized his expressive traits, I tried to ask insightful questions, hoping he’d share his authentic self. I wanted to get past the surface charisma to hear his deeper thoughts. And it was worth it – he’s smart and pleasantly cynical, his warm glibness concealing a worldly rationality. He knows what’s up.

I think I perceived his fifth and final trait, too, after hearing his grand ideas for the future. (Can you guess what it is, based on that?) I feel like I finally got to meet the man behind the practiced charm. We’ve even gone out as couples for some fun shenanigans on the town…

But that’s a different story.

Personality Type Tools: My EDC

That’s “Every Day Carry.” I’m very much a work in progress, and personality type knowledge is helping that progress. If it can make me more socially functional, imagine what it could do for normal people. It’s an incredibly good way to understand ourselves and others – and how we can relate together better.

At first, personality type theory was like an app I had to open and use consciously. Now, as my knowledge and experience grow, it’s more like a browser extension of the mind, running in the background to enhance the user experience of my social life.

Now, if only there were somewhere you could learn all about personality traits

Further Reading

Improving Our Social Lives – How Two Introverted Personality Types Foster Friendships

How to Make Friends If You’re an Introvert

When the Need to Connect Becomes Terrifying: The Dilemma of the Shy Extravert

“Social Activities” Survey

16Personalities Type Guesser Tool (Friendships)

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