Remember those times in the galleries when your temperature rises in response to a tour participant? How annoying; they just don’t get it. They can’t see your point. Their behavior seems off track, picky, flaky, rigid, out of touch, or unresponsive. How irritating.
Perhaps what you have experienced is simply a difference in style. I’m not talking about the usual learning styles that first come to mind (auditory, visual, kinesthetic), but rather preferences in the way of focusing, informing, deciding about, and structuring experience that have been outlined through an instrument called the Myers-Briggs Indicator.
Created in the 1950’s by educators, and based on Carl Jung’s theory of individuation, the Myers-Briggs is an excellent means of exploring different ways of approaching the world and learning. It reveals what comes most naturally to us as we deal with our internal and external experiences. All ways are valid and work well within various contexts. But, amazingly, many of us assume that our own style is best.
Try folding your hands together, interlocking your fingers. (You may want to put this publication down for a second and give it a try.) Which thumb is on top? Either is fine, but one way of folding your hands is your “automatic pilot” response. Now, cross your hands again with the other thumb on top. How does that feel? It often feels “odd” or “different.” That is the experience we have when we operate in what the Myers- Briggs terms “against preference.” We can do it, but it does come as naturally.
As docents, it is important for us to know our automatic pilots because they give us information about the way we will most naturally present information on tours and, to an extent, the way we will assume that our audiences will receive it. That is why those jolts from our listeners can be so helpful. They throw a wrench into our automatic pilots, set off flashing red warning lights, and beg the question “are you addressing what this person’s style requires?”
What are these styles I’ve referred to? The Myers-Briggs describes four; each is a different arena. They cover areas of focus, gathering and giving information to the world, making decisions, and structuring the world. They look like this:
Extroversion ↔ Introversion
Judging <-> Perceiving
Each person prefers to operate closer to one end or the other of each scale, resulting in a combination of preferences that make a rich, yet distinctive view of the world. This abbreviated explanation simply touches the snow on top of the iceberg.
Before becoming a bit more specific, I caution you not to get caught up in the words used to label the scales. They can sometimes bring connotations that are not correct within this context, so if you can come to them as neutrally as possible, that would be helpful.
Extroversion – Introversion: (where a person likes to focus attention)
Extroverts will focus their attention outside into their environment, be verbal in the way they make decisions and talk about information, bounce ideas around, and do their processing of information outside themselves in discussion with others.
Introverts will focus their attention inside, taking their thoughts into themselves and rolling them around with their own experiences, not talking to others much about them, and bringing them out into the open once they have been formulated. Or, they may just as easily keep to themselves and be content with that.
Tour implications: Seventy-five percent of the population are extroverted, and as with other preferences, the more we meet people “like us” the more we assume everyone is that way. We may, therefore, gear our gallery talks on our automatic pilot of extroversion. This would be to hope for interaction within the group, in posing questions to want our visitors to respond verbally.
Style clash: As an extrovert, you will experience an introvert as withholding or, perhaps, shy. As an introvert, you will view an extrovert as being a bit aggressive, or demanding of your thoughts or reactions.
Sensing – Intuiting: (the way we like to receive and give information)
Sensors like to have their information come in through their five senses, in a manner that is concrete. They enjoy focusing on facts and numbers, and prefer looking at details rather than getting a sense of the larger implications or overall view. They prefer the known, and like to do things in the ways they have been done before.
Intuitors prefer to look at the large picture, draw implications, and look for relationships between the parts that form a larger whole. They are interested in the big picture, the theory, the overall context. They like to approach things in a new and different way, and often like the innovative.
Tour implications: Again, 75% of the population are sensors. Sensors may want to focus on particular works or objects rather than periods of time or contextual information. They may notice details, colors, as information itself without needing to move to implications. They may want things to relate to something within their own experience.
On the other hand, intuitors may want more context, history, theory, and the bigger picture of the pieces you are showing. They may want to have the sensation of something new, a “cutting edge” experience that differs from previous ones.
Style clash: Intuitors will experience sensors as being dull, plodding, and often boring. Sensors will experience intuitors as being pretty flaky and not down-to-earth.
Thinking – Feeling: (criteria used to filter information for decision-making)
Thinkers tend to use a filter of logic when organizing information and using it to make decisions. They will make a rational response based on their analysis and the logical implications.
Feelers use a filter of individual values as a way to make their decisions. They will use criteria such as what is the importance to me, what is the importance to other people, when deciding.
Tour implications: On this scale, there is a 50-50 split in the population between thinkers and feelers. Thinkers may be impressed more with the way things work, or the way something was created, and the logical progression of technical processes.
Feelers are more likely to be impressed by the emotional content and implications of what they look at. They are liable to consider things in terms of individual experiences.
An important point on this scale is the issue of taking criticism personally. If a decent is a feeler, criticism may be seen as a personal attack rather than an analysis of the tour. Feelers also prefer not to have conflict in their lives or during their tours. It is important to note that for thinkers, criticism is not directed personally at all, it is simply a logical statement of information. And for them, conflict is fine, there is no personal reflection associated with it. So if two of your visitors argue energetically, you may have two thinkers just enjoying themselves in the difference of opinions. Certainly, you will find the way that works best for you to deal with these circumstances, but know that not everyone in the group may be experiencing the discomfort that a feeler might.
Style clash: Thinkers will see feelers as overly emotional and irrational. Feelers will experience thinkers as cold and uninvolved.
Judging – Perceiving: (structures and preferences for decision-making) .
Judgers like to have structure and predictability. They like to decide things quickly so that they don’t have to feel the discomfort of not knowing.
Perceivers like to be spontaneous and take things as they come. They like to gather lots of information, and can feel squelched when they feel pushed to come to a decision concerning something.
Tour implications: Again there is a 50-50 split between judgers and perceivers among the population. For judgers, make sure your tour begins and ends as you have said. For perceivers, let someone know where the tour will be in case they want to join up with you. Perceivers will appreciate your making room for them to leave and/or return as they need to. The judgers will probably (if engaged) stay with your whole tour. They like to have finished projects. Your leavers may simply be perceivers who have found something else that has drawn their interest. You may want to remain open to shifting if there is an object of interest and changing the structure of your tour. Perceivers will appreciate your flexibility. Meanwhile, the judgers won’t know that you planned to do something else and are changing.
Style clash: Perceivers will experience judgers as rigid, while judgers will see perceivers as being uncommitted and unreliable.
As with all tours, you will want to accommodate the various ways of experiencing information. Let extroverts talk about the information, let introverts ponder their responses silently. Give sensors details and specific information while broadening the big picture for intuitors. Thinkers will appreciate your logical approach in the tour structure and your transitions, while feelers will be glad to see the emotional and individual implications of what they are seeing. Judgers will thank you for your promptness and for staying within a time frame, and perceivers will appreciate your flexibility.
Even with this awareness in mind, there will still be moments when you feel your fists ever so gently begin to clench as your visitor suggests other ways or ideas than the one you are using. But now you can breathe easier. Run through Myers-Briggs scales in your mind, and thank your visitor for reminding you that you were operating on your own automatic pilot.
Christine Cave, M.S.W., is a docent at the Seattle Art Museum in Seattle, Washington. A professional speaker. Ms. Cave not only presents workshops on the Myers-Briggs, she uses it extensively in her private practice as a personal and career counselor.
Cave, Christine. “Those Annoying Audiences,” The Docent Educator 4.4 (Summer 1995): 6-7.