Does Myers-Briggs really work or is it just a load of hocus-pocus?

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Why is it that the interpretation of a Myers-Briggs assessment can feel more like reading your horoscope than getting a clinically proven psychological profile to help you and your team?

Does Myers-Briggs really work or is it just a load of hocus-pocus?

In this article, I’m going to explain how a Myers-Briggs assessment and coaching package can change people’s lives and why, in many instances, it doesn't. MBTI coaching can help people and teams learn about themselves and act upon what they learn, so they can facilitate amazing changes in the way they support themselves and communicate with others.

But, to be honest, Myers-Briggs suffers from its own success. So many people have been trained in its use that it is often disconnected from the psychological type theory that informs it. More worrying, it is often used in ways it was never designed for - and much of the criticism of the Myers-Briggs stems from its misuse. This is especially true when doing an assessment online, it diminishes the result: giving a shallow and largely hollow summmary of your personality preferences.

Myers-Briggs, done well, makes you the expert. It allows you to open up new possibilities in your life, new knowledge of yourself and more chances for change, personal fulfillment and professional success. It is not meant to close people down or limit their potential or their chances for promotion. Let me introduce you to "Jane" who is a great example of what I mean.

"This really changed me for the better."

Jane (not her real name) manages a team in Bangkok. She reported that her stress response had stopped her being promoted. MBTI coaching helped her learn what triggers her and create a plan to manage a tendency for angry outbursts and panic under stress. You can imagine how confronting this was and how much courage it took. But Jane achieved her dream: she was promoted to senior management.

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A SHORT INTRO TO THE MYERS-BRIGGS TYPE INDICATOR

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a self-report questionnaire designed to make Dr Carl Jung’s theory of personality type useful in everyday life. Jung determined that the mind naturally works to maintain balance between conscious and unconscious tendencies. He described a system of opposites and demonstrated how, in our personality preferences, we tend to prefer one of a series of opposites when taking in information, when making decisions and living our everyday lives.

The most preferred of the preferences operates consciously: these are the preferences we love to present to the world. The least preferred of the preferences tends to operate unconsciously: we prefer to hide those parts of ourselves from others because they are the least used and developed. Unfortunately, those unconscious tendencies make themselves known when we’re stressed, tired, in a life transition, under pressure or otherwise feeling pretty unhappy - exactly when we need to be at our best. Nevertheless, there's much that's helpful in those unconscious tendencies that we can learn from.

The MBTI system was developed by Catherine Myers and Isabel Myers-Briggs in the 1940s and has been applied and improved for over 70 years and in more than 22 countries. Taking the MBTI assessment and receiving feedback can help you and your team to:

  • Identify your unique gifts and natural strengths.
  • Enhance your self understanding and understanding of others in your team.
  • Know what motivates you and what doesn’t.
  • Identify blind spots and stressors and plan to anticipate them.
  • Be aware of areas for potential growth and plan to change.
  • Appreciate others who are different from you and learn how to use those differences as a team strength.

Here's an example of how MBTI coaching can improve team dynamics and performance.

"We learnt to see differences as a strength."

Jeff had a problem. Margaret was indispensable to his team but everyone disliked her. So he booked a team MBTI program to find out why. The team learned that Margaret's personality preferences were unique. They shared their own preferences, understood each other better, built a plan to use their differences positively. Jeff reports the team is happier and has achieved a 15 percent increase in output in the last quarter.

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THE PROBLEM

The most common "mistake" people make when interpreting a Myers-Briggs result is to assume that the four letters (e.g. ESTJ or INFP) that you get at the end of the Myers-Briggs assessment define you. For example, stereotyping someone as an “introvert” unable to lead groups, chair meetings or publicly speak, or as an “extrovert” therefore unable to reflect or work alone.

The fact is that, while you and your team may have particular preferences for communicating, for taking in information or decision-making, you are capable of adaptation and change. You are capable of working “out of preference” where necessary.

A Myers-Briggs assessment and coaching can help you predict what you’re likely to prefer in your social life and in the workplace. But the emphasis on prediction has to be carefully understood. Who gets to predict your preferences, responses and behaviour is critical to the ethical use of the instrument.

The MBTI assessment is a validated and reliable tool to assess your subjective preferences. But your preferences are inside your mind so they can’t be observed by others. This means that only you can predict how you prefer to get energy, take in information, make decisions and relate to the world. Even people with the same personality type have differences in preferences and the strength of preferences.

You are the only expert here. Only you can tell others what is likely to help you function well, what may get in the way of your effective functioning and what is likely to stress you.

The Myers-Briggs assessment is not meant to be used as an excuse for bad behaviour or for not striving for positive change in ourselves. Especially where the Myers-Briggs assessment is completed online, people can decide that “Well, I can’t change or adapt - this is who I am - get used to it.” But the opposite of that is true.

Your preference tells you about your unique gifts and strengths. But it also tells you how you’re likely to get stuck, where you may have blind spots or when you may get stressed and act in ways that you later regret and that subsequently limit the intimacy of your personal relationships and chances at career progression.

The “take home” is that stereotyping leads to shallow and unhelpful platitudes akin to reading one’s horoscope in the daily newspaper. This is why many have criticized the MBTI as equivalent to going to see a clairvoyant or getting a tarot card reading.

"I don't wait so long to speak out loud now."

Arjun always felt undervalued and ignored - at school, in his family, at work. He knew he was smart but felt largely unacknowledged by others. MBTI coaching helped him identify how a preference for introversion and intuitive reflection might be contributing. He tested new skills in himself, more extraversion, thinking and sensing skills that helped him stay in the moment and confidently speak his truth out loud.

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WHAT THOSE FOUR LITTLE LETTERS REALLY MEAN

So now I want to get to how MBTI coaching can help you transform your own leadership and your team’s performance.

I find it best to understand the four letters you get at the end of the Myers-Briggs assessment like a passcode to your self – perhaps this is a little like typing the password in to your Facebook account: those four letters open up a world of possibilities, of options - a data stream of new information and learning about yourself.

The four letters of your personality preferences help you utilize your unique gifts and strengths. They help you anticipate the kinds of situations where you’re likely to perform well, which allows you to improve in your life and your workplace. But the four letters do much more than that.

Those four letters also unlock hidden, or “harder-to-hold” aspects of yourself. They open a pathway into yourself, so that you can look at both the conscious and the unconscious.

We all have things we don't like about ourselves, even things we wish we could remove from our personalities, but they emerge despite our best efforts to contain or conceal them.

A Myers-Briggs assessment and coaching program helps you to understand where you get stuck, what triggers you, how you will respond to stress and conflict and what kinds of communication in others is likely to irritate and frustrate you.

A Myers-Briggs coaching program helps you learn about your personal biases and blind spots so that you can work toward change. This, in turn, allows you to build a plan to anticipate those difficulties and create positive change and progress in your leadership capacity.

MYERS-BRIGGS TEAM ASSESSMENTS

In teams, Myers-Briggs can help to resolve conflicts, dramatically improve team performance and help your team use individual differences positively, so they can function more effectively.

In team-based Myers-Briggs assessment and coaching, the tool provides a supportive system for individuals to understand themselves better and communicate to the rest of the team what they’ve learned about themselves.

This, in turn, allows other people to understand and predict a person’s preferences, adapt themselves to support those preferences that may not feel natural to them, in order to support other team members.

Note again the emphasis is on individuals describing themselves – not others making diagnoses and predictions, without the consent or participation of the person themselves.

Scott Berry PhD | Certified MBTI Practitioner

Hi I'm Scott Berry and I'm a certified MBTI practitioner, based in Bangkok and working across the Asia Pacific. Thanks for reading through to the end of this article. Now you're here please contact me for a free, no-obligation consult about MBTI assessment and coaching. I'd love to hear from you.

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Read more about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator here.

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