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.
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.
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.