I have a complicated relationship with collaboration. I’m an ISTJ, so of course I’ve looked at the research. I know that companies with collaborative cultures are more likely to be top performers, and that people are more focused when they’re primed to work together. I get why collaboration matters.
The problem is that as a Thinker-Judger personality, group work doesn’t work out for me. I don’t always put my best foot forward… to say the least.
“Doesn’t play well with others”
It took me a long time to figure out why I struggled with collaboration. I knew I ended up irritated and short-tempered and, to be perfectly honest, I assumed there was something wrong with me.
Then I discovered the Typefinder personality test, and it was like a light switched on. I found countless descriptions of my experience in group work, including this personal favorite by Truity founder Molly Owens:
“Instead of focusing on the hideous touchy-feely stuff, you’d rather pursue the truth. You happily will tear ideas (and people) apart to prove their worth. You are capable of giving blunt, harsh, and even hurtful commentary in your quest to solve a problem…It’s not the greatest game plan for winning friends and influencing people.”
Molly was describing the INTJ, but her words cut right to the heart for me. As a Thinker, I make decisions with my head, not my heart. I look for the rational choice, not the choice that will make everyone feel good.
Plus, since I’m a Judger, I’m focused on getting the job done. I don’t always take the time to deal with feelings that arise when I nix a marketing idea that’s doomed to fail. To be honest, I don’t really understand why I have to spend 10 minutes pretending that a bad idea is good. Aren’t we all adults here?
Technically, yes, but we’re all different adults. And that, my fellow Thinker-Judgers, is what I had to learn.
Getting the job done
For a long time, I tried to pretend my way through group projects and mimic the Feeler-Perceivers in my world. It didn’t go so well. I ended up annoyed, resentful, and ashamed that I had to change who I was to work in groups. The Myers and Briggs system taught me that being goal-oriented (to a fault!) is part of being a Thinker-Judger. Knowing that I wasn’t alone was huge. The shame lifted, and I went through a phase where I was unabashedly myself as a (terrible) collaborator.
That…. didn’t go so well either.
Suddenly, I wasn’t even trying to spare people’s feelings. And I definitely ruffled some feathers. Turns out, if you’re going to call someone’s idea a misuse of time, it’s best to at least soften the blow.
I went back to personality science for answers, and that’s when I had what I call my “collaboration epiphany.”
As a Thinker-Judger, I do my best work when I can pursue the most logical, reasonable conclusion in the most efficient way. The thing is that I also work with a lot of Feelers. They do their best work when they can make decisions based on social harmony. If I try to make them see things logically, they’ll get upset, and the meeting will get derailed.
It’s not very efficient when a meeting gets derailed. Plus, as a group, we work better when everyone’s not mad at me. Therefore, to meet my goals, I need to make space for all those other personality types.
How to collaborate: A Thinker-Judger’s guide
Making space for other personality types doesn’t mean changing who you are as a Thinker-Judger. In fact, you can come at the whole thing with a logical mindset. Just focus on what you want to achieve, what you need from other people to get there, and how you’ll keep other people on board.
Read the room
The more you know about your fellow collaborators, the better. Who’s a Thinker-Judger like you and can handle a more direct approach? Who’s a Feeler? Who’s a Perceiver and needs a few minutes to freewheel and brainstorm?
I’ve found that this thought process helps the meeting to move along more smoothly. It also helps me to feel better about deviating from the end goal.
Ask how people are feeling
Feelers and Perceivers tend to put a lot of trust in their instincts. If they feel good about something, they’re much more likely to go along with it. If they don’t… well, they might have noticed a problem that you wouldn’t necessarily have seen, and it’s worth hearing.
Ask people how they feel about a solution as it’s being presented. If something feels wrong, what feels wrong about it? Would you get the same kind of pushback from other people, and what can you do so you won’t get that pushback?
This can all seem kind of touchy-feely to some Thinker-Judgers. I get it — I was there not too long ago. The thing is, though, that asking for people’s emotional reactions is a really effective way of moving the discussion along. Besides, when you “speak their language,” you keep the other personality types on board.
Keep on the sunny side
To beg your patience for another moment, it really does matter how you phrase things when you’re collaborating. As Thinker-Judgers, we don’t always feel comfortable softballing things. We prefer to say what we think and move on — until someone gets upset and the whole collaboration hits a wall.
Fortunately, there’s an efficient fix. If you find yourself needing to offer a criticism or change trajectory, challenge yourself to switch how you say it. Go with the positive as much as you can.
Instead of That won’t work, try Let’s consider this instead.
Instead of People won’t like that, try People might prefer this.
Instead of That doesn’t make sense, try My train of thought goes this way.
It’s not about abandoning your convictions; it’s about keeping people on board and open to what you have to say… which is really the only rational way to do things.
Be your “version”
I couldn’t finish up this article without touching on the Introvert-Extravert question, since it currently looms so large in our culture. It’s easy to assume that Extraverts do better in groups, but that’s not necessarily true. Research actually shows that Introverts can be excellent leaders because they’re more willing to step back and observe for a little while.
So, if you’re an Introverted Thinker-Judger, use that. Look around and see how people are reacting to what’s going on. What’s getting in the way of finding a solution? Who needs some convincing? Who needs to be heard? Finding these opportunities can help you to take the next best step forward.
If you’re an Extravert, use your social energy to connect. Ask people straight out how they want to contribute. Seize on suggestions that look to be the most productive and motivate people to move forward. If you know that you have the most logical solution, think about how you can be as persuasive as possible.
Striking a balance
When we as Thinker-Judgers collaborate, we always want to keep our eyes on the prize. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. The challenge is to reach that prize with everyone on board. Otherwise, the whole collaboration is weaker, and so are the results.
We’re Thinker-Judgers. We don’t compromise on the results.