About people

Last updated 2001-01-23

Note: I've only passed two semesters of psychology at university, so I'm no expert. However, I am very interested in the subject, and have spent much time reading and observing. I've found the material in this article very useful, especially in learning to appreciate other people's preferences, however weird they may seem at first glance. I hope you find it equally useful.

The mirage-like distortions on distant hills left little doubt that it was scorchingly hot outside. The double-glazed windows and air conditioning conspired to cocoon me from the tropical heat and the war going on outside. They did nothing to alleviate the boredom, though.

What did alleviate the boredom slightly was a pile of dog-eared magazines. These magazines were of the type that people buy only for the articles, of course--never for the pictures. But then, the Pretoria Apartheid Regime covered all bases and ensured that what saucy bits there might have been, were covered up with stars, black dots and areas of fuzzy focus.

It suited me, though; this time I did find an article that was life-changing stuff. I later tried desperately to obtain a copy of the article, but the publishers couldn't help and the magazine has long since gone out of business. Ironically, it was forced out of the market by competitors who probably didn't even bother to include articles, judging by the advertising pitch...

The article's premise was simple enough. There are three kinds of people: Hearing, seeing and feeling. Most people are not true-blue examples of one type, but rather share some traits from all three groups.

What intrigued me was not the basic premise, but the extent to which my own make-up clearly placed me within only one of the three categories. It answered many questions about my own preferences, and opened the door for a long process of learning to tolerate, and years later even to appreciate, other peoples' preferences.

The article had been written by a psychologist who worked primarily as a marriage counsellor. He provided examples of many of the misunderstandings that ended up in his consulting rooms, often rooted in simple differences of perspective. If those differences had been understood in advance, maybe they would not have lead to an explosion the way they did.

Perhaps an example or two is in order. He comes home; she is waiting with bated breath to see his reaction to the new curtains (or perhaps hairstyle!). He walks in, greets her and says nothing about the curtains. He's a hearing person. He hasn't noticed. It's not that he doesn't care about her; it's just that he doesn't care about curtains (or hairstyles, for that matter).

She's immediately upset. Obviously, he doesn't care. Immediately, he picks up in her voice that she's upset and enquires to learn what's wrong. To her, it's just adding insult to injury; he should be able to see what's wrong! He clearly doesn't care!

The article continued to list vocations and avocations that might be typical of the three groups. I was amazed; I'd pursued several careers at one time or another, and several of them were listed as being typical of hearing people. I'd had several hobbies at one time or another; virtually all of them were listed. It was clear that I was virtually a pure hearing person.

Suddenly, several pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fell into place. I suddenly understood why I'd never felt even the remotest urge to own a TV set. It was suddenly patently clear why I'd never been interested in hanging pictures on my walls. And, I guess, it was also suddenly clear why I'd never been a great one for places with "atmosphere", generally finding it hard as I did to comprehend why anyone would willingly submit to subdued light and sooty candles when a mains electricity supply was available.

What was more important to me, though, was the glimpse it gave me into other people's motivations and preferences. Just as much as I preferred the hearing elements, others preferred the visual or emotional elements. And it's OK!

Over the intervening decade or so, I've managed to add a horde of observations to the library. I've managed to notice a lot of behavioural quirks that might otherwise have escaped me. I've even had occasion to spend long evenings discussing observations with a number of people, including a particularly memorable session during which I was exchanging notes with a very dominant visual thinker and a very strong feeling thinker. It was hilarious to hear how our three viewpoints differed, and how each of us remembered fundamentally different things about the same situation.

I also had occasion to snicker about several incidents with a girl friend who was very strongly visually oriented, with perhaps some feeling thrown in. We'd walk out of a room and compare notes. She'd remember what everyone was wearing, what pictures were on the wall, what curtains were installed, even the colour of the carpet. She'd even be able to tell me when last that guy was wearing that strange tie. I, on the other hand, could hardly relate what colour the ceiling was. Instead, I could remember what music was playing, I could probably place the origin of that loud Yank to within 500 km, I could tell that the host and hostess had been fighting because of the tension in their voices. I could probably even tell you something about the traffic patterns outside the house, depending on how well things were damped. It was really as if we'd been in different rooms!

The article also suggested strategies for communicating with the different types. Clearly, "I see" will not be received as a mark of great understanding and empathy by a hearing person; perhaps "I hear what you're saying" might be more appropriate, and "I feel much the same" might be more appealing to our feeling brethern.

The preferences also relate to learning techniques. I have, for example, had absolutely no success with Mind Mapping and other miracle learning techniques. They just don't make sense to me. I do have a measure of success with simply reading things through once, and then making lists of all the pertinent points and reading them repeatedly. I guess the ambience where I'm studying doesn't seem to make all that much difference to me either. Others, of course, are completely different. I have heard of people who only study in a particular room, or with specific lighting and music. To me, it's pretty much immaterial where I'm studying, although I like to have some relatively relaxed music in the background.

Learning styles are often characterised in the psychological literature as visual, auditory or kinesthetic. The former correspond broadly to the categories I've mentioned, but the latter contains an element of movement. While I've never seen a link mentioned in the literature, I have noticed that feeling people often like to express themselves by dancing, and that they often have a tendency towards kinesthetic learning. Kinesthetic learners often have grave difficulties in a typical learning environment, as they're often told to sit still. If they do, they require so much concentration just to sit still that they probably won't absorb much of what's being taught. A teacher who can find a way to allow some movement while the child is absorbing the material, is much more likely to meet with success.

I might also mention that there are other ways to divide personality types. Perhaps the most comprehensive method is the widely-used Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Many simple subsets of this test are in use. I've most often see a four-quadrant model that uses intraversion (as opposed to extraversion) and analytical tendencies (as opposed to impulsive tendencies) on two axes to grade people into four categories. Such models generally elucidate typical behaviour modes of the four different personality types, and also possible approaches to the four different types, for example to try and sell them something. Effective salesmen know these techniques well, as it's no use to waste time with selling points that would not appeal to the specific individual. The analytical intravert wants to hear specifications, guarantee details, power consumption, MTBF and details about the backup service. The impulsive extravert, on the other hand, wants only to hear that this is the model that everyone is buying. No more is required.

Something even more interesting that I was told once, revolved around the way people deviate from their default behaviour when under pressure. In my own case, as an analytical intravert, my default behaviour is to state my case emphatically and then to let people be if they decide not to do it that way. If I see it as really important that my input not be disregarded, I might eventually adopt the default behaviour of the analytical extrovert (the one adjacent quadrant): Trying to force them to comply. If that doesn't work, and I still believe that it's imperative that the input not be disregarded, I might eventually be forced into the default behaviour of the other adjacent quadrant. The impulsive intravert's default behaviour is to withdraw and sulk. Only in truly rare cases, and only as a last resort, would I resort to the opposite quadrant's default behaviour. The impulsive extraverts who reside there are about as far from my normal way of thinking as they come, and their default behaviour is equally foreign: losing one's temper. To be sure, it's happened to me, but only in truly rare circumstances. It just isn't normal in my context.

The model I've described is known as Z Patterns, after the way in which one moves from a specific quadrant to its one adjacent quadrant, to its other adjacent quadrant and then to the opposing quadrant. I might also mention that a specific situation could predispose one to deviating from one's normal default behaviour to the extent that one could operate in other quadrants for hours, days or even weeks. However, such behaviour is an extreme danger sign, and indicates extreme stress. It just can't last.

Perhaps I can conclude with another example, albeit not mentioned in the article. I recently had a Swiss visitor who waxed eloquent about those legendary Oriental tourists with their cameras, seen at one of the local tourist traps. I shared her basic feeling, as I don't even own a camera and have seldom felt the need to take pictures of things I see. However, I could understand their point too. I pointed out that she, a feeling person, might appreciate a device that could record the atmosphere of the place for review at a later date. Is it not then understandable that a seeing person would want to record those visions for later? They can reproduce practically the full spectrum of their pleasure, months or years later. Us hearing and feeling folks have to rely on memory, and it's bound to tarnish with time.

I think that my orientation has probably changed over the past decade or two, and perhaps I'm now 90% hearing and 10% feeling. However, the basic premise is still true: You'd be hard pressed to impress me with a visual display. The Centurion musical fountain in the area where I work leaves me cold. However, I've learned to make room, and I find myself rather often these days, sitting on the steps with visitors from out of town, watching the musical fountains sway to and fro to the sounds of distorted music. It really doesn't do anything for me. But, perhaps, in the bigger scheme of things, someone will be equally patient with me one day when they have to wait while I listen, yet again, to something I find intriguing.

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