Over my 30+year career, I have gone through a plethora of management training programs at work, some useful and some not so much so. In addition, one of my two graduate degrees is an MBA in management. But of all the training I have gone through at work and at the graduate level, I’ve found the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to be the most useful both in my professional life as well as in my personal life. And for those of my readers already familiar with MBTI, you will recognize my type based on the title of my blog post.
For those unfamiliar with the MBTI, it is a personality assessment constructed by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers based on the typological theory published by Carl Jung. Jung theorized that humans experience the world in four principle psychological functions—sensation, intuition, feeling and thinking. Providing answers to a series of questions (which one can do online), the MBTI allows an individual to identify their preferences on four separate scales resulting in 1 of the 16 indicator types designated by a combination of four letters. And a typical question that might be asked is: “Would you rather go to a party with a large number of people or stay at home and read a book?”
Probably the best way to describe this tool is to provide you with an insight into my own type.
The first letter reflects where you focus your attention, either as extraversion (E) or introversion (I). An easy way to assess this preference is to consider whether you are an extravert or an introvert (an obvious answer to the previous question for me being an “I” is I would rather stay home and read a book). But beyond this simple approach, another way to look at it is how you are energized. Are you recharged by interacting with others (E) or are you drained by interacting with others and need to get recharged by being alone (I). Half of the MBTI types are in fact extraverts and we know them most commonly by being the ones doing most of the talking.
And while talking, extroverts can also throw out some pretty outlandish ideas because they think out loud. Introverts on the other hand, think internally and so when they do finally speak, it is usually a well-considered thought. While everyone is either an “E” or an “I”, it isn’t an absolute but rather a continuum along an extroversion-introversion scale and in any given situation; someone can exhibit introverted or extraverted traits. For example, in the courses that I teach, people are often surprised when they learn that I am an introvert since I appear to be quite comfortable with public speaking and am usually most outspoken about the topics. While I may feel drained by the end of the day teaching, I actually get most energized from talking about the topics I teach.
The second MBTI letter deals with how you take in information and here is where a scientist like me can really shine. If you tend to gather a lot of facts to analyze a situation or make a decision, then you are an “S” which is what a lot of scientists are. However, if you tend to favor your own intuition rather than gathering facts, then you are an “N.” But someone who is too strong an “S” may gather too much data before making a decision and someone who is too strong an “N” may actually ignore critical facts that conflict with his or her own intuition.
The third MBTI letter reflects how you make decisions based on that information you either gathered or intuited. A “thinker” (T) will typically make the logical decision based on those facts. But a “feeler” (F) will let people’s feelings influence their decision even to the point of making a decision that conflicts with the facts. Being a “T”, I will almost always make the logical decision even if it might hurt someone’s feelings or be detrimental to them in some way. As a result, my peers and employees might view me as a heartless leader. The world needs both thinkers and feelers for balance.
The fourth and final letter is a bit less straightforward than the previous three and a little more difficult to understand how it affects our behaviors. Within the MBTI framework, it reflects how we deal with the world, either judging (J) or perceiving (P). But a much simpler way to think of it is how we organize our lives. If you are very organized (as I habitually am), then you are a “J” (e.g., a place for everything and everything in its place). If you don’t mind clutter (and sometimes not being able to find something), then you are a “P.”
I have so internalized this methodology that after knowing someone for only a brief time, I can usually guess his or her MBTI with about a 93.75% accuracy rate (only missing one letter out of the 16 different combinations). This is obviously the strong “S” in me coming out. For me, determining the first and last letters are fairly quick as it doesn’t take long to determine if someone is an extravert or an introvert and all I have to see is his or her desk to know if they are a “J” or a “P.” Past-observed behavior is what I typically rely on in identifying the middle two letters assessing someone’s fact gathering tendency and their proclivity to be overly influenced by people’s feelings.
This brief explanation is by no means a scholarly explanation but rather a simple guide to try to cognize MBTI. There are many, many books with much more details on how to understand and use this tool to not only build successful cross functional teams at work, but how to better communicate and get along with your spouse/partner. And there are even studies of MBTI subtypes (e.g., NTs vs. STs and NFs vs. SFs) that can help predict how individuals might deal with a given situation.
Soon after going through this training at work, it helped me figure out how to better communicate with my boss. With me being a fact gathering ISTJ, I would go to my boss to present my case for a decision sharing with him all the facts I had gathered. Before this training, repeatedly I would be frustrated because my boss, being an INTP, would not hear the facts because he was already making the decision based on his own intuition. Once I learned how he made decisions, I would still gather my facts to guide my decision but then would go to him and say if we didn’t decide to take a certain course of action, what the outcome would be. This he could hear and would often agree with my decision, the logical one based on the facts.
As I mentioned, the MBTI has also proven helpful in my personal life as well. On more than one occasion, it has helped me in conversation with my wife who is the exact opposite of me, an ENFP (opposites do attract). I know now not to act on the first idea she says as she is thinking out loud.
And when my daughter announced that she was engaged to a scientist, I was most pleased that she would be marrying someone with a similar MBTI type as me. And a funny anecdote validated this for me.
Soon after announcing their engagement, they came to see my wife and me and while we were outside in our pool, my wife asked me to bring her some ice to dump in the pool to cool off the water temperature. Before I could explain the fact of why several trays of cube ice would have minimal effect, both my future son-in-law and I were beginning to calculate in our mind the thermodynamic equation for how much ice it would actually take to lower the temperature of 30,000 gallons of water by just a single degree. I knew for certain right then that my daughter had made a very wise choice for a future husband.
And recently on a trip to California (and what served as the inspiration for this post), I was delighted to learn that my daughter-in-law was also an ISTJ. I genuinely smiled confident that she and I would get along quite well together in the future. But at the same time, I couldn’t help but smile thinking that since she was married to my oldest son (an INTP), that just like in my own interactions with my boss, the two of them would have some “interesting discussions” preceding decisions in the future. But since they both have knowledge of their own MBTI types and how it influences their decision making, I’m confident the decisions they make will be for the best of their family.