The Biggest Communication Challenge the World has ever Faced?
Communication is a dilemma at the best of times and no more so now for authorities across the globe in trying to respond to a pandemic. Thankfully, few of us are ever likely to have to deal with such an enormous communication challenge.
Like many of you, I’ve felt I’ve had to tune in to the regular COVID briefings provided by the UK and Scottish governments. I’m struck by how often, within five minutes or so of the start, my attention has drifted away to the point where I’m no longer taking in the information being presented. I’ve usually switched channels long before the rather clunky questions from journalists process. This got me to wondering about why I find it hard to stick with the briefings?
Being in a Minority
I have INTJ personality Type preferences and this does mean that I’m one of the least common of the 16 Myers-Briggs Types at 2.1% of the population so perhaps I’m a little more difficult to “reach” than other Types. The most common Type, at 13.8% of the population, is ISFJ known as the compassionate assimilators from a communications perspective. INTJs, by contrast, are logical visionaries; a human tragedy of the scale we are witnessing may not be best served by this particular communication style.
What INTJs Want to Hear about the Pandemic
Donna Dunning (2003) in her Introduction to Type and Communication suggests that what we INTJs are likely to want to hear is: explanations of how and why things are going to work, the long-term implications of the governments’ plans and complex and abstract ideas for solving the problem. Some of these matters are touched upon in the briefings but not to the extent that would fully satisfy the average INTJ. It strikes me that it would probably be unreasonable to expect all of this to be covered in response to a new disease, a dynamic situation and a very frightening, current here and now situation.
What we actually get
The focus is on the “science” and most importantly the “data”. As logical analysis is of significant importance to us INTJs, I’ve often wondered where this science has come from when this is a new virus which appears to have unknown characteristics. Much of what is said from the podiums is about justifying the restrictions and the various lockdown measures much of which seems a little illogical.
Nonetheless, there is also a great deal of positive feedback and appreciation for our forbearance, what is expected of us is clearly articulated, our active collaboration is explicitly requested, we get details and step-by-step explanations and some personal stories and examples. These features of the briefings are just what ISFJs want to hear (Dunning, 2003, p24).
Crucially, from my INTJ perspective, the briefings are just too long and highly cautious. Whilst being acutely aware of my personal frustration at aspects of the briefing communication process, I do fully appreciate the enormity of the challenge and that, in needing to win people over, the briefings need to resonate with all Types at least to some extent. I also need to respect and show my appreciation for the hard work that is going into the effort to stabilise a worrying situation and the risks that people in the frontline are taking to save lives. So, I do follow the restrictions as closely as I can despite my reservations about the efficacy of some of them.
Interestingly, the ISFJ preferred approach to communication is also subtitled “don’t rock the boat”. This gives me pause for thought on the basis that the prominent tone of a communication does need to suit the specific situation as well as the needs of the majority of the people to whom it is directed. Rocking the boat is not really what is required right now and may explain why attempts to question the authorities’ decisions often have failed to gain traction. I’m pondering over whether a communication style focusing solely on the needs of INTJs would scare the vast majority of the population witless and could potentially cause widespread panic.
Communicating and Briefing on COVID is a huge challenge from a Type or any other Perspective
The UK population is around 68 million as of today’s date. Even allowing for reducing this figure for the very young and the very old that’s an awful lot of people to brief. When you overlay demographic differences of age alone, there is a very broad spectrum of interests to span and respect from young adults to those at the other end of the age range. The 16 Myers-Briggs Types have slightly different needs from communication and that adds yet another set of complexities.
Perhaps a little reluctantly, through putting this post together, I’ve realised that the unique situation and the needs of the majority of other people is what probably what has shaped the style of these briefings. Rather humbly, I accept that this calm, steady, detail-laden, cautious, appreciative and reassuring approach is what is best for all of us regardless of our Type preferences. I’m grateful that I get a little of what I prefer from the communication briefings and will happily tolerate the bits that others need more than I do in the knowledge that it works for them and that, in the last analysis, is in my best long-term interests. As is often the case, using Type as a lens to view the communication challenge that the COVID response poses, my understanding and insight has deepened. Type is not a panacea and was never intended to be so but it does offer a particular insight.