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Myers-Briggs: In the Grip

Greetings!

Claressa and Martha here, and we’re happy to be back on the Pathway Design Group Blog talking about one of our FAVORITE topics: navigating the workplace using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator! 

This is a tool – almost a philosophy, really – that we use frequently here at Pathway, as we work with groups and organizations on their journeys toward positive work environments. One of the times Myers-Briggs can be most helpful is in seasons of stress and overwhelm. With summer here and schedules filling up, we thought it would be the perfect time to discuss!

Stress: It happens to the best of us. 

Martha: Claressa, one of the most interesting topics that we discuss with the folks we work with is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator portion of what it looks like to be stressed — or what we refer to as “being in the grip”. Let’s talk about that. 

Claressa: It is interesting, indeed! What I find most intriguing is that, as we look at our natural behavioral characteristics and identify those that are the least-used or the least-relevant, those characteristics are typically the ones that flare up in times of stress. In fact, we almost become a caricature version of that behavior. It’s not uncommon to hear someone say, “That person is acting crazy,” when you’re acting “in the grip,” because whether or not that’s how you actually are, that is how you look to other people. That’s a natural reality, and it’s scary. What’s even scarier is that certain environments and ongoing situations can cause people to live in that “grip behavior.” 

“…the reality is everybody has stress in their lives, and they’re going to present some form of stressed-out behavior.”

Martha: For me, the piece that’s interesting about being in the grip is acknowledging that it happens to everybody —  it’s not something we can prevent. However, it is something that, when recognized, can be dealt with so that we can get back to our normal selves much more quickly. So, it’s not about taking steps to prevent being in the grip — because the reality is everybody has stress in their lives, and they’re going to present some form of stressed-out behavior. The important pieces for folks to understand are: 1. They can recognize it in themselves, and once it’s recognized, it’s much easier to detach from the situation and take the steps necessary to correct it. 2. It’s something that others around them can identify as well. When you are having an in-the-grip-moment, you are not acting like your normal self, correct? So if somebody else is knowledgeable and knows you very well, they can recognize that behavior and say, “Hmm… she doesn’t normally act like that. What’s going on?” Then they can take steps to help correct that and get you back to your norm. My point? It is really important to know that while it can’t be stopped, stress-related behavior can be corrected quickly — which is a correction best for everyone involved. 

Claressa: To piggyback on what you’re saying, Martha, is that this recognition has the power to change your perspective. Typically, when we see those around us in their “stressed selves,” it can be easy to start judging. To think, “They are crazy!” instead of “What is going on here?” What I’ve learned is that once we’ve studied and taught this, people are able to step back and understand the why behind someone’s stress. That’s a pretty significant shift in perspective.

“You’re seeing someone at their most vulnerable and stressed-out, and while it is easy to judge, it’s certainly not the time to do so.”

Martha: Good point! You’re seeing someone at their most vulnerable and stressed-out, and while it is easy to judge, it’s certainly not the time to do so. One of the reasons being, while we talked earlier about having the ability to help people out of the grip, you also have the ability (and probably more tendency), to exacerbate people who are in the grip. So, if somebody is acting unlike themselves, a typical natural response might be to shy away or call that person out on their behavior. Unfortunately, all this does is “poke the bear,” so to speak. Doing so simply makes it worse for that person and everyone around him or her. See, the problem is 1. we are hurting the people that we care about, and 2. a “poked bear” has a tendency to lash out. Before you know it, all this lashing out will pull you in the grip, too. Situations like this tend to spiral — with two people feeling out-of-sorts and vulnerable, someone is bound to say something that strikes a nerve. Once the spiral has started, it’s a lot more difficult to correct the behaviors. 

Claressa: That’s a great point, calling it a spiral. It can really have a domino effect, that ability of a person who is in the grip to pull another individual into that negative, out-of-the-norm behavior. This can cause significant chaos in the workplace… especially when you may not even realize what’s precipitating that behavior. So, as you said, understanding that you can help get somebody out of the grip more quickly, identify it, and take steps to pull them out — you’re helping the team work as a whole. 

You know us — there’s always a moral!

Martha: When you see that someone is acting abnormally, or is looking stressed and out of sorts, try not to jump to conclusions. Instead, take a step back, assess the situation, and try to identify if they are, in fact, feeling “in the grip.” Once you’ve recognized this, take steps to help them get back to their normal selves. In doing this, you can benefit the person as well as the work group as a whole.

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