Arugula and Communication

March 2014. Originally copyrighted and posted in "Type for Life" by the Center for the Applications of Psychological Type, Gainesville, FL. Used with permission.

I was talking with a colleague, Vic, recently just after I had completed facilitating the MBTI® Step II module for a community leadership program we both work in.

An activity on Concrete-Abstract (a Step II facet of Sensing-Intuition) went particularly well — you know the one…show the abstract picture and listen to what the groups talk about.

The Concrete types saw trees, vines, pillars, or an arrow. Or was it a weathervane — they strove to get the facts right.

The Abstract types saw dread, decay, destruction, etc. Same picture…different conversations. Such is life! The challenge is how to have these conversations make sense between groups!! Both want to build healthy, vibrant communities.

Vic then talked about communication with his wife of 45 years and how they still get off kilter at times. I asked for an example.

"The other night at dinner we were eating arugula. I remarked to Kathy, ‘I'd like to grow arugula all year long.' She said, ‘Why would you do that? You don't even garden. And besides the grocery store is just down the block and it stocks it every day.' What I meant, of course, was how much I enjoyed eating arugula, but I didn't say that directly."

My colleague is INFJ and his spouse, ISTJ. He speaks in generalities and possibilities, and she speaks in specifics and practicalities. Communicating well is a passion of his (as it is for many INFJs).

But there is more to this than just those S-N differences.

When an ISTJ (or an ESTJ) hears a statement such as the one above, he/she immediately thinks of how to fulfill the desire, complete the task, or dispense with the issue. It is a call for action and the responsible thing to do. It is often interpreted as "hmmm, how would I make that happen." Or there is a move to judgment with the thought (sometimes even said out loud in my case), "That's a really stupid request; let me show (my spouse) how impractical that is."

For me, as an ESTJ, I feel the need to decide something, to make a judgment, about nearly every statement I've heard, and then to do something about each one. It is as if you waved a red flag in front of a bull — I feel compelled to act!

Part of the learning for me is to just listen. Not every statement requires an action. I don't always have to act like an ESTJ, just because I am one!