Know Yourself — In Order to Know Others

Today is Friday, so this post is on Interpersonal Competence

Interpersonally competent people know themselves, have the ability to build and maintain strong mutually beneficial relationships with others, and are able to resolve conflict in a positive manner.

Today, I’d like to focus on the first point – knowing yourself.  There are quite a few instruments on the market that help you get to know yourself.  I am most familiar with the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the DISC.  Both of these are based on Jungian psychology and provide you with an easy to understand framework for getting to know yourself.

I believe that we can all benefit from gaining a better understanding of ourselves – what turns us on, what turns us off, what motivates us etc.  However, I think that the real benefit is less than knowing yourself than in using the framework to know other people.  If you understand other people — what turns them on, what turns them off, what motivates them – you are in a better position to build positive, constructive relationships with them.

I’ll use myself as an example.  The MBTI measures preferences along four continuums:

  • Extraversion (E) – Introversion (I)
  • Sensing (S) – Intuiting (N)
  • Thinking (T) – Feeling (F)
  • Judging (J) – Perceiving (P)

I am a slight introvert – that means that I get my energy from within, as opposed to extraverts who get their energy from other people.  I prefer a lot of solitary activities: reading, writing, watching movies, riding my bike.  I get recharged by being by myself.  On the other hand, Cathy my wife, is a high extravert.  She gets her energy from being around other people.

She always drives me to and picks me up from the airport.  When I come home from a trip, I most often want to relax and look out the car window as we drive home.  I’m an introvert.  I recharge my batteries by getting quiet and going within myself.  Cathy is an extravert.  She wants to talk.  She enjoys having me home so we can interact. 

When I get into the car after a trip, I get myself into a conversational mode.  I ask about Cathy, and what she did while I was gone.  I listen to what she has to say.  I tell her about my trip – who I saw and what I did.  I do this because I love her, and want to do my part to make our relationship as strong as it can be.  I use my knowledge of myself, and my knowledge of her to act in a manner that will strengthen our relationship.

Here’s another example.  One of my clients is a strong S and strong J.  I am a strong N and strong P.  He likes things to be very organized and predictable.  I am more comfortable going with the flow. 

One day, I arrived at his office in the late afternoon.  I was going to facilitate a team building session for his leadership team the next day.  He asked me what I planned on doing in our meeting.  I explained it to him verbally.  He said, “do you have an agenda?”  I responded that I just told him what I was planning on doing.  He said, “I heard you, but I’d like to see the agenda.”  I told him I had no written agenda.  He was unhappy with this.  So we spent 15 minutes putting what I told him I planned to do in the meeting on paper. 

You might think this is pretty silly.  But there is an important lesson here.  He has high needs for structure, and an agenda is a way to structure a meeting.  I am very comfortable having a rough idea of what I’m hoping to do and accomplish in a meeting and then going with the energy in the room as the meeting unfolds.  This works for me – but not my client. 

The common sense lesson here is simple.  He’s the client, I have to adapt my preferred style of leading a meeting to his needs, or I am unlikely to be successful in building a long term, mutually beneficial relationship with him.  It was up to me to recognize our differences and to adapt my behavior to something that will make him comfortable – not the other way around.

Interpersonally competence people understand themselves.  They use this understanding to compare and contrast their needs and wants with the people around them.  In this way, they can adapt their behavior to the other person – making it easier to build strong relationships.

The next time you run into someone who looks at the world differently from you, see what you can do to adapt your communication style and behavior to his or her style.  If you do this, I guarantee you’ll be on your way to building a better, stronger relationship with that person.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website for more common sense.  Check out my other blog: for common sense advice on leading people and running a small business.

I’ll see you around the web, and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand – my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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