Ed’s note: This post was written by guest editor Jo Green of Jo Green Coaching.
I’m intrigued by personality profiling tools designed to help unravel and map the mystery of who I am. As a typically complex and evolving human, I know there isn’t a single tool that can definitively answer questions, such as, “What am I good at? Where do I ‘fit’? Why do I thrive in some jobs and wither in others? Why does this person drive me to distraction?”
That said, among the many useful tools I use with my career coaching clients, I’ve found the Myers Briggs Type indicator (MBTI) both insightful and practical. While MBTI has its share of critics, it’s also a widely used tool that’s been researched and refined over decades.
When Katharine met Carl
MBTI is based on Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s theory of psychological types, which includes the core MBTI traits of introversion and extroversion. Its founders, Katharine Briggs and Isabel Myers, took Jung’s work as a starting point for developing a tool to build self-awareness and tolerance.
The MBTI questionnaire is designed to indicate your hard-wired preferences for four out of eight contrasting ways of sensing, intuiting, thinking and feeling. It will allocate you one of 16 personality types based on how your answers relate to the following questions:
- Where, primarily, do you direct your energy?
- How do you prefer to process information?
- How do you prefer to make decisions?
- How do you prefer to organise your life?
True to its psychological origins, MBTI essentially describes how you think about the world around you.
Being true to type
According to the MBTI, I am an ISFJ. This makes me practical, organised and private. As an analytical introvert, I’m a careful thorough planner with an eye for detail and heaps of quiet step-by step endurance when there’s a complex problem to sort out. I’ve also got a strong drive to get stuff done. Making a positive difference matters and I’ll work hard to get great results for projects and people. I’m good at asking the right questions and putting people at ease.
On the flip side, I’m not great at asking for the support I need and I tend to put myself last. If I forget to honour my introvert’s need for tranquil time out, I can get grumpy and withdrawn when I need to be gently assertive and set clear boundaries.
Structure makes me happy, chaos not so much.
Age and integration
MBTI assigns us a hardwired set of thinking and behavioural preferences. It also embraces the Jungian idea of integrating our lesser or opposite traits as we age. This aspect of MBTI appeals to me. It recognises that although we’ll always have a set of preferred ways of being, over time, we’re programmed to develop a full repertoire of ways to view the world.
My decision to transition to my own business is an example of age and integration in action. Despite my ISFJ’s innate preference for structure, security and order, I’ve moved into a professional space where new kinds of creativity, imagination and uncertainty are in play.
As I build my (classically ISFJ) coaching business, I need to burst out of my introverted bubble to network and grow my professional profile. My “passion for perfect” also has to go if I’m to balance my drive to get work things done with Jo-outside-of-work time! While I’ll probably never feel entirely at home in these “beyond comfort” zones, I’m learning to move more skilfully into them.
MBTI has taught me heaps about teamwork. Like most of us, I’ve worked with people I just didn’t get. I’ve had mysterious colleagues whose emails and behaviour in meetings baffled me.
After an MBTI workshop, I understood that, like me, my teammates were being true to type. The intuitive big picture thinkers actually weren’t hell bent on driving deadline- and detail-focused me round the twist. They just needed time to explore every angle, even the obtuse ones.
The Perceivers (as a ‘J’ I have to remember not to see ‘P’ for Procrastination) weren’t actually dead set on blocking me from getting a thorough, well-planned “business before pleasure” job done. Those long conversations and missed milestones often led to creative solutions. Despite their unsettling effects, I came to appreciate the P’s creative strengths, which often generated a better end result.
I recently had the chance to review 360 feedback from ex-colleagues. Typically for my type, I categorised their comments according to my MBTI personality. I instantly saw my ISFJ self in the way others described me. There were consistent references to my caring, harmonising contributions to the group and my obsession with planning and preparation. Going the extra mile, refusing to budge when I “know” I’m right, and “stress heading” as deadlines loom also got honourable mentions.
Two top tips
Remember that MBTI is an “indicator” pointing to our innate preferences for thinking and behaving. MBTI views these as similar to our dominant handedness. We can (and do) learn to use our non-dominant hand, but it never feels as natural.
Lots of factors impact and influence how we express our MBTI preferences. These include our upbringing and culture, especially our workplace culture. Before you complete an MBTI questionnaire, try switching to “shoes off” mode. This can help you answer as your personal, rather than your professional, self. Finally, try to answer each question with your “first to mind” response.
Jo Green, career change coach
I know how it feels to be lost in your career. That’s why I coach, to create learnings, action and help others get stuff done. Changing your career can be lonely and confusing, so I’ll walk alongside you, be your cheerleader and help you figure out what meaningful work is for you.