I’ve always been fascinated with psychology. The human mind is an amazing entity that no one truly understands. I don’t even know why I do the things I do sometimes, so it’s no surprise to me that there are plenty of mysteries still left to discover about how we think, what we feel, and why we act the way we do in certain situations.
One of the tools I was familiarized with in college that has given me great insight into how I view the world, interact with other people, and why I prefer certain situations over others is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI for short). Wikipedia has a great write-up on this topic if you’ve got quite a bit of time to kill. If you’ve heard of it but never taken the test, feel free to hop on over here for a 70 question form that shouldn’t take too long to fill out.
Essentially, the MBTI evaluates your personal preferences in four different categories along a sliding scale:
1. Extraversion/Introversion: This dimension is often refered to as one’s “attitude”. It’s how you relate to the world around you. If you tend to draw energy from action, and understand more external expressions of behavior, people, and things, you’re most likely an extravert. Conversely, if you’re more drawn to the world of ideas and reflection, you’re probably an introvert.
Note that it DOES NOT NECESSARILY FOLLOW that you have an extroverted (loud, boisterous, life-of-the party) personality if you are classified an extravert, and vice-versa. One usually follows the other, but not always.
2. Sensing/Intuition: These two paradigms exemplify how you prefer to gather information about the world around you. A preference for Sensing means that a person prefers to glean understanding from things that are concrete, in the here and now, and can be understood with one or more of the five senses. Intuitives, on the other hand, trust data that is more abstract and theoretical, that just seems to “make sense” without necessarily being backed up by easily demonstrable evidence These are the people that “follow their guts” and trust to hunches more often than not.
3. Thinking/Feeling: These traits quantify how we tend to make decisions. Once you’ve perceived information information in the prior dichotomy, you need to make a decision based on that information. Thinkers are more hands-off (some would say detached, remote, or even cold) and prefer to make decisions based solely on the facts of the situation, removing feelings entirely. Feelers, on the other hand, are just the opposite. How they feel about a situation has great baring on the decision that’s made, perhaps even to the point of outweighing the facts.
Basically, this boils down to weather you’re a softie or a hardcase.
4. Judgment/Perception: I’ll be honest: I get what these types are, but the names have never made sense to me. Those with a “judgment” bias tend to be structured, enjoy routine, and want all their ducks in a row. A “perception” bias means a person loves surprises, are willing to go with the flow, and are very flexible in their lives.
The MBTI asks a series of questions and finds out, based on your answers, where on the spectrum between the two extremes you are for each of the four groups. There are rarely people who score to one extreme or the other, and even if they do, no one really functions as (for instance) 100% introverted or extraverted.
So, why is this important to personal development and leadership? Well, two reasons that I can see.
First, if you understand your own personality type, you’ll begin to understand why some situations make you uneasy, while others cause you to feel right at home. You can engineer your surroundings and work to your strengths in order to give yourself the best chance to succeed in whatever you happen to be attempting.
For example, let’s say that you have a preference for judgment. You’re going to have difficulty work for/with individuals who tend to fly by the seat of their pants. You’re either going to need to re-evaluate who you work with, or make quite a few allowances for their tendencies.
This segues right into the second benefit. If you understand the tendencies of those around you, you can begin to better understand why it is they do the things they do. You can make allowances for their actions, and begin to use some “style switching” in order to better communicate with them.
Think of it this way: someone with an opposite preference from you is essentially speaking a different language. In order to communicate, you can either point and grunt a lot, get frustrated and have a 50/50 shot of actually getting something accomplished. Or, you can go about learning how they communicate and work on speaking to them in ways they understand. It’s more work on your part, but the results are almost surely better than what you’d achieve otherwise.
Over the next couple of weeks, I’m going to look at each of the four pairings a little bit more closely, and throw out some thoughts on how you can work on your style switching. So, if you’re not too familiar with the test and want to follow along with what we’ll be talking about, hit the link above before next Monday.
Any thoughts/prior experiences with MBTI, or other personality tools in general? I know that they’re certainly not a panacea, so if you’ve got any other thoughts about how to learn more about yourself, feel free to leave them in the comments…