Lost in Translation



Do you get as frustrated and baffled as I do at simply trying to make yourself understood? How many times have you exclaimed, “I couldn’t have been clearer!” when what you said was misinterpreted by another? It’s quite possible, I believe, that different personality types really do speak very different languages.

I love the phrase, “lost in translation.” It so accurately describes what happens to what we say when it ends up in somebody else’s ears with a totally different meaning. In the 2003 movie Lost in Translation, Bill Murray is an aging actor on temporary assignment in Japan, bewildered by what he hears and experiences. He’s a foreigner in a strange land, and is lost not only in the subtle differences of the people around him, but also in the murky world of his personal relationships.

We’re all quite aware of the differences between French, Farsi, Mandarin, and Swahili. But while we are speaking with others in our native tongue, even the smartest among us are continually perplexed by what others don’t understand. Here enters the diverse languages of distinct types.

16 Different Type Languages


When miscommunication occurs between people speaking the same tongue, personality type differences are usually the culprit. Our culture often reinforces gender norms as the explanation for miscommunication between men and women, when these subtle variances are more likely attributable to type differences. “Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus,” as the popular book proclaims, might be more accurately explained by saying that I see the world through the eyes of a Sensor, and my wife through the eyes of an iNtuitive. Quite commonly we see a husband who views the world through the lens of Thinking, and his wife who views the world through the lens of Feeling. A single message may hold very different meanings for each person. 

Two Types Speak

Here’s a personal example of a conversation between two different type languages, me (ENTJ) and my business partner/wife, Carol Kallendorf, Ph.D. (ENFJ).

This happened recently. Carol and I were enjoying a common interest of ours—cooking. While moving around the kitchen together, Carol suddenly says, “How’re you doing?”

Carol could have been speaking Uzbeki for all I knew. The phrase was common and seemingly in English, but I knew it didn’t mean what I though it should mean when she said it. What did this question mean in the ENFJ’s language, for which there is no book of grammar and no dictionary? I began to run through in my mind the possible meanings she intended.

Possible meaning number one: No, I had been in the house for several hours, so this wasn’t the greeting for someone you hadn’t seen in awhile.

Possible meaning number two: Well, no, I hadn’t been sick, so I don’t think she’s asking about my health.

Aha! Since I’ve been studying ENFJs for twenty years, I suddenly grasp the meaning of what she was asking in her ENFJ dialect, and I answered, “No, I haven’t boiled the eggs yet. I’m doing that next.”

How could I have known that “how are you doing?” really meant, “Why haven’t you boiled the eggs yet?” Only a personality type linguistic expert like myself could have translated that!

Here’s how the “grammar” of ENFJs works. The ENFJ language construct is indirect and polite. Carol, for some reason, thinks that the way I boil eggs is quite expert (it’s all in the subtle way in which I boil water). She had asked me to cook the boiled eggs about a half hour earlier, but I was focused on other things. Politeness and indirectness being fundamental to the ENFJ language, she couldn’t just say, “Look, I already asked you to boil those eggs. Get to it!” Even though she had asked me to boil the eggs a half hour earlier, kindness and indirectness made it necessary for me to understand that “How are you doing?” meant, “When will you boil the eggs?”

The 16 distinct type languages are drawn from the four major language type groups, based on the temperaments SJ, SP, NF, and NT. See if you agree with your type language based on the examples in the chart below.

Translating the Language of Type

What They Might Say – What that Might Really Mean

SJ Language – The Language of “Ought.” The language of the SJ is built on obligation to preserving people, things, and systems.

ISTJ

Might say

The fiscal 2013 budget has been completed and approved, and there are no funds for the proposed compensation system software.

Might mean

I picked out the present software compensation package myself five years ago. It works and I’m comfortable with it. 

ISFJ

Might say

I don’t think Johnny is mature enough to move out yet.

Might mean

I’ve taken care of Johnny for many years and I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have that part of my life, even though I often complain about it. 

ESTJ

Might say

During this meeting today we’ve talked about the profile of the market in Uzbekistan, and that’s been interesting. However, I think we should not forget that the overall strategy requires targeted objectives with timelines.

Might mean

I can’t tell you how bored I am with your presentation of Uzbeki buying patterns. We need numbers and a timeline on how much product we deliver and when and what our resources are.

ESFJ

Might say

I’m working on getting the filing structure for the receivables in order so that all the team members can access the data with ease.

Might mean

I’m really tired of hounding you about sending me daily emails that contain your billable hours.  Could you please send those to me every day in a timely fashion?

SP Language – The Language of “Doing.”  The language of SP is built on courageous, elegant, and effective movement forward in the precise moment.

ESTP

Might say

I understand how important it is for the organization to accomplish the goals stated in the official strategic plan. 

Might mean

If you all will not get in my way and hem me in, when I get back to you I will have accomplished what I see needs to be done.

ISTP

Might say

I’d be glad to take a look at the machinery that’s broken down just when we need it the most.

Might mean

While you boys have been dancing around and wringing your hands, I’ve been standing back and quietly observing. I knew just about when it would break down and why, and I know exactly what to do to fix it.

ESFP

Might say

It’s been a long day here at the office and I think if we do a couple more things we can wrap it up pretty soon.

Might mean

I’ve enjoyed working with the team all day and have taken care of the most important priorities now. I’m ready to wrap it up so I can go enjoy the rest of my life and the get together I’m having with friends. If you need me, you better speak up fast!

ISFP

Might say

I’m thinking about taking a sabbatical from my work and traveling out west.

Might mean

I have a personal vision that is important to my life, and I need some alone time to be me and to connect with the world of nature and experience. I’ll likely be out of here in a month! 

NF Language – The Language of “Interpersonal Relationships.”  The language of NF’s is built on the foundation of interpersonal relationships that result in group harmony and personal development.

ENFJ

Might say

What did you mean to accomplish when you had those words with your boss?

Might mean

I think I might be able to help this person if I can get him to see that that what he says about his boss being incompetent may have a long-range effect on his career.

INFJ

Might say

I was wondering what you’ve studied about nutrition? It’s a very interesting subject.

Might mean

I’d like to help you see you’re not going to live long if you keep eating mega burgers in fast food restaurants and chain smoking.

ENFP

Might say

This reorganization that management says will cause us to learn new software from our new offices in Bismarck, SD is really going to be to our advantage. 

Might mean

I love change and get bored so easily.  It’s fun to do change with my friends, and I’m the one to convince them that although things look strange now, change is good. Onward! It will be an adventure!

INFP

Might say

I understand where you’re going with the organization, and I really appreciate what you’re doing. I’m going to do everything I’m capable of doing to make the project a success.

Might mean

The project has a lot of aspects that align with me and where I’m going. I absolutely have my own vision of myself, which I will follow. This person is interesting and intriguing. I’m going to work with them to the point that it doesn’t violate my own vision and values, but if it does cross that line, I’ll go underground or leave. 

NT Language – The language of “building and accomplishing.”  NT’s exercise power through building and accomplishing stated goals.

ENTJ

Might say

I’m giving you the plan for moving our goal forward, and there are huge rewards that we’ll receive if we accomplish our outcomes and avoid the pitfalls. 

Might mean

Life is about achieving your goals.  Surely you will throw over family, friends, and any plans you might have thought about doing to move these goals forward. Let’s get going!

INTJ

Might say

I believe we have a model here that is elegant and has been tested, and we should apply it.

Might mean

Models tell you everything and the more elegant and complex, the better.  I want to make this model work. It’s interesting. I’m studying it and you might not be able to get in touch with me for a while, just so you know…

ENTP

Might say

I’ve done a lot of research on the methodology we intend to use and I’m ready to call a press conference to explain our findings to the public. 

Might mean

My gut tells me this will work and I’ve been all over the Internet confirming that. I’m an excellent spokesperson, and I can win my position through my ability to articulate it. 

INTP

Might say

I’ve found a flaw in the implementation plan the group has been working on, and we shouldn’t move forward until we resolve the issue.

Might mean

The devil is in the details and we have to go back to ground zero. I’ve done a lot of delving into this report and I don’t buy it because we haven’t really analyzed it enough.