Compass Points in a nutshell

A simple Google search will reveal dozens if not hundreds of ways to categorize people: the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is probably the most famous. Bestselling author Gretchen Rubin’s The Four Tendencies gets a lot of press currently, and Biological Anthropologist Helen Fisher’s 4 Brain Chemical Personalities provides insights into potential dating/spousal choices! In October 2018, two researchers at Northwestern University looked at big data around the “Big Five Personality Traits” to sort people into four groups and those results were interesting in a rather surprising way, finding most people “average!”

NSRF’s contribution is called the Compass Points Activity and it has proven quite reliable and helpful through more than twenty years of use. Rather than looking at personality types, it allows participants to sort themselves out in relation to how we work together, understanding that those tendencies shift depending on the circumstances.

There’s a lot of value in participating in Compass Points within a group or even with a partner, so I won’t reveal all the steps of the activity or common insights that arise.

In a nutshell, when thinking about how you respond to a problem discussed in meetings with your colleagues, you should be able to self-identify into one of the following four “directions.”

North = Action. Once a problem has been outlined, Norths have a strong impulse to get started toward a solution and feel distressed at “wasting time.”

East = Big Picture. Before taking action, Easts ask questions to help analyze what other people/systems/processes/etc. are affected by the problem and by potential solutions.

South = Caring/Communicating. South people pay attention to who is participating in the problem-solving, what they’re saying (and sometimes not saying), and how everyone is feeling about the problem, the potential solutions, and the process of working out those solutions.

West = Details. West people ask a lot of questions around specifics: what might that suggestion cost, and what budget will it come out of? Specifically who would take charge of this initiative, and in what time frame?

Of course, few people are “true” to one particular direction, always responding from that perspective no matter the circumstances. For most of us, the actions we take may not always align with what our impulses, and that what we do is often dependent upon external circumstances.  With small children you may be more South, whereas when dealing with family budgets you may take on West traits, putting the brakes on your own (or your partner’s) North tendencies. And in a work environment, if there are fewer than four people in a room, at least one of them may choose to act from a different direction than is their standard preference, consciously or subconsciously feeling an imbalance in the conversation. And certainly in a meeting with people who you don’t entirely trust, you may act in alignment with a different “direction” than you typically are inclined to do out of concern about how you’re being perceived.

So your personal Compass Point is contingent, and that’s a good thing! Similarly, others’ compass points are also mutable, and that’s another important lesson, to be taken up in another post.