How do different personality types respond to social distancing?

Different personalities are coping in different ways during lockdown, says John Hackston.

Ever since the UK government introduced lockdown measures on the 23 March, social distancing, once an alien concept, has governed our lives. Although most people are obeying these new rules, it’s clear that some find social distancing easier than others. 

The ways that we react to social distancing and its consequences are likely to relate to our personality, so by being aware of differences in personality, a framework cam be created to help employees adapt to virtual working.

One of the most popular ways of describing personality is the ‘type’ approach, as used by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). This looks at four areas: whether we prefer to focus our attention on the outside world (Extraversion), or the inner world of thoughts and feelings (Introversion); whether we prefer to deal with detailed, concrete information (Sensing) or the big picture (Intuition); whether we prefer to make decisions on the basis of objective logic (Thinking) or on the basis of our values and how people will be affected (Feeling); and whether we prefer to live our lives in an ordered way (Judging) or in a more open way (Perceiving).

Here are some hints and tips for each type:

Extraversion and Introversion
Social distancing may be difficult for some with an Extraversion preference, and it’s important that they find other ways to keep in touch, so organisations should make online tools such as Skype easily available and schedule regular informal get-togethers. Conversely, Introverts typically enjoy a calm environment, and might quite enjoy working from home. However, they do need some contact with the outside world, so it’s important that they don’t forget to engage with their friends and colleagues.

Sensing and Intuition
Those with a Sensing preference may find themselves obsessed with the minutiae of social distancing rules, or the physical aspects of their home environment. Maintaining contact with others is a good way to keep in touch with the real world. For those with an Intuition preference, the temptation is to over-complicate things; getting together (virtually) with someone with a Sensing preference may help to bring them back down to earth.

Thinking and Feeling
People with a Thinking preference may be less motivated to maintain social contact with friends and colleagues than those with a Feeling preference. It is also the case that without the usual social cues, the online communication of Thinking individuals can be very direct and task-focused, with terse, impersonal emails, leaving whose with a Feeling preference wondering what they have done wrong. Being aware of other’s needs can reduce stress for both.

Judging and Perceiving
Those with a Judging preference enjoy an organised life and may be unsettled by the ways in which social distancing has disrupted their routine. It’s useful for them to get into a new routine as soon as possible, and important for organisations to facilitate this. Setting clear goals at the start of each day will be useful, as will setting boundaries around working hours. Those with a Perceiving preference may enjoy some aspects of working from home, such as the freedom to be flexible around hours, however they will find the difficulty in being spontaneous and the routine of being at home demotivating. Moving between different activities or projects to maintain variety can help keep these individuals fresh.

By taking the time to understand how people will react to this crisis, employers can equip their workforce with the tools required to manage stress, remain engaged, and be productive – and to come out the other side.

John Hackston is head of thought leadership at The Myers-Briggs Company.

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