Chris Lancelot: Why don't we use the tools to better understand ourselves?

Are you by any chance an ENTP? Or an ISFJ? If you don't know what I'm talking about - and you may well not - these are two of the Myers-Briggs classification of personality types. Other systems are also used - the Porter's Strength Deployment Inventory and the Belbin Team Inventory in particular.

It's easy to assume that all normal people think the same. We don't - as we now know, humankind is divided into different psychological groups, each with its own characteristics. Knowing our personality type lets us understand our strengths and weaknesses, allowing us to work to our strengths and enabling us (and our colleagues) to protect our more vulnerable areas. Knowledge of personality types also helps greatly in ensuring that small groups function smoothly, and in defusing interpersonal problems - such as in partnerships. It enables teams to spot imbalances in their overall make-up, which they may choose to redress when recruiting their next team member.

Understanding and working with personality types is an essential ingredient of modern business management. Most senior managers will both know their own personality type and, crucially, know how to work with it to everyone's benefit.

Yet, although the Myers-Briggs classification has been around since the 1940s, few in medicine are aware of it. I only came across it by chance, 15 years ago, and it formed one of the turning points of my career. Even today most medical students aren't taught about it, apart from a few who specialised in psychology in their third year.

I find this weird: one of the best methods for understanding how people tick; one of the quickest ways to defuse interpersonal and intra-team tension - yet the profession seems largely to have ignored it.

It does make me wonder about the scope of the medical school curriculum. Are we training doctors as if they were forever going to function in a vacuum? Most medical graduates will eventually be involved in creating and running teams, and in relating to the wider world of NHS management and yet many medical schools still don't routinely teach even the most fundamental aspects of doing this properly.

More next week.

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