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)

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Once again, here are some of the reads I found thought-provoking this week:

How to Read the Bible For Yourself.

Walking in the Spirit. Probably the most helpful explanation I have seen of this. I had long ago noticed the similarities between being filled with the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18-33 and letting the Word of Christ dwell in us richly in Colossians 3, and wondered how that worked together. This is the first time I have seen it explained.

How Can I Forgive Myself, HT to Challies. “You do not need to supplement divine forgiveness with any self-forgiveness. Your forgiveness in Christ is complete. Receive it. Remember it. And rejoice in it. If your testimony is, ‘God has forgiven me,’ that is enough!”

For the mom who doesn’t have time to read her Bible. Love this. “Bible time is not only an hour at the crack of dawn, or an intense evening devotion, or a dedicated small group meeting.”

Michelangelo’s David and the Gift of Limitations, HT to The Story Warren.

Do Visitors From Your Church Really Feel Welcome? HT to Challies.

No Time For Widows, HT to Challies. The best part: “Every widow is an individual person. No one likes being lumped into a group and having assumptions made about them based on demographics. The only way to truly help a widow is to get to know her.”

Some questions I’m asking while off to my white evangelical church, HT to Challies.

An Open Letter to the Person Caring for a Loved One With Dementia, HT to True Woman. My own m-i-l was not one to “explode” in anger as is mentioned here, but I know some of you have dealt with that.

It’s Never a Good Time to Invite Kids In.

27 Things People Don’t Realize You’re Doing Because You’re a Highly Sensitive Person, HT to Lisa. I could easily identify with about half of these, and somewhat identify with more.

And a few words of wisdom from Pinterest:

Happy Saturday!

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“That’s Just the Way I Am”

When my youngest son was small, he was a real chatty little guy. In fact, sometimes he could talk too much. I didn’t want to squelch his openness with people or his ability to strike up a conversation, as those are valuable traits (which don’t come naturally to me!) But on the other hand, no one wants to be around someone who talks incessantly. Once he was talking to the wife and mother of a visiting missionary family at church who was trying to soothe a fussy baby and graciously step away from him, and he kept chatting merrily on. When I tried to suggest that perhaps he was talking a little too much, he flashed his bright smile and said, “That’s just the way God made me.”

“Well,” I thought, “What do I say to that?”

After a while the Lord did bring to mind a few principles to share with him, such as the fact that God made us to eat, yet it is wrong to eat too much or the wrong things; God made us to sleep, but warns against loving sleep too much and being lazy, etc. He gives us responsibility to use our natural bent and inclinations in the right way. We talked about the warning signs that you’re talking too much — when other people look bored, sleepy, or glazed, or when they’re trying to step away or start another conversation with someone else, etc.

I’ve heard variations on that response from time to time. I used to really struggle under the leadership of someone who was not good with details: when he overlooked something that caused problems, frustrations, more work, etc., for the people under him, he’d just smile and say, “You’ll have to forgive me, I’m not good with details. I’m just not wired that way.” I’ve heard someone apologize for an angry outburst by saying, “I’m sorry, I just have a bad temper.” I’ve known people who think they have the spirituals gifts of prophesy or exhortation to harshly lambast a person or movement (and take great pleasure in doing so), forgetting that “the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth” (II Timothy 2:24-25).

When my middle son was in about the 6th or 7th grade, he was lamenting that he studied for spelling tests and yet still received disappointing grades, and a classmate hardly studied at all and yet made A’s. I explained that everyone has an aptitude for certain areas, and this friend obviously happened to have an aptitude for spelling. He brightened, thinking that since he didn’t have a natural aptitude for spelling, he didn’t really have to worry about it. I had to say, no, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to work on your spelling: in fact, in means you have to work harder!

The person who is not good with details is not excused from having to deal with them; in fact, he may have to work harder to handle them, or hire an assistant to help him. The person with a bad temper is not allowed to give it free reign because he can’t help himself. The shy or introverted person had to extend himself sometimes, even though it’s uncomfortable. Even spiritual gifts such as exhortation or mercy or giving have to be kept in balance. A person whose gift is giving for example, can’t run his family into debt or neglect their needs to give to others. He is responsible to exercise that gift in conjunction with other Scriptural instruction under God’s leadership. Scripture contains several passages of instruction concerning how to exercise spiritual gifts.

Understanding they way we’re “wired” does help us to know what direction to go in life, what ministries or vocations to choose, etc. For instance, I am not good with numbers: I can add the same list of numbers up three times and get three different answers — even with a calculator. So I would not look for a job as an accountant. I get rattled in a busy, noisy environment, so I wouldn’t likely work best there  – as a teen I lasted working for a fast-food place for only a week.

However, sometimes God does call people to do what doesn’t come naturally — Moses felt he could not lead or speak, yet God did not accept any of his excuses. Jeremiah said, “Ah, Lord GOD! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. But the LORD said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak” (Jeremiah 1:6-7). We think of the apostle Paul as bold and wise, yet he said, “And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom” — but he goes on to say, “but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (I Corinthians 2:3-5). Sometimes God uses people in the ways they seem to be bent, but other times He calls them to do something that doesn’t come naturally to them to show His power and His grace through them.

Whether dealing with a sin issue, a personality bent, or even a spiritual gift, “That’s just the way I am” is not a good excuse. God wants us to seek Him for deliverance from the power of sin, for power and grace to maintain right balances and to be diligent even in areas where we don’t have natural gifts, and for help to grow continually more Christlike every day we live. He does not want us to remain “just the way we are.” “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord” (II Corinthians 3:18). We’re changed….by beholding Him.

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See also: The means of change.

(Revised from the archives)

(Sharing with Inspire me Monday, Literary Musing Monday, Testimony Tuesday. Wise Woman, Tell His Story, Woman to Woman Word-Filled Wednesday, Faith on Fire)

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