The MBTI – Love it or Hate it
This week, I’ll delve into one of the most popular (and sometimes controversial) personality tests in the management and business world: The MBTI. If you’d like more of an intro into psychometrics before getting into this article, check out my first Monday Morning Metrics article here:
What is the MBTI?
“The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases”.
– Carl Gustav Jung, the ‘Father of Personality testing’.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator draws its original roots from Jung: The incredibly-quotable founder of analytical Psychology. His work has been instrumental, not just in psychology but also in literature, philosophy and religious studies. Most importantly for us though, he was the pioneer of psychological type: The idea that we are not all created alike. Every one of us has unique and measurable differences in the way we think and interact with the world around us.
Jung’s ideas were developed into an actual personality test by the also-highly-quotable Isabel Briggs Myers, and her mother Katherine Briggs (hence the name Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), in order to make Jung’s theories useful for everyday life.
This article is split into two parts. First of all, I’ll explain what the MBTI is and how it works. Second, I’ll talk about some of the reasons why the MBTI is so hotly criticised – and how the users of the MBTI have reacted to the criticism and evolved the test to make up for its shortfalls. If you’re an experienced psychometrician it would be great to hear your contributions to the debate and any other key issues too.
Part 1: What does the MBTI do?
The MBTI is one of the biggest tests of personality type, and it looks at how you prefer to think and interact with the world.
The word ‘type’ here is very important, as the answers you give will place you into one category or another. Traditionally there is no middle ground – for example, you are either an Extravert or an Introvert and nowhere in between (more on this later). There are four dimensions in all, resulting in a four letter type code, such as ENFJ or ISTP.
Here’s the skinny on each of these four dimensions.
While reading through these types, you might like to think about which end you tend towards, and thus a potential type you might get if you were to do the MBTI. There are several free tests you can find on google to get a ‘Myers-Briggs’ type if you like, but do note that these are not the ‘true’ MBTI test and will just provide you with an approximation which may or may not be correct (but which will probably still be interesting).
Extraversion | Introversion : Where do you draw your energy from?
Extraversion/Introversion is not necessarily about how sociable you are, but about how you interact with the outside world and your internal world. Extraverts draw and gain energy from people, activities and external things, whilst internal ideas and introspection require more effort from them. Introverts are the opposite, needing to spend energy on external activities and socialising whilst recovering energy from their own ruminations, emotions and impressions.
“If you don’t know what an extravert thinks, you haven’t been listening. If you don’t know what an introvert thinks, you haven’t asked them!” – Isabel Briggs Myers
Sensing | Intuition : How do you treat information you receive?
‘Sensing’ people pay more attention to physical reality, their five senses, and what is actual, present, current and real – thus they tend to focus more on facts and specific details. In contrast ‘Intuition’ people pay more attention to impressions, meaning and patterns they see in information they receive rather than focusing on specifics. At work you might expect a Sensing person to ask, “how does this impact the bottom line?” and an Intuition person to ask, “how does this relate to the bigger picture?”. You might have noticed intuition uses ‘N’ rather than ‘I’, simply because Introversion has greedily claimed that letter already.
Thinking | Feeling : How do you like to make decisions?
This pair is perhaps the most self-explanatory. Everyone uses thinking and feeling to an extent when making decisions, but the dimension is specifically about which style you prefer applying. A thinking person prefers technical and logical solutions, notices inconsistencies, but may sometimes be too task-oriented or indifferent; whereas a feeling person is concerned with harmony, compassion and mutual understanding, while sometimes coming across as idealistic or indirect.
Judging | Perceiving : How do you interact with the world?
Even if you are a staunch introvert you interact with the outside world regularly, and this pair describes how you prefer to interact. Judging individuals prefer structure and order, and are most comfortable when things are decisive and planned. Perceiving individuals, in contrast, prefer a flexible and spontaneous way of life, focusing on understanding the world rather than organising it. Don’t confuse this dimension with ‘judgement’ or ‘being perceptive’ – this is all about the level and style of organisation you are happy with.
To give you an example, I’m an E – N – F – P, which indicates that I gain energy from my interactions with the world around me rather than my own impressions and ideas, I pay more attention to overall patterns and the ‘big picture’ than the details, I’m concerned with harmony and mutual understanding, and I’m most comfortable working in a flexible and spontaneous environment.
According to this article, that means my personal definition of hell at work would be this:
“Every minute of the rest of your life has been scheduled for you – and it’s a long series of arbitrary, solitary tasks”.
I can say without a shadow of a doubt, that would drive me absolutely bonkers.
Psyence are accredited practitioners of MBTI assessment and feedback, so if you or your team are interested in taking the MBTI, call us on 015395 67878, e-mail us at email@example.com, or visit our website at www.psyence.co.
Part 2: Why do some people love it or hate it?
Despite its ubiquity in the management and business worlds, the MBTI is criticised by some – particularly for some ‘academic’ shortfalls (although nowadays these have been responded to pretty well).
If you read my previous article you will probably have already thought of the two criteria, reliability and validity. Well, there are no shortage of studies that support the reliability and validity of the MBTI (such as those in this PDF article), but there are quite a few studies denouncing it as well. A common criticism is that the test-retest reliability is not great: Many people who take the MBTI a second time find that their results are quite different from those they received the first time.
When this happens, it is often because someone is very close to middle-ground on one of the attributes. For instance, a person might see themselves as an Extrovert in some situations and an Introvert in others – so their type potentially fluctuates between the two. Isabel’s view on this is that “It is up to each person to recognise his or her true preferences” – in other words, it’s up to you to identify the areas with your profile that you agree with, internalise them and decide how to act upon them. The ones you disagree with are also useful, particularly if you can identify exactly why it is you disagree with them. These are perhaps also the ones more likely to fluctuate if you take the test again.
One other problem, though, is not about the MBTI itself but rather about psychological type in general: It assumes that you are one type or another instead of placing you somewhere on a scale. You are not ‘40% extravert’ or ‘72% judging’ but you are ENTJ or ISFP. In some ways this is useful, because it allows you to instantly identify as one type or another and quickly act upon the result – clearly a useful characteristic in the modern workplace. But in reality, not all ENTJs are alike… and if they were, then the human race would simply be a catalogue with 16 different models readily available for purchase.
So, how do the users of MBTI react to this?
For those reasons, the modern MBTI reports produced by Myers-Briggs company CCP, such as those used here at Dove Nest, delve into the results a little further.
In the latest versions you get a clarity score to show how strongly you identify as one type or another (for instance, a score of 40 T indicates a clear preference for ‘T’ over ‘F’ – while a score of under 10 indicates you are fairly balanced between the two), and the dimensions are also ranked according to which ones are more dominant for you.
The most dominant scores are likely to be your preferred way of interacting and solving problems at work. For example, if you are highest on ‘Sensing’ out of all, you probably start by verifying the situation and facts; what has already done by whom; what is already working. If you are highest on ‘Feeling’, your approach may be to first look at the underlying values involved; how others will react to the options; what your personal likes/dislikes about the options are.
There are also some exciting new evolutions of the MBTI – such as the Pearman Personality Integrator developed by (you guessed it) Dr. Pearman – which we are also accredited practitioners of. I’ll cover Pearman in more detail in a future article… But for now I will just say that it takes Jung’s type theories to the next level.
“Now that I’ve done the MBTI”, I hear you ask, “What needs to happen next to make the most of it?”
Three steps to get the most out of the MBTI:
- Complete the questionnaire, digest and understand your MBTI type.
- Discuss your type and its implications in a coaching session or a workshop.
- From the discussion, decide what changes to make in your working style and set up an action plan.
As I explained last time, the psychometric is only step 1 of the story. The results need to be digested and explored to get maximum value, and Step 2 and Step 3 is where Dove Nest come in. Looking at your dominant styles in a coaching session allows you to go into great detail on your own type and how it affects your interactions with others, in order to help you make those interactions more effective. When applied across your whole team in a workshop, it makes the differences in the way each of you thinks very clear, and poses some interesting challenges to your team about how they incorporate each other’s styles in order to make better decisions.
I hope this whistle-stop tour of the MBTI has been interesting and useful for you! Next time I’ll be looking at the Belbin Team Roles, which measures your types of behaviour when you interact with other people at work.
And if you have any questions or comments about this week’s article, please do get in touch on Linked In or Twitter, Tweet at @dovenestjacob, or e-mail me at Jacob.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Psyence & Dove Nest Group
Credit for opening image: Name your marmite, https://social.marmite.co.uk/