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How Consistently do you apply rules?

Imagine you are a passenger in a car, your best friend is driving way over the speed limit, and hits a parked car. The police arrives, and your friend asks you to lie and say they were not speeding. Would you? This is one of the (paraphrased) questions Alfons Trompenaars and Charles Hampden-Turner asked thousands of international managers for their book, Riding the Waves of Culture (1997). They identify seven dimensions of cultural differences, five of which concerned with interpersonal interactions. One dimension, described by its opposite extremes of Universalism and Particularism, looks at how consistently a culture applies rules. No one person or one culture is every completely on either side of the extreme; rather, they can move and span up to 50 % of the spectrum.

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In Universalist cultures, rules apply across the board. Treating everybody in the same way is considered a sign of fairness. This reminds us of the Thinking function: “Thinking is a process of evaluating and making judgments based on objective criteria and principles or logic.” (Understanding Yourself and Others, An Introduction to the Personality Type Code, Linda V Berens and Dario Nardi, 2004)

In Particularist cultures, the operative word is: “depends”. Rules may be bent according to who is involved. This reminds us of the Feeling function: “Feeling is a process of making evaluations based on what’s important, where personal, interpersonal, or universal values serve as guideposts.” (Understanding Yourself and Others, An Introduction to the Personality Type Code, Linda V Berens and Dario Nardi, 2004)

Germans, as well as most Western and Northern nationals, are more likely to take a Universalist approach. If we only look at the Type description, we might expect someone with a dominant Feeling function to place the relationship above the rule, and lie for their friend. I, ENFJ, born and raised in Germany, would not. I may not volunteer the information, and feel badly for my friend when giving my statement, but I would not lie. If that speeding friend of mine is German, too, they most likely would not ask me to in the first place.

Korea is a Particularist society where you would probably preemptively offer your support to spare your friend the embarrassment of having to ask for your help. That is not to say Koreans do not value order and rules, but protecting the personal relationship is more important. Friends rely on each other for everything, there is strong interdependence within colleagues of an organization, and the extended family provides a sense of stability and security (Kiss, Bow, Shake Hands, Terri Morrison and Wayne A Conaway, 1995).

Now consider this follow-up question: imagine you’re a passenger in a car, your best friend is driving way over the speed limit, and hits a little girl on a bike. The police arrives, and your friend asks you to lie and say they were not speeding. Would you?

Universalist participants still - perhaps more emphatically - respond “no”, but the answer from Particularist participants can now go both ways: either, they respond “no”, because someone got hurt. Or they stick by their response “yes”, because the consequences for the friend would be even more dire. It will take more targeted and specific research to ascertain under which circumstances culture overrules type preferences, and vice versa.

What would you do?


What's more influential: your brain or your values?

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What's more influential: your brain or your values?

I recently gave a presentation to my local chapter of the Association for Psychological Type, called Nature and Nurture: Where Personality Type and Culture Frameworks meet. We talked about how people in the same country behave differently according to how their brains are wired (type), and how people from different countries behave differently according to their values and belief systems (culture).

I asked a question: would you lie for your friend? 

Trompenaars and Hampden Turner researched seven cultural dimensions surveying thousands of managers and publishing their findings in their book, Riding the Waves of Culture. Let's look at one of them:


Imagine you riding in a car, you are the passenger and your best friend is driving. He is going over the speed limit and hits another car. The police arrives, and your friend asks you to lie for him and say you were going the speed limit. Would you lie for your friend?

The audience was made up of mainly US Americans, but also Germans, Spanish, and Chinese nationals. Some nodded straight away, some immediately shook their heads. What would you do?

The follow-up question is: you're riding in a car with your friend driving over the speed limit, and he hits a little girl on a bike. The police arrives, and your friend asks you to lie and say he wasn't speeding. Would you lie for your friend now?

Universalism and Particularism

Every society has rules, the cultural difference lies in how consistently they are applied. In universalist cultures, rules are the same for everyone. Broadly speaking, we see this in Northern and Western countries, where contracts matter, trust is built by doing what you say, meaning what you say, and the focus is on task and literal interpretations. For example, I'm from Germany, and when I first heard the questions, my response was that my friend wouldn't put me in a position to break rules by asking me to lie in the first place. If he decides to speed, he has to take responsibility for his actions. Even more so if someone comes to bodily harm.

On the other hand, we have particularist cultures, where the operative word when it comes to rules is: "depends". Of course there are rules, like in traffic and business etiquette, but if friends, relatives, or members of important families are involved, exceptions will be made. Trust is built upon personal relationships, the connections one has to a group, and the focus is on reading between the lines and honor. A Brazilian colleague said of course she would protect her friend, he wouldn't even have to ask. Broadly speaking, we see a preference for particularism in Southern and Eastern countries, where written contracts will change if circumstances change, and friends may be protected even more when there's bodily harm involved and consequences would be worse.

Differentiating between type and culture

To type practitioners, this dimension sounds a lot like and is easily mistaken for decision-making by Thinking or Feeling preferences. If your brain is wired to prefer the Thinking function, you are more likely to base your decisions on logical analysis and objective detachment. If your brain is wired to prefer the Feeling function, you are more likely to base your decisions on personal values, harmony, and empathy. Thinking focuses more on the object, Feeling focuses more on the relationship. This creates a dilemma: people with a Thinking preference in particularist cultures may break the rules - and resent it. People with a Feeling preference in universalist cultures may not protect their friend - and feel very bad about that indeed. The question now becomes, which over-rides for you? Do you make a decision based on your type / brain wiring, or on your culture / values?

As Type practitioners, we cannot ignore the cultural dimension if we want to validate our clients' best fit type accurately. More research will be needed into clarifying what the distribution is, but I for one am convinced we need to look at nature and nurture to understand our fellow man better. I'd even go a step further: people are more complex than brain wiring and cultural belief systems: our genetics, education, upbringing, skills, experiences, and general context also matter.

Would love to hear your thoughts, so if you'd like to continue the conversation, please leave a comment below or sign up to the right to say up-to-date with upcoming webinars and events.

Cheers and until next time!

Image by Faramarz Hashemi, Flickr, Creative Commons License.

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Psychological Type Theory

Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Gustav Jung (1875 - 1961) developed a personality theory at the beginning of the 20th century. He observed and explained patterns in seemingly random individual behavior.

His theory forms the basis for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Tool and has most recently found application in the Neuroscience of Personality research.


Jung's first observations revolved around two ways people engage with the world.

He defined the term Extraversion (in the MBTI results described with an 'E') for people who gain energy by relating to the outside world.
He defined Introversion (in the MBTI results described with a 'T') for people who gain energy by focusing on their own internal world.

Extraversion does not mean exaggerated, Introversion does not mean shy. The terms describe where our mental energy flows, and are also referred to as an "attitude".

Jung continued, stating that our brain activity is mainly engaged in one of two things: taking in information (a process he called Perception), or making decisions based on the information we have taken in (which he called a Judging process). These two processes are also referred to as the cognitive or mental functions.


Jung describes two forms of taking in information: Sensation (aka Sensing) 'S' or Intuition 'N'.

People who prefer Sensing 'S' tend to trust information from their five senses. They prefer detailed information about the here and now, as well as practical application. Introverted Sensing 'Si' is focused on past experiences and reviewing, Extraverted Sensing 'Se' is focused on experiencing the surroundings in the moment.
People who prefer Intuiting 'N' tend to find patterns and themes in the information they gather. They prefer general overviews and find possibilities of what the information might mean for future development. Introverted Intuiting 'Ni' is focused on a vision of what might be and foreseeing, Extraverted Intuiting 'Ne' is focused on future possibilities and brainstorming.

Sensing does not mean sensitive, Intuiting does not mean intuitive. The terms describe how we use our brains to take in information.


Jung described two forms of decision-making: Thinking 'T' or Feeling 'F'.

People who prefer Thinking 'T' tend to make rational decisions based on logical objective analysis, considering the system and connected frameworks, and may not shy away from a debate. Introverted Thinking 'Ti' focuses on defining principles and analyzing, Extraverted Thinking 'Te' focuses on organizing and systematizing.
People who prefer Feeling 'F' tend to make rational decisions according to the framework of their values, how the decision might impact the people involved, and may prefer to have consensus and maintain harmony. Introverted Feeling 'Fi' focuses on clarifying what's important and valuing, Extraverted Feeling 'Fe' focuses on harmony and connecting.

Thinking does not mean rational, Feeling does not mean emotional. The terms describe how we use our brains to make decisions. 

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MBTI® Background

Realizing the impact awareness of Jung's type theory could have on mankind, Katherine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers developed a questionnaire in the first half of the 20th century that has been tested for validity and reliability since then. The MBTI® today is available in over 30 languages and is the world's most trusted personality type assessment. Guidelines of ethical use require the results to be facilitated by a certified professional.

The Step I questionnaire comprises 93 items, resulting in a four-letter Type out of a possible 16 combinations.

Step II questionnaire comprises 144 items, resulting in a four-letter Type out of a possible 16 combinations, as well as providing insights into five different facets on all attitudes and functions for how each person may differ from another of the same Type.

Please note:

The tool is not theory:

Your psychological type is more than a four-letter choice between two options. Your type is dynamic, there is a hierarchy to your functions, and the patterns described by your whole, best-fit type are much richer than what you see at first glance. Therefore, there is no "boxing in" of people, rather the MBTI offers a short-hand explanation of your preferences.

The tool has specific purpose:

MBTI results offer tremendous insight into how you approach life and work, and how you might structure your personal and professional development path. It is not suitable for personnel recruitment or match-making.

Don't force your answers:

If you think one side "sounds better", ask your facilitator to explain the Jungian meaning. For example, Thinking does not mean cold or unfeeling, and Perceiving is not the same as procrastinating.

Careful about "typing" others:

People are complex, and just because they behave one way at work does not mean that is their actual personality type preference. We all have access to all functions at all times, it's the order in which we prefer them that gives insight into our patterns.

Choose Individual MBTI® if you'd like to take the questionnaire or visit Process & Samples for more information.

If you'd like to take the assessment:

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