I love speaking to others just after they’ve taken a personality assessment based on Briggs Myers' typology. I want to hear their reactions, what they learned, and how they plan to use this new information about themselves. However, what fascinates me the most is how people with the same personality traits use them differently throughout various parts of their lives.
For example, I’ve learned not to assume that my experience as a Feeler (F) is the same as every other Feeler. You can argue that maybe another Feeler is farther down the line on the Thinker vs. Feeler continuum, and that can be true. But there’s more to it than where you sit on the personality spectrum. Personality type assessments give us a description about the patterns in our behavior, but they don’t get into the details of how we do what we do. And therein lies the opportunity.
Digging deeper, we can use our results to stretch our strengths. Rather than solely relying on more education, more titles, more training and more experience, we can fill our toolbag of skills and strengths by applying the tools that are already in there – just in new ways. Here are three ways for stretching the strengths you already have, thanks to your personality type.
Interview others with similar personality traits, try on their behaviors
As a Perceiver, I’m described as being flexible and adaptable. It’s true, I can be accommodating. I’m willing to rearrange my schedule as things come up and I’m able to alter my approach to projects as resources change. Those were my definitions to being flexible and adaptable – limited to my schedule and how I’d execute projects, both things I could control.
Then, I heard someone say that their way of being flexible and adaptable is being able to easily handle impromptu situations where they need to present on the spot – like improv. This never crossed my mind! In the past, I would have insisted on being warned before speaking at an event. Without warning and a chance to prepare, there was no way I’d step up to present.
Through experience, I’ve learned that I do, in fact, have the capability to exercise similar approaches as someone else with the same personality trait. The potential is there, but it’s up to me to make the effort. And just like any new behavior, it’s going to take willingness, time and practice to get better at it. But it’s easier to lean into a new skill when I know that I naturally have the potential due to other qualities I have. In short, I’m probably going to take to improv better than a strong Judger could.
Talk to others who have similar results to you (whether that’s the whole personality type or just one aspect). Interview them and get into the details of how they see their traits play out in their thoughts, habits, activities and behaviors. Take note of the ones that differ from how you use your traits and really dive into the ones you would have never considered! This is an excellent opportunity to stretch your innate talents. You have similar foundational patterns, leverage them to develop new skills and expand your strengths.
Scale the intensity with which you use your strengths
Think of a drill. OK, so what kind of drill did you think of? Most of us would probably think of a common drill, the kind you can just get at a hardware store. But what if you’re a dentist? You likely first thought of a much smaller, more specialized drill to work on your patients. Or, what if you dig for oil? Chances are that you first thought of a huge, powerful (less precise) drill to dig past large amounts of dirt and rock quickly. They’re all drills, but their power, size and impact vary greatly.
The same can be true for your strengths. Most of us are used to exercising our habits in the same way – the way that’s natural to us (or what we’re used to). And so, it’s hard for us to adjust and apply our talents differently. It takes intentional effort to change the intensity with which we do things – for example, between subtle and grandiose. So, let’s see what that can mean for our personality type.
For example, let’s take an Extravert (E). An E is often seen as “outgoing” or as a “people person”, often comfortable in groups. Ultimately, their strength is in their energy, and their ability to draw energy from and be comfortable around others. What would happen if they deliberately directed their strengths at different times? It takes different energy to speak in front of a group of 1,000 strangers vs. a group of 20 teammates vs. one-to-one with a decision-maker. All three scenarios depend on communication, people skills and influence, but no one would say that these situations are the same. Some may even think that these three scenarios require three different kinds of people, but there are those who switch between all three skills in their everyday jobs. It takes effort to modify your approach in each situation; you cannot just rely on being an Extravert.
Maybe you’ve never thought about it, but stretching your strengths is a matter of using the same skills and experimenting with new scenarios and environments. The foundational elements to help you succeed are there. You just have to be willing to put in the effort and practice to build that muscle.
Strive to serve various groups, causes, and audiences
What drives you? Is one of your answers who you serve or who your actions impact? There is no wrong or right answer, but there are multiple answers which gives us another dimension to consider as we think about how we can stretch our strengths.
Some people are focused on themselves. They either first think about how they’re impacted or they only think about how they’re impacted. Considering others is not their first instinct. Others are driven by helping or impacting others – so much so that they sometimes forget themselves. And others are driven by helping a broader idea or cause, such as fighting hunger, promoting equality, or advocating for education.
Another way to stretch your strengths is to switch up your focus on who your work is impacting. For example, for a Judger (J), who likes organized tasks that lead to clear, measurable outcomes, it’s a different experience to look at results when it only impacts you vs. another person, a group, or a cause. For yourself, finishing off that checklist may be enough, but how do you measure achievement when your work is for someone else or a group? Now you’re looking at your success based on the group’s measurables. You have to stretch and identify different tasks to change the group’s work in order to achieve their collective results (ultimately reflecting on you).
Or what about working for a cause – let’s say awareness on a public health topic? That sounds abstract. Yet a Judger has the ability to define concrete measurables for what public awareness means – whether surveys, upticks in medical checkup and testing numbers, or decreases in spread rates. Plus, a Judger can work backwards to identify the actions needed to work with the public and reach those target numbers. Again, you’re using your same foundational strengths but stretching them beyond how you normally use them.
It can be tempting to look at your personality type results and think “that’s it?”, as if we’re limited to what we can achieve. But I see them as helping us think about ourselves differently. Our results can give us insight as to which aspects of ourselves to focus on and develop to maximize our potential and success.
For example, there’s no point in trying to be an Intuitive (N) if you’re a Sensor (S), but you can focus on developing your Sensing traits and even stretching them in different scenarios.
Stretching your strengths is ultimately about experimenting with the variables in your situations. The three examples here focused on the:
What: What other ways can you apply and develop the descriptors in your personality type? Interview others to get ideas you would have never considered.
How: How can I alter my approach to fit the situation? Example: How can I turn up or dial down the intensity with which I do things or interact with others?
For whom: Who is my focus on? When I observe my performance and progress through the perspective of that person, group, or cause, how does my approach change? How am I stretching my strengths to best serve myself, my people, or my cause?
Ultimately, stretching your strengths is about maximizing the foundational talent your personality type assessment identified. Be curious. Deliberately ask yourself: how can I apply my personality traits in a different manner? Use the tools that you already have in new ways, in new environments and serving different audiences. Each variable shift will bring greater depth to your strengths, building your confidence, expanding your experience and allowing you to stretch beyond your current levels.