Business of Theater and Theater of Business: Part Two

There are so many ways to label people, and some of them will be more valid than others.  This is true even with our first impressions.  Some are recognition of the familiar, and can be with empathy.  Some are harsh and judgmental,   It’s not unusual to try to quickly “size up” people, and categorize them so we’ll know what to expect, how to communicate with them, and whether or not to trust them.  But by saying that, it’s also common that people get it wrong.

Some people, whether they realize it or not, make a habit of looking for signs that would suggest vulnerability, or a threat.  When you see a woman in a crowded elevator clutch her pocketbook tightly, you can’t presume that she’s even all that aware that she’s doing it.  It may be an almost unconscious reaction to something she sees, hears, or smells. It could be for a lot of reasons, but one thing for sure: she’s made a decision, rational or irrational- conscious or not, and has acted on it.

Knowing part of the picture can be misleading.  It’s not enough to say someone is a type A or type B personality, unless you’re just trying to assess the stress factors that might cause them to become a coronary patient.  Nor is it enough to know if they are a left or right brain thinker.  Because if you stop there, you’re likely to start presuming things that may not be true.  There’s lots of flavors other than chocolate and vanilla.  But even if there weren’t, there are many different kinds of chocolate.

Even to call a person a whole brain thinker may indicate you see them as having a lot of versatility and social skills, and could also imply that they can certainly “think outside the box”.  But while we should all want to improve and develop how we think and solve problems, you’ll need some different assessment tools to do an effective character analysis.  Hamlet was an incredible thinker, but that was also part of his problem.  We’ll want to look at Hamlet again a bit later.

Carl Jung proposed two pairs of cognitive functions:

A.)  “rational” (judging) functions: thinking and feeling;

B.)  “irrational” (perceiving) functions: sensing and intuition

Jung also believed that for each individual, these functions are expressed either in an introverted, or an extraverted way.

Based on this, the standard Myers Briggs Type indicator uses four graphs to pinpoint the person being tested in one of sixteen temperament types by combining the information plotted on each of four graphs.  These graphs are scales of being inclined to be oriented more as:

Introversion (I) or Extroversion (E)

Sensing (S) or Intuitive (N)

Feeling (F) or Thinking (T)

Judgment (J) or Perception (P)

Let’s look at two examples of the variations that can be recognized by combining the plotted points of these four graphs.  An individual could be assessed as:

1.)  an ESTJ – extraversion (E), sensing (S), thinking (T), judgment (J);

2.) or an INFP – introversion (I), intuition (N), feeling (F), perception (P).

These are just two of the sixteen patterns that can be derived, but you see how a profile of a temperament or personality type can emerge.

According to The MBTI, and psychologists Dr. David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates, this gives us four general temperaments that mirror the ancient personality types envisioned by Hippocrates:

Guardian (Melancholic)……MBTI – SJ

Artisan (Sanguine)…………….MBTI – SP

Idealist (Choleric)……………..MBTI – NF

Rationalist (Phlegmatic)…..MBTI – NT

But there is another model.  It’s function is to position individuals on an interpersonal style matrix, and it involves an intersection between only two graphs:

A.) emotional responsiveness or emotional control;

B.) a degree of assertiveness, or lack of assertiveness, also called the “ask or tell” tendency.

At a quick glance, the matrix is divided into four general categories:

Driver (dominance – director);

Amiable (accommodating – collaborator),

Expressive (collaborating – inducement),  

Analytic (deliberating – compliance).

These groupings are quite different from the MB/Keirsey types.  For example, a rationalist (NT) could be a driver, amiable, expressive or even an analytic, but their sub-quadrant within the matrix for each would be analytical.

The matrix also goes further to identify comfort and stress relationships by visually defining the distances (or stretch requirements) between styles, and you actually see that on the grid.  For that reason, I like this model, and tend to use it as a primary tool for character analysis.   It makes sense out of some of the potential for conflict and controversy between variant styles.  Additionally, each of these four main groups is divided again by four.  This gives  a total of sixteen variant social styles or sub-styles, and each one of them actually does correspond directly to one of the sixteen Myers Briggs types.

A person may be an analytic, but that they are an expressive analytic is important.  Their home base as an analytic might be derived from a study of the four basic Jungian psychological functions.  It not only helps us know some basic social need, it also begins to identify how they learn.  This takes us back to the Myers Briggs model which shows the expressive analytic as an INFJ.

This brings us back to Hamlet.  In spite of his  exceptional qualities such as a graceful personality, and popularity among his countrymen, his fall from greatness – his tragic flaw was his delay of resolution and action; his inability to act which lead to his primary fallback behavior of avoiding the issue.

Caused by his introversion? Intuitiveness?  His feelings for his father?  His overwhelming sense of needing to get closure, but not able to do so?  Not any one of them, but all of them together.  I’ve seen a number of character analysis results that have Hamlet all over the place.  One director called him an idealist – the ethical intuitive extrovert.  Plotting him as an ENFJ would make him an expressive driver; another as an ENTJ, or analytical driver, but Hamlet was no driver.

Another assessment was as an analytical amiable, or INTP, but they would be wrong.  If that were true, he would’ve lacked the assertiveness to tell Ophelia to: “Get thee to a nunnery!”  His emotional stability came into question as he faked madness, but he was good at it.  Hamlet was analytic.  He was an expressive analytic.  His expressive fallback to attack was held in check for a while by very deliberative practices in support of his need to be certain, and thus overpowered, at least for a while, by his primary need to avoid.

In fact, every position on any of the four single graphs used in MBTI can and does appear at one time or another in all four social styles.  So it is important to understand that neither the assertiveness scale nor the emotional responsiveness scale is to be confused with introversion/extroversion, or any of the other graphs used in the Myers Briggs model, because they are not interchangeable.

In character analysis, too many variables can distract a director if they just try to determine values by the MBTI.  The process is analytical and takes time.  It’s similar in the beginning to assembling the pieces of a difficult jigsaw puzzle where the image is hard to visualize at first.  But when charting by social style, the corresponding temperament type begins to make sense for two reasons: What they want to happen, and what they don’t want to happen becomes more obvious.  After all, the goal is to find the motivation, isn’t it?


6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Brett on May 23, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    Well written Van. Keep it up.


  2. Hi Van – we talk about personality types at work quite often. Unfortunately, too often, supervisors expect people to conform to their type, instead of understanding other personality types. It makes me feel like I am doing things all wrong, when it’s just that I am responding according to type.


    • Posted by thevanbrown on June 3, 2013 at 3:03 am

      Lisa, what you’re describing is a common problem. And it generally does not go away on it’s own. As long as management is so egocentric to presume their personal style is the only acceptable method of behavior, they will not agree to even listen to the prospects that they might be wrong. They have to recognize that a change is needed, or it is likely that they’ll never agree to participate in a learning process that moves toward equitable leadership. In the past, one of the diagnostic tools I’ve used to help managers see that they indeed have a problem is to survey their key employees to determine if there is a disparity between the things they say they do as a company, and what they actually do. It is not a painless procedure, and as you might suspect, many CEO’s are absolutely terrified at the prospects of having to see such data. And in situations where the boss is seen as a psychopath, the employees are too afraid to even participate. From other correspondence I’ve had with you, I suspect you’re NOT doing all things wrong, oh not at all. Thank you for sharing your comments.


  3. Posted by dostadawg on July 22, 2013 at 6:00 pm

    Personality types have a big impact on work. Ask a group of five people, all with very similar personality types, to come up with a list of ten things that are important to them, they can easily do so. Ask a group of five people, all with different personality types, to come up with the same list and they will have a much more difficult time reaching agreement on the ten important things. If, in the work setting, each of these groups are tasked with determining how to reach the overall group goal, the same will be true. Group two will have a more difficult time reaching consensus on how to achieve the goal. That doesn’t mean that either group will have the better solution. It just means that they will or will not agree on how to reach the stated goal. On the other hand, having a more diverse group means more ideas will be brought to the table for consideration. Group one would be less able to think outside the box.


  4. As far as Carl Jung’s theories how does Meisner, Strasberg, and Stanlisviski fit in with those theories. Just asking which teacher you ascribe more to Van


  5. Posted by thevanbrown on August 26, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    Edgar, you honor me with such an intelligent question. Thank you. I normally reply by private email to comments made on my blog, but you’ve opened up an area quite interesting, therefore worthy to any who might read further. Meisner has been studied by a lot of successful actors. I see the disciplines of his work to reinforce rather than compete with Stanislavski. However, I must admit to having had no formal training in the Meisner technique. The thrust of it seems to be on the “what” you’re doing. A more jungian approach would be “why”.

    I have nothing but praise for the work of Lee Strasberg. His development with “method” went far beyond Stanislavski as far as I’m concerned. I’d imagine some of the work done in the Actors Studio was quite brutal to some egos. My personal work has never been that intense. And neither is the work of many people in theater today.

    My system of character analysis is only a part of the actor’s process, and only one way of doing it. It does not replace the disciplined work and skill development taught by giants like Meisner and Strasberg. Nor it in any way to diminish the brilliance of discovery of Stanislavski who, perhaps more than anyone else, moved the entire art form forward toward the believability through imagery–which is the essence of the suspension of disbelief.

    Other huge power players have been Jerzy Grotowski who was almost entirely about preparation; Richard Schechner who opened up the importance of the entire reality of the performer rather than the restrictions of the view through the fourth wall, and of course, Peter Brook, a very commanding committed to demanding the actor become the play (assuming the play is worth doing at all). There are many things an actor needs to know about his role–his work; his art.

    The focus of what I’ve done is on just one of those questions, and that is about the “why” the character does, and what that tells us about the character’s motivation. If I could say which of the teachers you mentioned would be closer to encompassing the depth of what Jung wrote about, I’d probably have to say Strasberg, and that is without taking anything away from the others. I stand in awe of them all.


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