Back in my undergraduate years, I’ve always been fond of personality types and categorizing people. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) was one of the first personality systems I’ve studied, and I couldn’t stop typing people as ‘introverted’ or ‘feeling’ for over a year!
I also noticed a great many that share my fondness, and confusion. Since the MBTI uses terms that are different from their everyday meaning, it has gotten is fair share of furrowed eyebrows. This article will focus on the common mistakes people make when using the MBTI.
If you’re already knowledgeable about this fun system of personality, you can go and skip to the last part. Otherwise, read on!
Some background on the MBTI
The MBTI was founded by the mother-daughter combo: Katharine Briggs and Isabel Myers Briggs. It was conceived based on Carl Jung’s (pronounced ‘karl-young’, I thought him Korean when I first saw the name) book and theory of “Personality Types”.
According to Jung, people are born different in terms of how we absorb information, and make decisions. Furthermore, our sources of energy vary. Some people recharge in solitude (introverts), and some when interacting with people (extroverts). We have Jung to thank for popularizing the ‘introvert-extrovert’ concept.
The MBTI was first published in 1943, but is still widely used in pop psychology and personality assessment. For serious assessments, I tend to rely on more advanced personality tests like the Big 5. However, I find there are only a few personality tests out there that match the MBTI’s colorful insights. I’ve also seen this test encourage a lot of understanding towards our friends and family, and I think that’s pretty great.
The MBTI Preferences
Similar to how we prefer using one hand over the other since birth, we are also born with preferences in four key areas of personality:
Sources of energy: Extroversion (E) – Introversion (I). This refers to our preferred world, and source of energy. Do you prefer the outer world of people and events, or the inner world of ideas and thoughts? Extroverts are energized by social interactions, while introverts through ‘me’ time. There are some who prefer to call themselves the ‘ambiverts’, feeling comfy living in both worlds indefinitely.
Gathering information: Sensing (S) – iNtuition (N). This preference suggests how we like to absorb information from the world. Do you prefer to focus on tangible information and facts from your five senses, or like to grasp the big picture instead through intuition? Sensors like to take the facts just as they are, while Intuitors like adding meaning to them through concepts or theories.
Decision making: Thinking (T) – Feeling (F). When deciding, do you base your choices more heavily on logic and objectivity, or through people and their circumstances? Thinkers always try to be fair and objective when deciding, while Feelers try to decide based on how people and relationships might get affected.
Life structure: Judging (J) – Perceiving (P). The last preference deals with how we like structuring our plans and efforts. Do you like tasks and schedules decided ahead of time, or prefer yourself to be undecided and flexible to what comes next? Judgers tend to be orderly and decisive, while Perceivers are adaptable and curious.
Find your MBTI type
Having a preference does not mean you can’t embody the opposite. It simply means your opposite preference might be a bit rusty if you haven’t been using it much. What’s your MBTI type?
According to multiple results I got, I’m an INFP. This is supposed to mean I prefer to be introverted and alone (I). I love theories and sometimes become impractical (N). I decide more with my heart than my head (F). And I prefer to adapt than to prepare ahead of time (P).
If you are not yet familiar with your MBTI type, you might want to try this free online personality test. Of course this isn’t the standardized test professionals use, but it’s the best one I’ve found that’s free!
Common mistakes in theory and application
You can use the insights from the MBTI in so many settings, such as profiling, guidance, and training. I know I’ve conducted some great team buildings with the help of this tool. All the same, I will focus on common points for misinterpretation in the MBTI tool.
If you aren’t new to the MBTI gig, check out if you’re guilty with any of these misinterpretations:
1. The MBTI is good for job placement.
The MBTI helps you to know what career might want to pursue. High schools frequently use this test for career guidance purposes. This is fine since the test measures preference. However, the MBTI should NOT be used for recruitment and screening purposes. Since the test is not a measure of skill or performance, it would be unethical to base your recruitment on MBTI results.
2. Feelers aren’t good at thinking.
“Oh, you got Feeling? That means you’re not good at thinking! *laughs at own joke*”
This joke is more common than you think. This couldn’t be farther from the truth though. The Feeling (F) preference means you like to decide based on your heart. Particularly, most Feelers like to base decisions on subjective values, and how the decision might affect other people. On the contrary, Feelers can think to great lengths especially for people they care about.
3. Thinkers are heartless.
When Thinkers exercise their objectivity a tad too much, they might be accused of being cold and heartless. However, Thinkers can always make decisions with the best intentions at heart. Some Thinking managers might fire employees rather easily, but try to reassure themselves, “This will benefit us both in the long run.”
4. Your results put you in a box.
The MBTI reports four innate preferences that we grow up. Much like the dominant hands we have, our dominant functions are often more developed than their counterparts. In the same way, our less developed function can be developed so we become better at them.
Oftentimes, we train our less developed functions as we grow older. Since I am a dominant Perceiver (P), I naturally like to be flexible and change my decisions along the way. As time passed, many tasks have forced me to schedule ahead of time, and stick to one decision, something characteristic of the Judging (J) function.
5. Typing people based on social comparison.
“I have a friend who is Feeling, but you don’t seem as sensitive and caring as she is. You must be a Thinker!”
The best person to confirm your type is yourself. You can even argue against your MBTI test results if you think it misrepresents you. The assumption is you are more aware of your personality than most.
6. My type has changed, the theory must be wrong.
There have been instances where people take the MBTI test again and get different results. Some people also report becoming a different type as they grew up. One may ask: “Doesn’t it say in the theory that our dominant functions are innate?”
The theory says we are born with our type preference much like we are born with our right-handedness. Our types do not change, but we are able to improve and make use of our lesser functions. An ISFJ can always strive to become more sociable and spontaneous, and so on.
The MBTI is one of the most popular personality test I know, probably due to its simplicity and availability. I’ve seen a great deal of people know more about themselves through this tool.
For further readings, I recommend reading “Gifts Differing” by the MBTI authors themselves, or “Type talk: the 16 personality types that determine how we live, love, and work”.
Do you know any more common mistakes people make in the MBTI? Feel free to comment below!
Kroeger, O., & Thuesen, J. M. (1998). Type talk: the 16 personality types that determine how we live, love, and work. New York: Dell Trade Paperbacks.
The Myers & Briggs Foundation – MBTI® Basics. (2004). Retrieved March 04, 2017, from http://www.myersbriggs.org/my-mbti-personality-type/mbti-basics/