Book Review: Reading People

Reading PeopleIn Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, blogger and author Anne Bogel discuses the basics of seven personality frameworks.

Anne’s own “Aha! moment,” as she calls it, came in early married days when she and her husband disagreed. She was emotionally expressive, but he seemed to shut down. She thought he was shutting her out and didn’t understand, and she got more upset. After one such encounter, she picked up the library book about personalities that she just happened to be reading, and found herself at a part that described each of them perfectly. She realized that just because her husband didn’t respond emotionally as she did didn’t mean he didn’t understand. His calmness wasn’t indicative of coldness.

Anne compares “understanding personality [to] holding a good map. The map can’t take you anywhere. It doesn’t change your location…the map’s purpose isn’t to move you; it’s to show you the lay of the land. It’s a tool that makes it possible to go where you want to go” (p. 15).

We want to know more about ourselves and the people we interact with every day. We suspect our lives would be better if we actually understood ourselves and the people we love. We want to know why we do what we do, think what we think, act how we act–and why they do, too (p. 12).

The frameworks in this book can highlight what upsets you (and why) and what makes you hum. They can help you understand what’s causing friction in your relationships, and what to do about it. They can open your eyes to what’s really going on in situations that currently make you batty (p. 19).

Once you understand yourself, you can stop fighting your natural tendencies and plan for them instead (p. 43).

It can be difficult to pinpoint one’s exact personality with some of the frameworks because we tend to answer the assessment questions according to how we want to be or think we should be rather than how we really are. Also, no one personality indicator fits individuals 100% in every aspect. But, Anne says, one will fit more than the others.

And even though we might not be able to pinpoint other people’s personalities, we can understand that they are different from us, and that’s not a bad thing.

Because we live in a world with many other people…we need to be not only smart about meeting our own needs but also gracious about their needs…we have to learn to be flexible (p. 52).

Understanding our personalities doesn’t eliminate the tension that results when people with different needs, motivations, and preferences come together or, especially, live together. But understanding things beneath the surface–why people act the way they act and prefer the things they prefer–helps us at least make sense of what’s going on. These people are not out to get us or trying to ruffle our feathers; they’re just different–a different kind of normal (pp. 54-55).

When we bring personality types together, communication breakdowns are inevitable…Thinking types may feel they’re being considerate by getting straight to a point in a conversation, unaware that their feeling friends perceive them as uncomfortably blunt. Intuitive types may think they are contributing by sharing their grand plans in a team meeting, unaware that the thought of so many changes at once completely stresses out their sensing colleagues. Extroverted types may feel disappointed when their spouses don’t immediately respond with enthusiasm to their ideas, ignorant that they just need time to think the ideas over (pp. 136-37).

The different personality frameworks Anne discusses are:

Introvert vs. Extrovert
Highly Sensitive People
The Five Love Languages
Keirsey’s Temperaments
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
The Clifton StrengthsFinder
The Enneagram

She shares a condensed version of what’s involved in each of these, how they are tested, where to find the tests, their difficulties, right and wrong ways to use the information. She does not suggest that readers use all of these; rather, she encourages us to choose which one resonates with us the most and go from there.

Her last chapter is “Your Personality Is Not Your Destiny.” Even though some of our traits are hard-wired, character can be developed. “My personality traits don’t determine my destiny, but they inform it” (p. 201).

Personality changes are incremental–and gradual. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t change much; after all, our personalities are only one part of what makes us who we are. Our personalities may be resistant to change, but our behaviors are significantly more pliable. Understanding our personalities makes it significantly easier to change the things within our grasp (pp. 195-96).

Growth is a multistep process, but it is an actual process. Spiritual formation isn’t quite as slippery as some make it out to be. The first step is to crack ourselves open to see what we’re hiding, either deliberately or inadvertently, and to drag what is in the dark into the light. This is the process of self-discovery and self-awareness (p. 179).

My thoughts:

I was familiar with most of these frameworks. One I had never heard of and one I knew very little about – that one was my main purpose for picking up this book.

What I have read about personalities reinforces what Anne said about them. It can be very helpful and insightful to understand more about ourselves and about others with whom we interact. Reading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain was a huge help to me. Even though I knew before reading it that I was an introvert, Cain’s book helped me understand myself, realize that introversion was not an abnormality or disability, find ways to cope when my circumstances aren’t ideal, and realize that I have to extend myself beyond my comfort zone sometimes.

I do think it’s possible to become obsessed with them, however. I’ve known people to read multiple books on one of these frameworks without being able to figure out their type exactly, and it’s a constant conversation point. It’s possible to spend too much time on introspection.

I’ve also seen some of these used the wrong way. Someone recently told me of a personality test given to employees where they worked. Those who scored high in areas that indicated leadership qualities were put into leadership – and failed abysmally, because there is more to being a good leader than a certain personality type. I’m sure Anne would agree that there are ways to interpret and use this information wrongly, as would the creators of these frameworks.

But I thought Anne did a great job summarizing the different personality frameworks and made a good case for studying and understanding our own personalities.

One last thought: Anne is a professing Christian and refers to spiritual issues naturally within the book, but this is not a Christian book per se. Her audience is the general public, not just Christians. There’s nothing wrong with that, but as a Christian reader, there would be layers I would add to the information she shares. For instance, to the last quote I mentioned about cracking ourselves open and bringing what’s in the darkness to light, I would add the necessity of asking God to search us. Also, as Christians we seek God’s help to change and grow.

Overall, a great book and one I am happy to recommend.

(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, Carole’s Books You Loved)

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8 thoughts on “Book Review: Reading People

  1. It has been a long time since I’ve read any books dealing with this topic. I know I am an introvert, but it may not be a bad idea to go back over a book such as this to help me better relate to other personality types. Thank you for sharing the review, Barbara.

  2. Thanks for reviewing this, Barbara. I’ve been going back and forth over whether to read “Reading People” because I am often frustrated with the “personality is destiny” attitude many enthusiasts take (and I’m sure that said enthusiasts would be able to pick out the precise personality trait I possess that makes said attitude so off-putting to me :-P). Your review is enough to convince me that Bogel is not going to go down that route – and that there may in fact be something to learn that would help me love others more effectively. Thanks again!

  3. Pingback: What’s On Your Nightstand: April 2018 | Stray Thoughts

  4. Pingback: Book Review: The Highly Sensitive Person | Stray Thoughts

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