Is personality testing any better than a horoscope prediction?

Myers Briggs Type Indicator – MBTI
“It’s no better than a horoscope”, a former employee once said to me when she declined to be “typed” (type – industry lingo for taking the Myers-Briggs test).   I am generally a sceptic and admit to having been less than complimentary about various personality and psychological tests that I’ve been compelled to take in the past, especially as employment screening tools.  So I get it, but the MBTI has been different for me.

I was first introduced to the MBTI in 1999 when a friend offered to type me.  I was amazed at how accurately I was profiled.   Much like ex-smokers becoming strongly anti-smoking, sceptics, once converted, become fervent supporters.  So started my passion for the Myers-Briggs.

danphrenology

Photo credit – drtel via Flickr

The beauty of this indicator is that there is no right or wrong.  It just indicates your innate preference.  It is not an indication of your skills or abilities or a prediction of your performance and as such, I have some issues with it being used for employment screening.  I agree that the knowledge is useful in employment situations but question how it is sometimes used.

I also have issues with people using their type as an excuse for resisting change e.g “I’m an ISTJ , so that’s just how I am” or “I’m an introvert, so I can’t speak up”.   These and other myths give the Myers-Briggs a bad name and I’m disappointed to have such a valuable tool maligned.

Myths and Misconceptions

“I’ve been typed before and my type changed from ENFJ to ISTJ”

I can’t help but be irritated by this type of statement, partly because I hear it so frequently.  Technically, your type doesn’t change.  It’s a bit like saying I used to be right-handed but now I’m left-handed.  Just like your right-handedness or left-handedness never changes so too your Myers-Briggs type but you can train yourself to use your other hand, and you can train yourself to access your non-preference.

Some people have a work persona and home persona which are entirely different from the other and when you take the test (at home or at work) will have a bearing on your results.  If you have been particularly stressed, you may also answer the questions quite differently to your true preference.  So, it’s important to understand that the results of the questionnaire aren’t absolute.

The Myers-Briggs questionnaire is a tool and personally, I prefer to think of it as a starting point.  The de-brief from a qualified practitioner that should follow any testing is as important in working out your true type.

“Wow, when we sit down and discuss it, it is so much more interesting.  When I read the report alone , it didn’t make a lot of sense and I felt like I didn’t agree with some of it, but now it has all fallen into place.”

One of the other reasons for types apparently changing is quite simply the normal course of development.  With maturity, you find through life experience that continuously falling back on your preferences isn’t very constructive and you learn to accommodate differences and meet people half-way.  In that process, you develop your non-preferences, the letters that are opposite to your type.  So when time passes and you take the Myers-Briggs test again, results can show something different.  But your true type hasn’t actually changed.   For this reason, I discourage taking the test multiple times.  It serves no purpose if your first one has been done correctly.

“I’ve been typed before and it’s not accurate”

If your reported type and its description doesn’t resonate with you, then you are probably right, it’s not accurate, but blaming the test is like a carpenter blaming his tools.   The preferences eg. Extravert or Introvert aren’t absolute which means that if you have been typed an Introvert, it doesn’t mean that you will meet every description of an introvert all of the time.  Your reported type should also indicate the strength of your preference.   As mentioned earlier, part of the typing process is the de-brief with a qualified practitioner.  If anything doesn’t sit well, that probably needs further discussion.

There are many ways to get your Myers-Briggs type – the free ones on the internet are the worst culprits for getting your type wrong since they would most definitely not be properly facilitated.  The test itself is probably suspect as well.   Generally, if there is “lack of accuracy”, it’s usually stems from poor facilitation or lack of understanding.

In addition, it is also not commonly known that the Myers-Briggs has a further level beyond the four letters.  This is known as the Myers-Briggs Step II and breaks down each of your preferences into facets.  When I did my training, we learnt of something called the “OOPS” (sounds like “oops, I made a mistake”) which stands for “Out of Preference Scores”.  It explains aspects of your behaviour that may be atypical (not usual) to your type.

What do you do with your Myers-Briggs type once you know what it is?

First and foremost, I believe it is a wonderful personal developmental tool.  If embraced, it can improve your communication -with co-workers, employees, spouses etc.  It can build understanding – why people behave they way they do and why it’s often not personal.

9/365 - Box girl.

Photo credit – Sam Love via Flickr

Knowing what your preferences are also frees you, rather than boxes you contrary to what detractors may say.  When you know what you instinctively do, you have awareness and with awareness, you can make conscious decisions to do things differently.

I know that as an “introvert”, too many group interactions drain me and that I need time-outs to recharge.  That doesn’t mean I’m shy or unsociable, just that I get my energy from reflective activities.  I could constantly force myself into extroverted situations to fit in, but at what cost?

When I used the Myers Briggs as a manager, understanding each individual’s type meant I could better communicate, motivate and persuade.  I could choose appropriate language and sometimes combine teams in particular ways to maximise effectiveness.  That of course is nothing new to managers who are tuned in to their staff, but personally I found that a bit of “science” helped the process along.

I could go on and on with many examples of how the Myers Briggs could be used but that would require me to go into far more depth about the different preferences than I had intended in this post.  Suffice to say, it can be a powerful tool when used appropriately and I encourage exploration into it.

I have found it immensely helpful both personally and professionally and hope that you will too.

More about Myers Briggs with Coach Mi

www.coachmi.com.au

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I’m a business coach passionate about helping women make the impossible possible! Do get in touch. I would love to have a chat to see how I can help.

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Comments 17

  1. I haven’t taken one of these since high school.Maybe I should get another. Its nice to learn about the ways such testing is useful

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  2. Coach Mi,

    I believe I had the HBDI done when I went through Leadership Institute and then I also did the Strengths-Tester.

    Both reflected that I am more creative-oriented, and a people person more than an information/data person. I still have these evaluations, but I would need to pull them out to recall and relate info correctly.

    I enjoyed having this done, I did learn a lot. But I find, that out in the real world, it is more like finding people in their box as I’m running confidently on the beach. They haven’t done it, they don’t care, and there is a divide.

    We have to want to discover about ourselves, and that in turn lets us discover about others. Would be nice if more people were more willing. I think we, as a society, would get more done.

    Thank you for sharing! 🙂

    ~Keri

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  3. Great post Mi. Of course as a coach I cannot agree more on stressing the fact that what is most important is not the absolute value of the tests but they are fantastic tools for initiating dialogues and exploring best behavioral “modes” as a leader or as a team member or as a spouse or a parent. Personally I use the DISC method as I like the colors better than the letters but both are based on Carl Jung ‘s work.

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      Thanks Anne. I shall have to find out more about DISC. I’ve come across it a few times now and it sounds like a tool that quite a few people find useful.

  4. Like Anne, I am more familiar with DISC. However, I have used both and found elements of both useful. DISC is slightly easier to understand (for me at least), but MBTI is more holistic. Either way, the assessments are subject to a margin of error / interpretation and final typing should be done with the aid of a trained coach.

    I agree than when done properly, they can be useful for development and team work purposes. I have also found that assessing motivators can be lend even greater insight to teams and how best to work together.

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  5. I’ve been ‘typed’ and I have used the data to my advantage in business. I very much try to ‘type’ my business associates as I meet them and that helps in our communication.

    Loved this quote: “I believe it is a wonderful personal developmental tool”

    I agree and as previous commenters stressed: it’s a tool!
    Thank you Mi, for a great, well written article.

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      Hi Paul, glad to heard that you have managed to use the knowledge to yor advantage. If you are able to “type” them, it certainly does help bridge the communication gap quickly!

  6. Coach Mi,

    Interesting article. I’m somewhat familiar with Myers Briggs yet never took it. I appreciate your insights regarding this tool.

    I’ve taken The Color Code by Dr Taylor Hartman and found it very helpful working with teams. I’ve also read some of his other works such as Color Your Future -characterization and the quality of one’s journey.

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  7. Its definitely interesting, I do agree with you that people can easily “change types” as in see different results from tests at different times. With something as sensitive as this your mood and environment will cause change, its only natural.

  8. Hi Coach Mi, I’ve really enjoyed reading the responses to this article. I’ve used MBTI, DISC and a few other tools in support of team, personal and corporate initiatives and they each offer a perspective on the person as has been noted here. Since we are talking about tools based on Jung’s work, it does make them somewhat complimentary. One thing I’ve found is that MBTI scores/ratings are forgotten over time, and in my experience people indicate that the results are more accurate in a particular aspect of life. I have a preference for the SDI tools (Strength Deployment Inventory) which I have found is holistic and provides profound insight for people. I find the idea of people “changing types” to be interesting – and I believe the SDI provides answers to this perception in a way that people can relate to and work with.

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  9. I’m not convinced that the MBTI test is any more accurate of a personality test than your horoscope. Whether or not your type resonates with you is not proof of anything. Millions of people think their horoscope personality resonates with them as well. The assertion that your true type doesn’t change while your test results could change and result in you getting a different type than before, is absurd. Either the test is accurate and repeatable or it isn’t. If our personalities change over time then any test that is accurate should be able to match that. If our personalities don’t change then the test shouldn’t change and it should consistently produce the same result. Again, if the main test of accuracy is just asking the subject if their type “resonates” with them, then this is no better than a horoscope. One of the biggest problems with personality testing is that it relies on people being able to answer a questionnaire accurately according to how they really behave and not according to how they wish they behaved or should ideally behave or how they imagine they behave.

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      Zman, thank you for sharing your views. You have identified one of the inherent problems of any sort questionnaire based test in its reliance people’s answers and that’s why I stressed in the post the importance of the debrief.

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