Blog Post: Coaching Perceivers and Judgers

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This is the fourth and final post related to using the Jungian personality framework in your coaching.  The framework has been popularized by assessments such as the Myers-Briggs Type Instrument (MBTI).  Jung posited that human personality can be understood as the interplay of three specific preferences:

Introvert/Extrovert describes where a person projects his or her preferred personality function.  Do they prefer the inner world of thoughts and ideas or the outer world of people and action?

Sensing/Intuition describes how a person prefers to take in new information.  Do they prefer and give more validity to that which is immediate and tangible, or do they prefer and trust concepts and big pictures?  This is your perceiving function.

Thinking/Feeling describes how a person prefers to make decisions.  Do they more strongly consider objective facts or do they put an emphasis on relationships and subjective experience? This is your judging function.

Jung called these final two preferences “functions” and the first one an “attitude.”  A function is something you do, while an attitude is the style with which you do it.  Later, the mother-daughter team of Myers and Briggs came along and added another attitude to describe which function a person preferred: judging or perceiving.  In short, the P/J preference deals with how a person engages his world.  Does he see the world as something to explore (perceiving) or as something to organize (judging)?

In my experience, this preference describes a great deal about any particular person.  One’s preference to either explore or organize shows up in a myriad of ways:

  • Are they more comfortable keeping their options open or settling on one option?
  • Do they prefer free time or planned time?
  • Do they wing it or create a plan and then work the plan?
  • Do they tend to procrastinate or do they set deadlines and meet them?
  • Are they okay with some clutter or do they want everything in its place?
  • Do they like to go with the flow or do they feel more comfortable when events are structured?
  • Are they on the lookout for a new way to do something or do they like to find a way that works and stick with it?

To put a real people example into this preference, let me contrast me and my wife.  I am an off-the-chart Perceiver and she is a solid Judger.  Early in our marriage we had conflict over Saturdays.  In my mind, Saturdays were awesome and valuable because they were wide open.  Every Saturday represented a wide range of possibilities, unencumbered by the expectations and restrictions of the work week.  For me, the best way to honor the value of a Saturday was to keep it free from anything even hinting of a plan, an expectation, or an obligation.  My wife also saw Saturdays as highly valuable, but her approach to honoring them was to decide ahead of time how best to invest such a great resource.  In other words, she wanted a plan.  She wanted to organize Saturday so we could make the most of it.  She would ask me on Thursday or Friday what I wanted to do on Saturday and I would respond with “Nothing.”  That wasn’t accurate.  I wanted to do something on Saturday, I just didn’t want to plan on doing anything.  For me, a plan spoiled Saturday.  For her, Saturday would wither into nothingness without a good plan because the option of “doing anything” was a recipe for doing nothing.

We addressed our conflict creatively.  She would plan some options for the weekend and keep them to herself.  Then on Saturday morning she would let me in on the plan, which felt spontaneous to me.

The Perceiver/Judger attitude is a powerful personality pull that we need to consider when we work with coaching clients.  First, consider your own preference.  My tendency (as a strong Perceiver) to keep things fluid and open means I have a tendency to neglect procedures and systems.  For example, I put less emphasis on ironing out clear contracts and agreements, I sometimes neglect to schedule follow up sessions immediately, and I might forget to take action on a commitment I made in the coaching session.  I also am very open to flexing to where the client wants to focus, can work with a wide range of clients, and have a natural curiosity on pretty much any coaching topic.  I also struggle to end the sessions on time.

A coach with a preference for Judging will face different dynamics.  Their tendency will be to create and use systems and processes effectively, but they might avoid improving their system for fear of reinventing the wheel.  They might come across more rigid to their clients and less willing to flex on things such as time, contractual commitments, and best practices.  They can also tend to treat ICF competencies as the law of the land, failing to reach a level of mastery that knows when to bend or break the rules.

When it comes to our clients, here are three quick things to keep in mind when working with Perceivers:

  • They value exploring perspectives on an issue, so give them some space early in a coaching conversation to explore. This might feel like you’re wandering or going in circles, and it can turn into that.  Your job as the coach is to help the PBC narrow their focus by deciding which aspect of a topic is most worthy of attention.  Notice this is a decision, which isn’t their sweet spot.  Don’t force focus too soon, otherwise the client will try to explore options after declaring a focus, creating a herky-jerky back-and-forth conversation that can’t progress effectively.
  • The Perceiver’s value of exploration results in them having energy, interest, and comfort thinking about possible options for addressing an issue. In fact, they can sound quite enthusiastic about options that aren’t very good.  I sometimes quip that we Perceivers never met an idea we didn’t like.  That’s a gross overstatement, but there is a hint of truth in it that coaches need to keep in mind, especially if the Perceiver is an Extrovert.
  • Perceivers do not write commitments in stone. This is especially true for Perceivers who are less self-aware and haven’t learned to reign in this tendency.  A client who identifies an action, designs it well, and declares they are highly committed to doing it may fool the coach into thinking that the client’s commitment is airtight.  It is not.  Accountability and structures of support are incredibly important for Perceivers because as soon as the conversation ends, they can be distracted by another opportunity, a new piece of information, or some change of circumstance that negates the commitment they felt in the coaching conversation.  As the coach, you’ll need to keep this in mind and support the client in finding effective ways to keep their commitments.

What about coaching Judgers?  Here are four best practices for coaching them well:

  • They are less comfortable exploring, which can make the beginning of a coaching conversation difficult. They can seem quite settled on what the issue really is and resist exploring the issue in deeper, more meaningful ways. If you think about the hourglass model, a strong Judger can seem to start the conversation at the pinch point of the conversation and miss the value that comes from exploring the issue more fully before identifying and addressing the pinch point.
  • In a similar vein, Judgers can get too locked into their assumption that there is no solution to an issue. I coach a CFO who struggles with this.  He will come into the coaching conversation with an issue that is really challenging him, but will declare in ten different ways, “There’s nothing I can do.”  As a strong Judger, he’s already considered his options and determined that the issue has no solution.  Opening that decision back up forces him to undo his earlier decision, which is uncomfortable to say the least.  Often my CFO client doesn’t even realize he’s resisting exploration.  By the way, he happens to be an ISFJ, which kind of triples his discomfort with verbally (I) and objectively (F) exploring (J) possible (S) options that might address the challenge he’s facing.  As his coach, I must keep the space open for exploration as much as possible by making it comfortable and productive.  A simple way of doing this is to declare that that’s what we’re going to do for five minutes.  This helps ease his concern that exploring is a waste of time or unintentional.  Remember, even as a strong Judger, he has a preference for Judging, not an incompetence in Perceiving.
  • Judgers can also move too quickly to decide on a specific strategy, solution, or action plan without exploring options. An analogy is they marry the first guy they meet.  Your job as the coach is to help them resist falling in love and settling down with an idea just because they’re uncomfortable with having things unsettled.  A simple strategy is to ask them three ideas from the beginning instead of hearing one idea and then asking for another. This frames the question as an obvious exploration that will later require a decision.  The Judger is comforted by the expectation that a list of three will eventually be narrowed (decided).
  • Judgers’ comfort with having decided things makes it more likely they will carry out the actions they commit to during the coaching conversation. If they say they will do something, it’s highly likely they will.  If you press too much for accountability and other structures of support when designing an action, you can frustrate them.  A simple question such as “How committed are you to doing this?” will often suffice.  The exception comes when a new action requires changing an old pattern.  Judgers tend to be creatures of habit and routine because these are ways of organizing and managing their world.  A sizable disruption to their ordered world can be quite difficult, so it’s worth the effort to deepen their commitment to change.

We could probably write an entire book on this topic, but hopefully this handful of approaches to Perceivers and Judgers will give you a boost in being the best coach possible for your clients.  One more thing to keep in mind: your Perceiving/Judging preference will make you more/less comfortable with exploring options/making decisions.  If you’re not self-aware and determined to self-manage, your preferences will steer the conversation toward what’s more comfortable for you rather than what’s needed.  Remember, personality is not a prison or a problem, it’s just a set of preferences that can benefit and sometimes hinder our effectiveness in life.  Your clients are not trapped or in trouble because of their personality, and neither are you.  However, we can be more effective the more we are aware of our tendencies and the more intentional we are in overcoming our tendencies when necessary.

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