Spring 1992 // Volume 30 // Number 1 // Feature Articles // 1FEA3

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Understanding Clientele Differences

As Extension moves toward the 21st century, we're asked to evaluate our role in educating the public. By combining our existing strengths of information, skill-building, and research-based choices with a thorough understanding of people, we can offer a comprehensive approach with a variety of opportunities for people to make changes that truly enrich their lives.

Judy McKenna
Family Economics Specialist
Cooperative Extension
Colorado State University-Fort Collins

Dorothy Martin
Assistant Director
Cooperative Extension
Colorado State University-Fort Collins.

Extension educators are dedicated to enabling change in clientele. One of our strengths is our ability to provide timely information about critical issues. But, how well do we understand the personalities of clientele-the individual orientation that plays a crucial role in motivation and change?

Scientists are just beginning to identify the influence the mind has on the body and incorporate this knowledge into their research about people and behavior. Researchers and authors are finding the mind is more powerful than was ever imagined, in increasing athletic performance, combating illness, propelling us toward personal success, and achieving goals.1 As people learn to appreciate and trust themselves, they become more comfortable using their minds creatively to apply solutions to their problems. By combining interdisciplinary, issues-based programming with a better understanding of our clientele as individuals, more effective educational programs will result.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

In Colorado, we've used a powerful theory for better understanding clientele. The theory was originated by Carl Jung, a Swiss psychiatrist. His ideas were used to develop an instrument called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).2 This instrument is designed to help individuals understand and accept themselves, as well as appreciate and value differences in others. We're finding people who accept uniqueness in themselves and others are more creative, more productive, and better equipped to be successful in a world that's rapidly changing.

The MBTI is designed to identify four ways that individuals deal with life. For each approach, there are two different preferences, equally successful. Just as people have a physical preference for their right or left hand, they also have mental preferences that influence their behavior. As individuals understand what they have to contribute, they also find strengths in other people who have developed different preferences that offer new ways of thinking and processing information. By better understanding mental preferences, people can appreciate others' viewpoints and not react in anger or feel diminished when someone takes a different approach or disagrees.


The preferences, extraversion and introversion, describe where individuals get their energy. For example, if you're energized by being with other people, you prefer extraversion. If, however, you like being with people, but must have time to yourself to restore your energy, you prefer introversion. Extraverts talk while they're thinking and often don't know where they're headed with an idea-it's formulated as they talk. Introverts like to think things through thoroughly and consider alternatives before they share their ideas with others.

Sensing and intuition are preferences describing how people think. Sensing people trust thoughts that come from the use of their senses. If they can see, hear, touch, taste, or smell, they trust these experiences and act accordingly. Sensing people are practical and oriented to what's happening right now. They want to focus on practical things to do.

Intuitives trust their "gut" reactions and hunches. They're focused on the future, on possibilities, on the big picture. Intuitives are dreamers and theoreticians, they speculate and consider what might be. In groups, intuitives want to spend time generating lots of possibilities and sensors want to be sure plans are practical and sensible.

Our orientation-to-life preferences, thinking and feeling, describe the basis on which people make decisions. A thinking person relies on principles, laws, cause and effect, and processes that are logical, methodical, analytical, and impersonal. People who operate primarily from a feeling preference are concerned first of all with harmony-how people are getting along and if people are satisfied with what's happening. Feeling people are good at making all participants feel they have an important role.

The judging and perceiving preferences describe how people make decisions. A judging person likes to reach conclusions and wants rapid closure to get on with other matters. Perceiving people want to keep their options open until the last minute because they believe that at any time additional information will come along that will make their decision better. People who prefer judging tend to work in an orderly and planned way moving steadily toward completion of a task. They're frequently time driven and expect others to be the same. Perceivers may wait until the last minute and accomplish their goals in a burst of energy and concentration. Both preferences can produce high quality results.3

The purpose of incorporating these ideas into Extension programming and teamwork efforts is simply to become more accepting of ourselves and to learn to work more effectively with others. To work best as interdisciplinary teams, we must appreciate not only the technical expertise we bring, but the unique contributions made by each individual to the process of program planning and implementation. Most importantly, we can enhance communication with clientele by better understanding what's meaningful to them.

Applying MBTI Principles

Using the actual MBTI instrument with clientele isn't practical because successful completion of the MBTI training is required to use the instrument and ethics mandate providing face- to-face feedback to people answering the MBTI questionnaire. As a result, the process of administering the instrument and explaining the concepts would take too much time to use in conjunction with other workshops.

Extension program planners can, however, use MBTI principles any time they're involved with clientele. They can learn to use a variety of approaches to engage the interest, commitment, and learning styles of a wide range of clientele. The MBTI theory and application can be useful to Extension personnel in team building within Extension, developing educational programs, working with advisory councils, and planning conferences.


People tend to give their best when they feel their contributions are respected and appreciated. When tensions begin to build, it's helpful to remember that both practicality and unusual ideas are important. Attention to task and appreciation of team players produces optimum results.

Developing Educational Programs

The following key ideas can be incorporated into Extension programming. Extraverts learn from discussion and group interaction; introverts through thinking, concentration, and study. Sensing types like practical, useful experiences; intuitives are challenged by possibilities and future orientation. Thinking types learn best when exploring systems and principles; feeling types are most interested in using ideas to help people. Goals and deadlines motivate judging types; perceivers prefer flexible and open-ended situations. We can incorporate opportunities for each preference or we can team with others whose preferences offer a different orientation.

Planning Conferences

Some conferences focus strictly on delivering information. Others are almost totally concerned with group interaction. An imbalance causes frustration and disappointment. Conference committees can mix exercises and get-acquainted events with technical information and research updates to satisfy a variety of personal needs.

Working with Advisory Councils

Because extraverts tend to talk and keep moving, the thorough thinking of the introverts may be overlooked. An Extension agent believes that he or she has identified what local citizens think is important; however, it may be only what the extraverts in the county think is important.

To avoid problems of this type, send information to advisory committee members well in advance of the meetings. Make sure everyone has a chance to think through and express opinions. Take breaks and get one-to-one feedback from those who haven't spoken. Be prepared with techniques for opening the discussion to everyone.

MBTI Workshops in Colorado

Understanding the MBTI principles makes a difference. We have given MBTI workshops for more than 2,000 people, including Extension faculty, EFNEP aides, Integrated Resource Management Team, Family Community Leadership participants, American Association of University Women, Colorado State University faculty and staff, International Association for Financial Planning, and the Colorado Rural Revitalization Program. Table 1 summarizes how a sample of 90 participants from these workshops perceived they'd use the ideas following the workshop.

Table 1. MBTI workshop evaluation.
Because of what I learned, I expect to: Yes No
See value when people are different 99% 1%
Do what I can to develop more satisfying work relationships 98% 2%
Appreciate more what my co-workers have to offer 98% 2%
Accept myself and my preferences better 97% 3%
Better understand how to be more effective when teaming with coworkers 96% 4%


Congress has designated the 1990s as the "Decade of the Brain." We have an opportunity to meet this challenge to focus our efforts on new discoveries and educational opportunities that will enhance human functioning. Through better understanding of our clientele, we can create messages to stimulate the mind for increased learning, enhanced decision making, and fuller involvement in life's choices.

As Extension moves toward the 21st century, we're asked to evaluate our role in educating the public. By combining our existing strengths of information, skill-building, and research- based choices with a thorough understanding of people, we can offer a comprehensive approach with a variety of opportunities for people to make changes that truly enrich their lives.


1. Norman Cousins, Head First: The Biology of Hope (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1989); Bernie S. Siegel, Love, Medicine & Miracles (New York: Harper and Row, 1986); Charles Garfield, Peak Performers (New York: Avon Books, 1987); and Bernie Zilbergeld, Mind Power (New York: Ballantine Books, 1988).

2. Katherine C. Briggs and Isabella Briggs Myers, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (Palto Alto, California: Consulting Psychologists Press, Inc., 1977).

3. Sandra Hirsh and Jean Kummerow, LIFETypes (New York: Warner Books, 1989).