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    Sep 19, 2014    |   Psychometrics

S and N: Do unto others…

“As you would have done unto you.”

Right? Well, I disagree. Allessandra and O’Connor wrote about the “Platinum Rule of Business” whereby they cleverly shifted this paradigm (1998) using their model of business personality types**. This time, I’d like to shift the paradigm using the S-N Preference perspective!

people-desk As a facilitator working with both teams and individuals, I often introduce the MBTI®instrument as a valuable tool for understanding our natural inclinations – and how those of other people differ from ourselves. But more than that, it acts as a narrative guide for individual and team development-if we know how to use it!

A great example comes from the impact of S-N on our communication style. According to type theory, S preferences are analogous to gathering and presenting information in a step by step sequential manner, attuning to the facts, details and practical realities of a given situation, and drawing thorough conclusions based on these factors. In contrast, an individual with N preferences are more attuned immediately to conclusions or future possibilities; when they gather and present information, they do so first by capturing the big picture, pausing to fill in necessary information after the fact to contextualize their end goal. Because of these very different ways of presenting information, a common source of miscommunication on teams – or between leaders and subordinates – relates to these preferences.

A popular activity I like to run in team workshops to demonstrate this is to ask groups of Ss and Ns to provide me directions to the closest airport assuming I must leave after the session. S groups have historically begun by seeking out more information from me. “Domestic or International?” “What time is your flight?” “Are you driving or taking public transport?” and “Are you familiar with the city?” are amongst some of the S queries I’ve received. As S preferences, these are attempts to gather all the practical realities first – only if these are considered, will they be confident that the directions (or conclusion) they provide are as accurate and comprehensive as possible – Very typical of S. From there, they develop a sequential list of route options, depending on certain factors such as rush hour or construction all of which consist of specific, rich directions complete with left turns, right turns, specific landmarks and sometimes a hand-drawn map. Sequential gathering of practical systematic info to arrive at a specific and fairly detailed description – S, S, S.

On the other hand, the Ns in the group take a very different approach. They usually make certain unspoken assumptions (That I’m driving, and that I’m somewhat familiar with the area), and from there efficiently take note of the quickest most direct route to my destination, mentioning the major highway as a more concrete detail and pointing out that there’s no need to worry because there’s signs that point to where I need to go. Here, we see a very “N” approach – an end goal focus with a few key pieces of information to get me there. A few times, I’ve been told to simply “Google It”.

After we point out these very obvious differences, I ask each group to tell me some of the benefits and pitfalls of both approaches – particularly if they assume I have the opposite preference than they do. “Ns, what if I had a preference for S?”; “Ss, what if I had a preference for N?”. In either case, the answer is usually that I – as the info recipient who has differing preferences – end up ‘lost’. Whether be physically (as an S, I have not received enough detail) or mentally (as an N, the detail has become too much and I have ‘checked out’) – I do not arrive at my destination. If I have an Intution preference, Ss may be overwhelming me with the details; if I have an S preference, Intuition information may be too vague for me to feel as though I can follow-through accurately.

At work and in our personal lives, we need to communicate important information every day. If people rely on the information we provide, we need to make sure we are communicating it in a way that makes the most sense – not to us, but to our listener. By allowing your own preferences to dictate what you present, you can often lose the message, lose the listener, or both. One of the major points of emphasis I make during many OD workshops is that the most effective leaders, teammates and people learn to overcome the tendency to rest on their type lorals. Once they know what their natural preferences are, they learn to flex their behaviours to meet the unique and different needs of their audience, followers, supervisors and colleagues.

Here are some S-N Tips to help you reach others more effectively:

For my “S Preferences”:
*Try to provide a big picture summary immediately, followed by the implementation steps you have developed to keep your N counterparts engaged.
*Re-iterate the importance of your implementation steps to the overall goal, mission or meaning – Ns are more on-board with finer practicalities if it relates to a broader idea.
*Practice being selective about which facts are necessary vs arbitrary. Give your Ns enough to move forward, without overwhelming them.

For my “N Preferences”:
*Provide more specifics around implementation and action plan. While you need the ‘why’ Ss may need more of the What and How!
*Avoid using too many metaphors to make your point – Ss may perceive this as impractical or ‘pie in the sky’ thinking.
*Remember to fact-check the accuracy of the details you communicate – we often do not remember them as well as our reality-attuned counterparts.

I know what you’re thinking: We can’t possibly know the preferences of everyone we talk to! Well my keen friends, you are absolutely right. The reality is that often we cannot know nor predict what type of message our listener wants or needs. Therefore, the challenge is to be mindful of your own tendencies, and flex to include enough of both in whatever message you are delivering – S, N, S, N. Are you communicating the practicalities as well as the meaning or goal? Are you including the why while clarifying the specifics of the change? By remembering both, your listener will latch on to what they find particularly useful – no matter who they are!

Be a better communicator. Start using S-N to do unto others – not as you would have done unto you, but as they would have done unto themselves.


**Edit: This post was originally written without knowledge of the previous Platinum Rule as referenced by Allessandra and O’Connor. Reference was added to credit original authors.


Filed under: Type Talk