Anyone who has been involved in a management course or further education programme will have seen and possibly taken any number of aptitude or psychometric tests. For example, Belbin’s Team Inventory, which seeks to identify your role within a team or Strengthfinder.20, which identifies an individual’s strengths.
In my role as a trainer I have looked into a number of these and have recently become interested in the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, which is the subject of this two part article. Today’s piece will cover in very broad brushstrokes what the MBTI is about and the following month’s will focus on the practical uses to which it can be put.
The MBTI is a hugely popular and widely used tool. My research suggests as many as 50 million people around the world have taken it. It has been translated into 20 languages with variations to ensure validity and reliability for different cultures when straight translation may not have worked. It is, however, very different from those instruments that seek to describe and measure particular traits, abilities or competencies. It has been designed to identify people’s different preferences for using mental processes. In the developer Isabel Briggs Myers’ own words it is designed “to make the theory of psychological types by C. G. Jung practical and useful in people’s lives”
There are eight preferences that are defined by the MBTI®, which are described by letters that are in dichotomous pairs. The areas they cover are outlined below:-
1. Where you draw your energy from? (E or I)
2. Where you tend to focus to get your information (S or N)
3. Prioritisation of information in decision making (T or F)
4. Finally your life management strategy – planned or spontaneous (J or P)
Taking the instrument gives rise to a four letter description – a type for each individual – for example ISTP.
The preferences are not measured by quantity; they are used to describe equally legitimate ways in which different people use their minds. The instrument does not say how good anyone is at using their preferences, or how much of each anyone has. The theory expounded by Jung and used as the basis for the indicator is that these preferences are innate and that the various combinations of preferences are dynamic and interact with each other in different ways. Roger Pearman, MBTI expert and award winning researcher and writer, describes these as “habits of mind which are sufficiently consistent to give each of us a psychological typology”
The instrument is called an indicator specifically because the form provides an indication of type, which is then confirmed or otherwise in a face to face interview. During the interview, individuals are invited to explore their experiences and preferences and to reach agreement as to whether the type identified by the results is in fact a true fit for them. The reason that it is conducted in this way is that its designers and practitioners acknowledge that no single test or framework could possibly capture human experience and knowledge and believe that you are the expert on your own experience of the world. Additional ethical rules surround the indicator and cover confidentiality of the information revealed and uses to which it can be put. Practitioners have to pass a qualifying exam to be able to purchase and administer it.
In my view type theory is valuable for individuals as it provokes thought about our preferences and can indicate areas for development. Development using type focuses on the theory that we all use all of the different functions and processes but that we are more comfortable with some than others. It promotes awareness of our dominant “go to” preferences and encourages sensitivity as to when using others might be more appropriate.
In addition the language and fields of reference of MBTI help us to talk about the differences from and similarities to others with which we all have to deal every day, which can be of great value in both for individual development and in team and supervisory situations. I would not say that knowing about type will necessarily teach you huge amounts you don’t already sense or know from observation and life experience. However, it does provide a framework for insight and consideration and can help illustrate and encourage you into different ways of communicating and approaching situations. MBTI type will not provide all the answers but can be a very effective part of the tool kit.