What's your type? Personality testing has benefits

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 25, 2012

By Katie Scarvey
Can a personality test help us all learn to get along?
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a questionnaire that attempts to measure psychological preferences in how people take in information and make decisions. It’s indebted to the typological theories proposed by Carl Jung many years ago.
The instrument was developers by Katharine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers during the second World War as a way to help women entering the workforce figure out which jobs would most suit them. That effort grew in 1962 into the first MBTI.
It’s become a very popular assessment. In fact, the majority of Fortune 100 companies are said to utilize it, either for selecting employees or in helping employees understand themselves and their co-workers.
Not all psychologists agree on its usefulness, but it would be hard to argue that it can’t give some insight into how people process information and view the world.
The Myers-Briggs and similar tests look at four different areas and yield 16 possible combinations. The four areas determine whether one tends toward:
• Extraversion or Introversion (E-I): Where does your energy and attention tend to go? To the outer world of people and things or the inner world of ideas and impressions?
• Sensing-INtuition (S-N)
How do you gather information or data? Directly as facts, details, and experience (Sensing) or indirectly, through seeing relationships, patterns and possibilities (INtuition)?
• Thinking-Feeling (T-F)
How do you tend to make decisions? Through objective, “just-the-facts” logic (Thinking) or subjective, person-focused values (Feeling)?
• Judging-Perceiving (J-P)
Do I feel more comfortable planning and organizing (Judging) or do I have a more flexible outlook that allows me to stay open to options (Perceiving).
Even if you’ve isolated a person’s preferences, you can’t necessarily predict his or her behavior based on them. While a person might show a preference for perceiving over judging, that doesn’t mean he or she can’t meet a deadline or make a decision. And the person with the judging preference can certainly exhibit flexibility. .
Determining how valuable the Myers-Briggs is as a tool is a tough question, says Dr. Sheila Brownlow, a psychology professor at Catawba College who has used the MBTI in some research projects.
For career counseling, she believes there are better choices, like instruments based on Holland’s Occupational Themes.
Brownlow points out that people have a lot of misconceptions about Myers-Briggs types, including “seeing introverts as people who are by necessity quiet and who have few friends” or believing that people who are intuitive or feeling don’t draw conclusions based on fact and reason .
Brownlow cautions that these are sweeping generalizations.
The key, she says, is not simply to understand your own preferences and views of the world and those of others “but to be able to integrate opposite views into your personality.”
“A fully-human person is one who understands, embraces and integrates opposites,” she says.
Brownlow explains sensing vs. intuition:
“How you perceive the world is either, typically, by a focus on facts and empirical observations (data collection, so to speak—what is real—that is the S for sensing) or by attempting to synthesize relationships that are not always apparent—to see what might or should rather than what is—that is the N for intuition.
“Real problem solving takes both processes, but typically we use one go-to process which ultimately limits the way we obtain information before we do things.
“And if you are dealing with people—in your family, at work—who perceive the world differently than you do, then you really have an issue before you even get going to discuss a course of direction or a problem, because you aren’t taking in information the same way.
“So, the MBTI is useful in this respect to understand how you and others perceive the world…useful if you then work to try it another way.”
Brownlow points out that some people do not have strong preferences, which is why is why the MBTI should be administered by someone who is qualified to do so.
Otherwise, Brownlow says, it “becomes a party game where people exchange types like they do zodiac signs.”
The best benefit of the MBTI is that understanding how others process information differently can lead to better understanding of others and help create more positive work, home, school or social climates.
Former Post publisher Jimmy Hurley used to utilize personality testing with employees and potential hires, says editor Elizabeth Cook, who found the practice helpful.
Diana Storey has taken the Myers-Briggs several times over a period of a dozen or so years through work, she says,
“I’ve had the same outcome every time — ESTJ, but one point from being ENTJ.”
A quick glance at the profiles suggests that Storey is likely to be traditional, practical, loyal, organized, capable and happiest when in charge.
“When you read the profiles they’ve got me pegged,” Storey admits.
The fun aspect of the profiles aside, Storey believes that the tests have helped her when her staff has taken them.
“It’s helped me in management,” Storey says.
“You begin to better understand how certain folks function, and especially their preferences for getting things done.”
Some staff conflicts are probably predictable if you look at Myers-Briggs results, Storey says, and knowing how various personality types interact can be helpful to a manager in recommending changes in approaches among team members “to achieve more positive outcomes in collaboration.”
For example, one can learn how to get the “sensitive, touchy-feely person not to drive the ‘give me the facts and figures and go away’ person completely batty….
“Maybe it’s just pop psychology,” Storey says,”but pretty darn good pop psychology if that’s the case.”