Top 3 Things to Remember About Personality Type
Copyright © 2019 by Thomas Piccin
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) can be an extremely helpful tool for understanding one’s own unique preferences for perceiving, learning, communicating, making decisions, and interacting with the outside world. The MBTI helps us identify the ways in which it is most natural and most comfortable for us to use our minds, and we can use that knowledge to enhance our lives and create more effective relationships with the people around us.
However, without a solid understanding of the purpose and proper application of the MBTI instrument, MBTI results may be misinterpreted or misused. That’s why certified MBTI practitioners are carefully trained to present results in the proper context. Whether you have already taken the MBTI assessment or are considering taking it, here are some important things to keep in mind in order to get the most value from your MBTI experience.
1. You are more than your type. The Myers-Briggs model of personality is just that, a model. Like all models, it is a simplification of a complex phenomenon—namely, your personality. The MBTI can never explain or describe everything about you, and it doesn’t claim to. It breaks down personality into four discrete mental functions, each with two opposite preferences. Multiply it out and you get 16 different combinations, which we call the personality types. Your personality type describes your preferred way of performing some key cognitive functions, such as taking in information and making decisions. Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, whose personality theories formed the basis of the Myers-Briggs model, believed a person’s type is innate and never changes over their lifetime. However, the MBTI is not designed to reflect learned skills or the effects of one’s environment (Myers et al., 2009), so even two people with the same type code will behave and respond differently in certain situations.
Another important concept is that of type dynamics. That means that a person’s type is more than just the sum of the four letters in their type code. The four preferences interact with each other to create a unique personality expression. For example, you and your partner may both have a preference for extraversion. But differences between the two of you in the other three preference codes will mean that the way you experience and express extraversion will be different from the way your partner does.
2. Your type is not a reason or an excuse. As I like to tell clients, your type indicates your favorite way of thinking, not your only way. The intent of the MBTI assessment is not to label people or put them in a box. Indeed, the best use of the MBTI has the complete opposite effect. Suppose your type code indicates that you are most comfortable working from a detailed plan and sticking to a schedule (what we would call a “J” preference). Suppose further that you have been asked to work on a project where it is important to be flexible and remain open to possibilities moment by moment. You might be tempted to say, “Sorry, I can’t work that way, I’m a J type.” But then you would be turning your back on one of the most valuable applications of the MBTI, which is to show us our greatest growth opportunities. Instead, why not step up and say, “Sure, I’ll do my best, this is a chance to exercise some muscles I don’t use very often.”
Another reason it’s a bad idea to put limitations on yourself based on your type code is that you might find you are actually quite skilled at this alternate approach. Just because it’s not your favorite way of doing things, that doesn’t mean you can’t do things that way. That’s why we in the Myers-Briggs world consider it unethical for an employer to use MBTI results to hire, fire, or assign someone to a particular task (Kirby et al., 2011). A person’s type code never indicates what that person is or is not capable of. It only suggests what’s most comfortable for them, and one of the greatest benefits of the MBTI assessment is that it helps people grow outside their comfort zones.
3. Use type knowledge for good, not evil. Certified MBTI practitioners are careful to use neutral language to describe the opposite sides of the four preference pairs. For example, a preference for extraversion is not better or worse than a preference for introversion. Both bring value in some ways, and both have their potential blind spots. This isn’t just politeness; it reflects the basic philosophy of the MBTI instrument. The assessment does not diagnose abnormal behavior, it describes commonly seen differences between normal, healthy people.
It would be a terrible misuse of the assessment to suggest that certain preferences are more desirable than others, or to use MBTI results to apply labels or stereotypes to people (Kirby et al., 2011). For example, saying “Introverts are better at this while extraverts are better at that” is not just counterproductive, it is also incorrect. There is no one particular behavior shared by all people who prefer extraversion, just as there is no one behavior shared by all who prefer introversion.
Perhaps the most disheartening misuse of the MBTI assessment would be for a person to learn their personality type code, but then not use that knowledge to explore their own vulnerabilities and embrace the strengths of others who are different from them. The MBTI assessment was created to allow people to gain self-awareness of their own personality type, along with an understanding of how their type differs from those of others, with the hope that people would use this knowledge to improve their lives. In the words of Isabel Briggs Myers, “This information [MBTI results and feedback] will enhance your understanding of yourself, your motivations, your natural strengths, and your potential areas for growth. It will also help you appreciate people who are different from you” (Myers, 2015, p. 1).
Header photo by Thomas Piccin. View of Cape Town, Signal Hill, Table Bay, and Robben Island from the top of Table Mountain, South Africa.