Friday, April 1, 2011
MBTI: How to survive working for a ‘J’ if you’re a ‘P’
Time to read this post: 4 minutes
Lumbergh: Hi, Peter. What's happening? We need to talk about your TPS reports.
Peter Gibbons: Yeah. The cover sheet. I know, I know. Uh, Bill talked to me about it.
Lumbergh: Yeah. Did you get that memo?
Peter: Yeah. I got the memo. And I understand the policy. And the problem is just that I forgot the one time. And I've already taken care of it so it's not even really a problem anymore.
Lumbergh: Ah! Yeah. It's just we're putting new coversheets on all the TPS reports before they go out now. So if you could go ahead and try to remember to do that from now on, that'd be great. All right!”
Office Space (1999)
Have you ever worked for a boss who has crushed your very being? More specifically, do you love playing as you work? Do you secretly relish the last minute rush before a deadline? Do you procrastinate for hours and days on end before engaging on a project? Do you finish early on a Friday to enjoy the weekend, plan to work on Sunday then end up cramming on a Monday morning?
If you also nodded to these questions, the chances are that you’re a ‘P’ in the hallowed language of Myers-Briggs. “Flimsy, incomplete and superficial” say academics. Meanwhile corporations have fallen over themselves to embrace it. I am going to assume you have some familiarity with Myers-Briggs and address one of the most common issues in the modern workplace: the utter frustration of being a competent P working for an extreme J and what you can do about it.
I speak to you as an extreme P working in a corporate world run by Js. My last five bosses have been Js (an ENTJ, an INTJ and three ESTJs). We Ps are in good company: Einstein, Beethoven, Picasso, David Beckham, Madonna, Jack Bauer…all fellow Ps. Yes, the workplan is in my head. Yes, that’s my to-do list written on those 17 post-it notes. No, I don’t know what I’m doing for Christmas 2014.
Last week I met a highly successful CFO who told me “my closet is color coordinated by column and row. When I interview accountants to work for me, I ask them how they organize their closets – I find it’s a good way to judge people”. Wow. Somebody shoot me. Despite all this I do tend to work well with my J-bosses. Here are the three tactics I always use.
Past, Present, Future. A former mentor taught me this one. At the beginning of every meeting, every interview, every client conversation always, always introduce the meeting with a past, present, future structure. Ps don’t mind it and Js absolutely love it. For example imagine you are speaking with your boss “So we spoke last week about the customer data [PAST], today I’d like to get your opinion on our project plan [PRESENT], then next week we will kick-off the project and we will review our progress next Friday [FUTURE]”. As a ‘P’ my preference is to jump straight into the most exciting idea I’ve just had. In each meeting, I want to wing it, to tap-dance, to see what happens. Now I still do that, but after I have opened the meeting with a Past-Present-Future introduction. Try it. It really works.
Mind your language: when giving a progress update, a ‘P’ will use active language. “I’m following up on those leads, I’m doing the analysis, I’m looking for insights and planning my next steps.” This is the worst possible update to give a J. They don’t care what you are doing, what have you done? For my last boss I did not change any of my work, I simply spoke about it differently “I have emailed the 12 customers, I have planned my analysis for the week, I have completed the first draft of the report”. If you only do one thing, just change your update language from “-ing” to “ed” and watch their worries melt away.
Develop a one-page update template: Ps feel crushed by Js love-affair with progress reports. Why all the update meetings to talk about why we haven’t made more progress? As a P I find it draining to write the workplan, the status reports, the next steps. Then one day a colleague showed me how she did it: just have a one-slide template that takes less than five minutes to update once a week and always use it with your boss. I have found this one pager works wonders, keeps my bosses very happy and out of my work. There are a few reasons why it’s so effective:
a. uses ‘-ed’ words in the first row
b. the tick marks are an unconscious mental trick that Js cannot resist. The ticks don’t really mean anything but they signal progress and that you getting stuff done.
c. Next Steps row signals that you are proactive and have a well thought through plan (even if you don’t).
d. “Your input” row is critical. Without it a J will start giving input at random, this can derail everything. Instead you can focus their attention and keep their input on minor issues.
While I find the predictable, well-structured world of Js soul-crushing, we have to hand it to them occasionally. Yes, they don’t think out of the box, but they get the box designed on-time and on-budget. Bill Gates, Mother Theresa, George Washington, Margaret Thatcher, Warren Buffet – all Js. High achievers indeed. So we have to accept it’s a symbiotic relationship. They need our creativity and adaptability. We need their workplans and structure.
In other news I have spent much of the last six months backpacking around India & Africa with my wife and daughter. We sold our TV. I changed jobs. More about that in upcoming blog posts. But writing as a P, I can’t promise exactly when that will be…