Health care communication using personality type Patients are different! By Judy Allen and Susan A Brock Routledge 213 pages £12.99 paperback

Communication skills are vital in dealing with colleagues, patients and relatives, but even the most skilled do not always get it right.

The temptation is to treat everyone like ourselves, but our preferences in communicating may not necessarily be shared by others.

This book explains some vitally different personal preferences by introducing the Myers-Briggs type indicator (MBTI) in the context of healthcare.

After 60 years of detailed research, the MBTI is now the most widely used descriptor of personality in the world, used by more than five million people every year.

The authors take pains to show that there are no 'right' preferences - all are equally valid - and that non-preferred behaviours may be developed once we are aware of them. Backed by compelling case studies, the authors demonstrate how 'simple' differences in personal preference can become major obstacles to communicating and working with others, especially when our defences are down through illness or pressures at work.

The different sets of innate preferences postulated by MBTI are explained, first as a preference to 'talk it out' or 'think it through', styled as 'extraversion' or 'introversion'. Then there are the information-gathering preferences, of either 'detail first' or 'big picture first', known as 'sensing' and 'intuition', followed by the initial decision-making preferences of 'step back and review data objectively', or 'step in and check the impact on others and our respective value systems', described as 'thinking' and 'feeling'.

The final set of preferences are described as 'the joy of closure', typified by planning, removing ambiguity and getting things done in good time, known as 'judging', or 'the joy of processing', where the preference may be to continue to review data, examine alternatives and possibly leave action until the last minute, known as 'perceiving'.

Whether readers are already familiar with the MBTI or not, this book offers a wealth of practical research in applying this powerful tool to day-to-day healthcare situations.

This includes breaking bad news to patients, maintaining their goodwill, encouraging adherence to treatment regimes, working with colleagues, solving problems, dealing with stress and managing the vast amount of change with which all who work in the NHS will be familiar.

An outstanding bibliography will appeal to any 'people watcher' and reference is also made to research examining typical career choices of health professionals (and many others) by psychological type.

Judy Allen is a qualified nurse and MBTI practitioner with a special interest in oncology and palliative care, based in the UK. Her co-author, Susan Brock, who sadly died just as this book was published, was an American psychologist who devoted her life to helping people to understand themselves better through the MBTI, and those they meet. As the creator of FLEX Talk and FLEX Care, Brock's research lives on through a prize recently awarded by the Myers-Briggs Foundation to further her work among healthcare workers.

This book amply demonstrates that understanding innate behavioural preferences is vital to effective communications and building relationships - whether at work or at home.