Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 17 seconds

Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Would You Use Categorization of People for Team-building? 


Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 17 seconds

So a colleague and I were working on some team-building activities for an upcoming work thing. We both really enjoy this kind of thing, and we explored some useful sites (this one’s good for light activities, this one’s great for complex serious ones about listening deeply and such).

There was also an activity he proposed about personality types. It’s an MBTI-based personality thing, where the categories like ENFP (which I am and surprisingly many of us seem to be) is called “The Campaigner” (why are you not surprised? Haha).

Now for background, as an undergraduate student I volunteered and worked at my university’s career center where several of the leadership were getting certified to conduct MBTI. So I was involved in several iterations of trying simple and actual versions of MBTI and getting the discussion afterwards about whether our test results fit our views of ourselves and how it affects our future careers and our ability to work in teams and such. I have consistently been an MBTI. The top two jobs I got were preacher and teacher (not computer scientist, you will notice, because E people. N PEOPLE. F, P. Not at all computer scientist stereotype). Those seem to fit this lighter personality type “Campaigner” thing. 

So anyway. In complete honesty, I enjoyed this every single time. And it did help me understand why I can’t work easily w ISTJs and not to take it personally. Which reminds me now I got one of those at work and I need to stop sweating the small stuff.

But anyway. Categorizing ppl is problematic. And btw, sue me, but I also enjoyed doing learning styles and multiple intelligences and things like that and found them useful (even though I know there’s no evidence that teachers addressing learning styles help learning – how would you even prove that, really?)

But anyways. 

I’m always reminded of Irvin Yalom’s words from Love’s Executioner where he reminds us how categorizing people can make us lose a sense of who they are and we need to sort of accept, respect, maybe celebrate and appreciate that the “other is never fully knowable” (1989, p. 185) and the parts of people that “transcend category”.

I’m thinking back to James Paul Gee’s writing on 4 dimensions of identity (there’s a free pdf which took me a while to get on my phone ), and how some of those are natural (biological, like sex and skin color – even if categories of these like gender and ethnicity and what a skin color means as power are socially-constructed), some are related to institutional identities (awarded) and some to affinity identities (self-claimed) and some to individual traits like personality. Sometimes focusing so much on the latter ignores the power involved in exploring the other 3 dimensions of identity, and in a workplace environment, that can really make a difference. Certain practices may be said to work well for certain personalities vs others, but it may be more important to tackle how such practices reproduce power or marginalize women or minorities or such.

Perhaps what I’m saying is that approaches that focus on psychology of the individual and their personality ignore the social context and intersectionality, and it’s important not to lose sight of these. And it’s also important not to make individuals focus too much on the categories coming out of these tests to an extent it paralyzes them by narrowing their own views of themselves. For example learning style tests bring me out as highly verbal and active, lower on visual and reflection. And I believed that for quite some time. I’m nowhere near as reflective as someone like Kate Bowles or Sean Michael Morris, but I am still pretty highly reflective, much more than other people I know. But yes. I am much more active than most people I know. So maybe action and reflection aren’t binary. Oh wait, isn’t that what Freire calls praxis? Aren’t we all meant to employ both? Exactly. Thinking also of visual vs verbal. I know I am much more verbal (like I don’t mind non-visual cues) but I forgot when I kept seeing that test result, that I used to be very artistic as a child – I could draw portraits of people with very close likenesses. I used to draw and cut my own paper dolls and dress them up. Lile hundreds of these. I loved reading comics. As an adult, I love making videos that are mixes of other photos and videos. But that learning style test result kinda reduced my perception of myself as that person and we should never allow a test to do that to us. 

Sigh. I don’t know if I said anything that isn’t obvious already here 🙂

I think for my class next semester, it’s worth having a critical discussion about these things before we do any tests so students go in with eyes wide open. I think it’s useful to have the discussions anyway because they might get exposed to these tests or generally find themselves categorized in different ways anyway . So that’s where I currently stand. Thoughts?


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