Watch Out for the “Screaming Baby”: How to Use Myers-Briggs Personality Types to Spot Employee Stress

Do you have a "screaming baby" in your office? By that, I mean an employee under a lot of stress and not coping well. It's important to be able to identify when an employee is stressed so that you can help them before things get too bad.

Watch Out for the “Screaming Baby”: How to Use Myers-Briggs Personality Types to Spot Employee Stress
Photo by Ryan Franco / Unsplash

What is the Myers-Briggs model?

I'm sure many of you have already heard or come across the Myers-Briggs model. It's a simple model of patterns and biases in human cognitive processes that help identify and group people into different types of personality. I like using the 16 Personalities platform and its expansion upon the traditional Myers-Briggs model. However, the basis remains the same. The model will explore and identify different base traits of your personality;

  1. How you interact with your surroundings. Are you more introverted or extroverted?
  2. How you process information and see the world (how you learn). Are you more observant or intuitive?
  3. How you make decisions. Are you more of a thinker or a feeler?
  4. How you plan and respond to change. Are you more organised or more flexible?

From these base traits, it's possible to categorise yourself as fitting most into one personality type. This isn't to say you are 100% one thing, all humans are flexible and may show traits of many different types of personality. This will just help you identify behaviours that you are "most likely" to exhibit.

What does your personality type have to do with stress?

Naturally, you are probably now wondering what your personality type has to do with stress. And even more importantly, how your reports' personalities are going to help you identify stress early. Luckily the idea is pretty straightforward. From the above model we can identify two key aspects of being human;

  1. How we learn
  2. How we make decisions

We also need two more key things to be a well-rounded human;

  1. The ability to get in touch with our "inner self" (An Introverted part of us)
  2. The ability to express and receive feedback from the real world (An extroverted part of us)

Using the traits listed above and our personality type, we can identify the four main cognitive functions that will influence our behaviour.

The four horsemen of behaviour!

The most common way to understand these four cognitive functions is to imagine a car. In this car, there are 4 people. The first person is the driver. This is the person that is in control of where the car goes. The second person is the co-pilot. This person supports the first person and helps them decide where to go. The third person is the passenger. This person is just along for the ride and has no special purpose. The final person is the baby. This person is silent until something goes wrong, then they start screaming, and both the driver and co-pilot become distracted and the car no longer does or goes where expected.

It's the screaming baby you need to learn to identify, and to identify early, to help reduce your reports' stress levels.

I'll use myself here to help paint a more concrete picture. I'm an INTP personality type. This means that I'm naturally more introverted than extroverted, I rely more on my intuition (gut feelings about what will happen) than my observation (what is happening right now), I'm more of a thinker than a feeler (I'll try to solve problems rather than acknowledge feelings), and I'm more of a prospector (improviser) than a judge (organiser). So let's dive in;

Figuring out your two "favourite" functions

Going back to our aspects of being human. We can see from my personality type that my preferred way of learning is via Intuition (N), and my preferred way of making decisions is via Thinking (T). Each personality type will then naturally have a preference as to whether they prefer learning or making decisions. Depending on yours, this will impact your Driver and Co-pilot functions. If your driver is learning, your co-pilot is automatically decision-making, and vice-versa. The way you learn (Intuitive, or Observant) is called your "Perceiving" function. This is how other people perceive your behaviour. So by extension your learning preference is an extroverted function.

This means I have "extroverted intuition". Again using the aspects of being human from above, this only completed one-half of me, meaning by extension, my means of making a decision, is Introverted Thinking.

Who's Driving?

To determine which of these is your driver, and which is your co-pilot, you need to look at the first letter of your result, whether you are more of an extrovert or an introvert. I'm an INTP, which makes my Introverted Thinking my driver. And by proxy, Extroverted Intuition my co-pilot.

How does this play out in the real world?

Before we look at the passenger and baby, let me quickly explain what that means in the real world. In essence, my primary function is introverted thinking, this means I'll get most of my "work" done in isolation, by thinking over problems and solutions in my head. Once I have reached a decision you'll see me express it as a statement of fact that I believe this is the best way to go. I probably won't have any data to hand, and I'll probably use phrases like "I think this is the best way to go". To demonstrate the opposite, an Extroverted Thinker would likely talk through every idea and solution out loud with you and others, but would then make the decision internally, and proceed to take action without ever letting any of you know.

The passenger and the baby

So how do we determine who is the passenger, and who is the baby? In our car, the passenger sits behind the co-pilot, and the baby sits behind the driver. The reason for this, they're the exact opposites of the people in front of them. So continuing to use me as an example, my passenger is Introverted Observation, and my baby is Extroverted Feeling.

Spotting stress by listening for the crying baby.

Spotting stress in your reports when you have figured out their personality type (it's super easy if you ask them to take the test 😜) becomes quite straightforward.

To use me as an example; Someone who ordinarily isn't very chatty and vocal, and is usually very logical and reasoned. When this person starts to become stressed, the baby starts to cry, and that Extroverted Feeling starts to come out. At first, it might be a snarky comment or a usually unvoiced grumble of decent, but after a while, if left unattended, it can become a full-on tirade of highly emotive outbursts, that may seemingly come from nowhere.

Luckily for a manager, I'm an easier type to deal with, because as I become stressed, I become more vocal and more emotive. That's an easy one to spot. But what about someone who is normally an Extroverted Feeler? They'll start to become quieter and more logical, which can be hard to spot and is certainly easier to confuse with someone who is just working hard to solve a problem. Or how about even someone who is ordinarily an Extroverted Perceiver, someone who is vocal and flexible? How do you spot when they become less vocal and are all of a sudden planning everything to within an inch of its life, and possibly even to the point of analysis paralysis, but without ever telling a soul?

It's not always obvious when things are bordering on the crying baby, and when someone is utilising an often under-used part of their toolkit. After all, no one is 100% one thing or the other. But what using the Myers-Briggs and the four functions model does, is it allows you to better understand your reports, and what is "normal" behaviour for them. Using that tool kit you can sport earlier when someone is behaving out of character and showing signs of stress, meaning you can reach out, and speak to them. "Hey, you're being quieter than usual at the moment, are you ok?", or "Hey, you seemed to get more visibly annoyed during that meeting than you would normally, is everything ok?". It's never a diagnosis, it's just a conversation starter.

Now go forth and reduce your teams stress! Good luck.