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A Review of
Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything
Paperback: Baker Books, 2017
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Reviewed by Sara Sterley
I have been a junkie for personality types since I first took a Myers-Briggs assessment, probably at some point in high school. I loved the idea of many of my personality traits – as well as those of my close friends and family – falling into consistent patterns that I could study and learn from. So when I heard about Anne Bogel’s first book, Reading People: How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything, I was excited about how Bogel (also known as Modern Mrs. Darcy, the much-loved book and lifestyle blog, or MMD, as I affectionately call her) would tackle this subject.
As anyone who has read the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog knows, Bogel is a self-taught expert in various personality frameworks. In Reading People, she comes right out and tells the reader that she is a “fellow traveler,” not an expert, and that she will only be focusing on the personality systems that have worked the best for her. She sets up her “aha moment” in the first chapter, sharing several stories about her first few years of marriage, and how exploring her and her husband’s personality types helped her understand that her husband “wasn’t being cold or trying to exasperate me. He just wasn’t me, and I’d been expecting him to ask like me.” For me, owning this idea that other people aren’t me (nor should they be – diversity is good and beautiful!) has been one of the most helpful lessons of delving more deeply into personality frameworks.
Bogel proceeds to delve into various ways of understanding our own and others’ personalities, most of which I had heard of before and some of which I encountered for the first time. I have been learning more about Myers-Briggs for some time, but I think Bogel gives the simplest explanation of the cognitive functions that I have ever come across, which really unlocks the power of Myers-Briggs. In addition to a more high level overview of the various frameworks, Bogel shares personal stories about how she used the knowledge in her own life, and she shares enough interesting and unique tidbits in each chapter to keep even the most well-read reader of personality systems engaged.
Lately, as I mentioned above, I have been doing more of a deep dive into both the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the Enneagram, an ancient personality tool with more spiritual undertones. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that digging into my own MBTI type and Enneagram number have been some of the most helpful tools for me as I try to deal with behaviors, habits, and thought patterns that are no longer serving me. Contrary to some critics of personality frameworks, personality typing systems don’t let us off the hook of personal responsibility; instead, in my experience, they help me to see the unhealthy patterns that I am prone to more clearly and give me a roadmap toward healthier behaviors and practices. It also doesn’t hurt to know that there are other people out there just like you that experience similar hang-ups and frustrations.
In addition to personality as a self-development tool, it is a game-changer when it comes to relationships. Learning more about my husband’s MBTI type and Enneagram number has helped me to understand him better and has enabled us to work through disagreements more patiently. Our children are still small, and they say you really shouldn’t try to pigeonhole children’s personality types, but delving into personality types has helped me be both more patient with my own shortcomings and with those of our children. As Bogel explains,
Learning more about personality has helped me to make peace with the way I was made (even though some days I’d rather trade myself in for a different model). It has helped me understand the people I love, live with, and work with, and it has helped me accept they were made, which is to say, differently than me.
If you don’t know much about the various personality frameworks, Reading People is a wonderful introduction to whet your appetite. As Bogel recommends in the introduction, find a system that sounds interesting to you and go down the rabbit hole from there. She offers a well-vetted additional reading section in the appendix. If you’re already on the personality train, like me, you will still find much to learn from in Reading People. Bogel comes across as a good friend, a little bit ahead on the path, sharing valuable tools that have helped her get to know herself better, and I know that I can use all the help I can get in that department.
Sara Sterley is wife to her hilarious husband, Grant, and mama to two crazies. Next to the three of them, food, and gardening, she loves quiet days curled up with a good book and just about anything that gets her outside. Find her online at: sarabytheseason.com
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com