Personality Tests (e.g. the MBTI) – What can they tell you?

The first thing I will say about personality tests is that they are simply tools which we can use to try and better understand ourselves. Like tools, some work better than others, and some have more specific uses. Our personalities are incredibly complex and no tool can describe that complexity. If any personality test doesn’t seem to mesh with how you see yourself, probably the first thing to do is question the test and not yourself.

One of the most commonly used tests is the Myers -Brigg Type Indicator (MBTI®) which focuses on four aspects of personality based on the work of psychologist Carl Jung. These aspects are

Introversion/Extroversion – are you outgoing and enjoy dealing with lots of people (extrovert) or do you prefer time to yourself and typically have a few close friends (introvert)?

Sensing/Intuition -how do you gather and process information about the world around you? Do you focus on the basic information/details of what you observe around you (sensing) or do you tend to interpret it and create a big picture view (intuition).

Thinking/Feeling – What is more important when you make decisions, logic and consistency (thinking) or how people are affected by those decisions (feeling)

Judging/Perceiving – Do you like to get things sorted and finished (judging) or do your prefer to stay open to new opportunities and information (perceiving)?

Typically a Myers -Brigg test will consist of a series of questions designed to understand where you sit on the continuum for each of these four dichotomies. These should however be viewed as continuua and not either/or categories. For example, the same person may be introverted in some circumstances and not others, and while they take into account only the facts in most decisions, in some case they may put the feelings of others first. The test simply is a tool for understand which can help us understand some of our general preferences.

Note – The MBTI has received significant criticism within the psychology community regarding how valid it is as a description of indicator of personality. A detailed description of this can be found here.  However, others continue to defend it (e.g. here). I personally think it has some merit as a framework for reflecting on how I think and behave, however, if you use the MBTI and find it isn’t useful, then my advice would be to ignore it.

My Myers Brigg test about 15 years ago determined that I was INTP which seemed like a fairly accurate assessment. I am introverted, generally preferring to spend time by myself or with small groups of close friends. I tend to take a big picture view of situations (more N than S) and tend to like to stay open to new opportunities (P more than which means I tend to finish tasks as close to the deadline as possible. On the Myers-Brigg test my thinking/feeling leans slightly towards thinking which means that although I favour logic and reason in my decisions, I still tend to take into account the effect those decisions have on the people involved. Interestingly enough a more recent test suggested that I am now INFP. This is an interesting potential change, particularly as my roles over the past 8 years have involved working with people more, and I have reflected that I probably do consider more the effect my decisions have on people than I did 15 years ago. Of course one of the criticisms of the MBTI is that people can unconsciously sway the result, so it is possible I unconsciously tweaked the results to match how I perceive myself to be.

The Myer-Brigg personality indicator (MBTI®) has been used to help decide what career choices might best suit you (“What’s your Type of Career?” by Donna Dunning) and also to better understand how to work effectively with others, however, beware the danger of categorising yourself or others based on this test. It is best used as a tool to reflect on these different aspects of personality not to stick yourself in a box and unnecessarily limit your choices in life.

There are a number of websites which provide information about, and testing of the Myers-Brigg Type Indicator. The Myers & Brigg Foundation is probably a good place to start. Commercial tests are available online, for a cost and probably are more reliable that the free tests you may come across (although this one seems ok).

Give it a go and let me know what you think. But NEVER let it limit you. For example, just because you are an introvert doesn’t stop you from being a leader – Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Eleanor Roosevelt are all introverts who have led in their own distinct ways.


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