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I recently attended the ITI GerNet Work & Playshop in Birmingham, with three very different, but equally entertaining presentations: a transcreation workshop with Percy Balemans, excellent as ever, a fascinating talk about the forgotten ousting of resident Germans (and their British wives and children) from Britain in the war years and a presentation on adapting your own personality to make the most of the way you work by Jenny Johnstone.

It is the latter I wanted to share with you as it offered some interesting insights into why we sometimes end up in the situations we do and how we can use our psychological make-up to best advantage in our day-to-day work.

Jenny was my first manager when I started working as an in-house translator for British Nuclear Fuels in the early 80’s, but as well as being a translator of many years’ standing, she is also a qualified psychotherapist, so ideally placed to explain how we can make the most of our individual approach to translating. I know some attendees were unsure what to expect beforehand (psychobabble?!), but I think we all came away thoroughly enlightened and entertained.

Before the weekend, Jenny had asked us to complete a Meyers-Briggs test online to obtain our own four-letter personality code: http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/jtypes2.asp. I ended up doing two, as I’d had forewarning that we were doing the test, and had found a different one before receiving the official link. I’m pleased to say I came up with the same answer both times, even though I found one set of questions much less clear-cut than the other. It shouldn’t take more than five minutes or so, so do have a go if you don’t already know your own model. I came out as ISTJ: guardian inspector.

Jenny started her talk by asking everyone for their codes and it was soon clear, perhaps unsurprisingly for a roomful of translators, that the majority of us were I’s – introverts. In fact there was a clear cluster of ISFJ / INTJ and a few ISTJ – plus 4 ENFJ – perhaps the former teachers/interpreters amongst us with a more extrovert (E) side? Being on the introvert side of the spectrum tends to mean that we draw our energy from ourselves and being alone – hence ideal for a freelance translator – whereas extroverts tend to draw their energy from other people. It certainly doesn’t mean we’re all recluses! I know I certainly thoroughly enjoy these networking/social events, but I do need some time to myself to recharge my batteries afterwards. It perhaps also explains why I’s tend to opt for translating rather than interpreting: whilst I have interpreted when I worked in-house, I always found it exhausting and had to lie in a darkened room afterwards to recover!

The next division, S or N, stands for sensing or intuition: S types take a logical approach to information, so are likely to base their understanding of a text on grammar, whereas N’s are more likely to trust their intuition. Of course, trusting to intuition can get you into hot water if you try and force a meaning that isn’t there, yet we all know that grammar mistakes can creep into the best-written texts, so an awareness of our tendency in either direction can serve as a check. I have a colleague I often instant-message on Skype if I’m uncertain about the meaning of a sentence – I want to trust the logic of the grammar, but my intuition tells me it means something different – another pair of eyes makes all the difference! Using CAT tools also appeals to S types – the neat, segmented approach – whereas N’s might feel more inhibited by having to be constrained by segmentation. N’s also like to take the overview and see a segment in the context of the whole, so if that’s the way you work, think about printing off the whole document before you start, then you can get a feel for the bigger picture.

The next pair, T or F, represent thinking or feeling and can affect how you interact with clients and colleagues. T’s are logical, whereas F’s are more emotional and base decisions on how they feel about a given situation. In a work setting, this can lead to F’s not wanting to hurt people’s feelings and ending up with far too much work as they haven’t wanted to turn clients down. T’s, on the other hand, have to be careful not to hurt people’s feelings by their rigid approach to decisions and seeming lack of empathy.

The final pair, J or P, stand for judging or perception. Jenny’s example of this was a couple on a walk in the country, suddenly surrounded by a pack of Red Indians brandishing tomahawks. The J’s response would be to immediately judge the situation: “We’re going to die!”, whereas the P might appreciate the experience: “What a fabulous spectacle!”. In a work context, J’s tend to evaluate their workload and what’s possible/not – they tend to be very deadline-driven. P’s usually find the work experience more important and lose sight of the deadlines, so have a tendency to flit between jobs and accept extra jobs because they seem more interesting, ending up rushing to finish the more boring jobs on time!

Of course, very few of us are at extreme ends of the spectrum, but I certainly recognised a few home truths in all this and while it’s unlikely we will ever change our underlying personality type, just knowing why we do what we do may help us respond more wisely in the future!