Saturday, September 19, 2009


Some years ago, I participated in a Team Building seminar hosted by a former employer.  For those who have never had the dubious pleasure of participating in one, a Team Building seminar is a sort of sabbatical from the normal office routine, usually lasting between three and five days, during which fellow office workers commune to express their loathing of each other in a free and open forum.  No, I'm just kidding!  It's really sort of a group therapy session for co-workers so that they can better understand each others' needs, priorities and motivations.  It strives to dig a bit deeper into the psyches of people than is normal in a regular working environment.  I must admit, though, that certain frustrations and resentments were expressed during the exercise, and tears were shed before it was over.  Let me also state, for the record, that the organization in question didn't become a "former" employer because I was just a little too "open and honest" about my pent-up frustrations and resentment of the boss, if you take my meaning.

A few days before the seminar officially started, the participants were handed a multi-page questionnaire and a mark sense form.  The questionnaire consisted of questions such as:

Which would you most enjoy doing?

a) Building a bridge
b) Balancing a budget
c) Caring for a roomful of children
d) Solving a puzzle
e) Drinking margaritas on a Mexican beach

Well, okay, the choices were rarely as cut-and-dried as option "e".  The point is, the participants had to color in the appropriate letters on the mark sense forms which, I presume, were then put through some kind of computer program which in turn compiled the results into a detailed analysis of each respondent's personality traits; analytical, micro-manager, den mother, flaming homosexual, probable axe-murderer and so on.

In fact, the goal of the questionnaire was to work out each person's Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or "MBTI".  Until then, I had never heard of the MBTI.  For those of you who still haven't heard of it, the MBTI is a four-letter classification system that seeks to profile a person's natural proclivities.  For example, a person's MTBI may be INTP, ESTJ, ISFP or WIMP (well, okay, I don't think WIMP is a possible outcome ... unfortunately).

Each of the four letters indicates a specific personality trait.  The first identifies whether an individual is an Introvert ("I") or an Extrovert ("E").  The second identifies whether a person is iNtuitive ("N" - hey, "I" had already been taken) or Sensing ("S").  The third letter identifies whether a person is Thinking ("T") or Feeling "F") and the last identifies whether a person is perceptive ("P") or judging ("J").  Each of these four characteristics should be thought of as a scale, rather than a black-and-white, one-or-the-other type attribute.  For example, a person need not be completely introverted or extroverted.  One might lean toward extroversion with occasional introverted tendencies, or one might sit smack dab between the two extremes.

So why do we call this collection of four letters the "Myers-Briggs Type Indicator", you may well ask?  Well, basically, because the whole system was conceived of by Katherine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers during the second world war.  Apparently, each lady could only handle a maximum of two letters.  Putting together four required a joint effort.  But seriously, I found the Myers-Briggs concept interestingly enough that it has stayed with me over the years that have since passed and I've decided to record what I learned here, in the hopes that you, my readers, might share my fascination.  I'll warn you in advance that this post is going to be one of my longer ones and, even then, it will only give a cursory explanation of what Myers-Briggs is all about.  If you're pressed for time or looking for something a bit briefer and less involved, you can always skip to one of my shorter, less in-depth posts, like the one about the Dick Test.  For the rest of us, let's begin by looking at each of the four categories profiled by the MBTI and what each tells us about a person.

Introversion vs. Extroversion
Most of you probably think you know the difference between an introvert and an extrovert.  Introverts are generally perceived as insecure mama's boy, Norman Bates types who shut themselves away from the world until one day they show up at work wielding a double-barreled shotgun and a hatchet, whereas extroverts are seen as outgoing, loudmouthed used car salesman types who crush every hand that they shake and like to talk about themselves a lot. 

Actually, Myers-Briggs defines introversion vs. extroversion more in terms of where a person gets his or her energy or how a person "recharges his or her batteries".  Extroverts, according to Myers-Briggs, get energized by social interaction.  They crave surroundings with lots of other people and they frequently enjoy being the center of attention.  Solitude and silence saps their energy.  Introverts, on the other hand, crave solitude, quiet and reflection.  Social interaction wears them down.

To illustrate, our seminar instructor told us a story about a group of people that was asked to describe their perfect weekend getaway. The extroverts in the group spoke of parties, road trips, night clubs, hedonistic orgies and general merrymaking involving the company of others. The introverts, of course, described quiet, peaceful activities, either alone or with just one or two very close friends.

One particularly introverted woman described her perfect getaway as spending a quiet weekend alone with her husband at their cottage. In the mornings, they would share a light breakfast and a cup of coffee on the patio whilst taking in the soothing sound of the birds and the surf from the nearby lake. In the afternoons they might enjoy a bicycle ride through a nearby nature trail or perhaps some time on the lake in their sail boat. In the evenings they would have supper and share a bottle of wine with soft music playing in the background. Finally, on Sunday afternoon, they would return to their city home early enough so that there would be time to relax and recover from their "hectic" weekend.

Intuition vs. Sensing
The second letter in the MBTI tells us about how a person perceives the world around themselves.  On one end of the scale, we have intuition.  Intuitive people think in the abstract.  When they look at a scene or scenario, they don't always see what there is but, rather, what could be.  Intuitive people are all about possibilities.

Sensing people, on the other hand, are like Dragnet's Joe Friday.  They want the facts, ma'am, just the facts.  They are sticklers for detail.  They're concerned with what is, not with what might be. 

To illustrate, our group was shown a picture of a room full of chairs, arranged in rows and columns, all facing the same way and each person was asked to describe what they saw.  The intuitive people talked about concepts.  The room might be a live theatre or perhaps an auditorium where some public figure or acknowledged expert was about to give a speech.  They tended to miss details like the time indicated on a clock that was in the picture or whether the floor was hardwood or parquet or even the fact that the room happened to be on fire.  Okay, okay, the room wasn't really on fire.  If it had been, the intuitives might have commented that the room had a cozy atmosphere and might be pleasant on winter evenings.

The sensing people, on the other hand, did note the time shown on the clock.  They also described precisely how many rows and columns of chairs there were.  Many of them did the math and gave the exact total number of chairs.  Some of them noted that it was unclear as to whether there might be more chairs outside of the field of view, and that it was therefore impossible to determine the exact number of chairs in the room.  None of them worried about why the chairs were all empty or what the room's purpose was.  They reminded me of Spock from the old Star Trek series and the way in which he used to read out in exacting detail the size, mass, composition, closure speed and estimated time of impact, to the second, of the meteorite that was heading for the Enterprise's main bridge.  What might happen when the impact occurred seemed of secondary importance.

Thinking vs. Feeling
The next characteristic that Myers-Briggs looks at has to do with how a person makes decisions; either based on fact and observation (thinking) or by "gut feel" (feeling).  Thinkers are objective and detached.  They look at the facts.  They may refer to precedent.  They rely on logic.  Feelers often base their decisions on empathy.  They look for the intangible.  They put themselves in the shoes of the people that might be affected by a decision.  They rely more on their emotions.  They can often give no justification for their decisions other than "it felt like the right thing to do".  Thinkers hate when Feelers are right.

Consider the following scenario:  You have been tasked with hiring a computer security specialist for your organization.  One of the applicants that you interview is obviously extremely knowledgeable about networks, data encryption, firewalls and computer security concepts in general.  While being interviewed, he readily admits that his wealth of knowledge and experience comes from having been a hacker who managed to access the credit card data of a major bank's customers and defrauded the bank of hundreds of thousands of dollars before he was caught.  The jail time that he served convinced him to mend his ways and he now seeks to use his knowledge of computer security systems to prevent others like himself from circumventing them.  Do you hire him, or not?

A Feeler might empathize with the applicant.  He certainly has the credentials to do the job, and knowing the methods of the criminal world might prove an additional asset.  His free and open admission about his past and his prison record might be taken as evidence that this person has truly been reformed.  The Feeler's gut may well tell him to trust this applicant and give him a second chance.  The Feeler's gut may feel somewhat knotted the following month, however, when the new security specialist fails to report in one morning and it is discovered that the organization's bank accounts have been drained and closed, and the Feeler's boss wants to know what idiot decided to hire the crook.

A Thinker might look at the applicant's track record to date.  He's shown himself to be untrustworthy.  He is, in fact, a convicted felon.  This makes it all the more likely that his desire to reform is just a ruse and that his true goal is to gain access to the computer system so that he can defraud your organization too.  A Thinker might well send the applicant on his way and hire the next applicant, who appears equally competent but has no criminal record.  A Thinker might later learn that his reservations about the convicted felon were quite justified when the applicant whom he did hire turns out to be the felon's partner who also applied for the position, just in case it turned out that honesty wasn't the best policy after all.

Judgement vs. Perception
The last characteristic profiled by Myers-Briggs indicates a person's decision-making style.  Judging people prefer things settled and finished.  Perceptive people prefer to keep decisions open which, I suppose, is another way of saying that they're wishy-washy and indecisive, but "perceptive" sounds so much nicer, doesn't it?  Judging people, on the other hand, will tell you that it's much better to rush to a quick decision and then to doggedly follow through, never changing one's mind, no matter how the situation might change nor what new information may present itself.  "My mind is made up, don't confuse me with the facts!" is their motto.

It's important to note that Myers-Briggs deals with proclivities and tendancies as opposed to actions. Each person has natural tendencies in the four areas concerned, but those tendancies can be overridden by conscious effort. A person may be naturally introverted, yet make a concerted effort to network and schmooze. An introvert can still act like an extrovert. Myers-Briggs concerns itself with what comes naturally to a person rather than how that person actually behaves.

There's a simple, yet effective demonstration of this concept that you can try right now, if you'll humor me for a moment. Take your hands from the keyboard, let go of your mouse and fold your arms across your chest. Go ahead. Do it.

Did you fold your arms? Good. Now fold them the other way; that is to say, if you folded your arms with the left forearm in front of the right forearm, this time fold them with the right forarm in front of the left one.

You probably managed that too, but it was a lot more awkward, wasn't it? You can fold your arms either way, but only one way comes natrually. The other requires concentration and effort and, even then, it still feels wrong.

Would you like to know your own Myers-Briggs type? You can find out by taking the test on-line here, where you'll not only learn your Myers-Briggs type but you can also get a detailed description of your profile and some examples of famous people who are also your type (yes, gentlemen, I'm sure you're all hoping that you turn out to be Heidi Klum's type). The test probably works best if you take it without any preconceptions. Having read this far, it will be obvious what some of the questions are trying to establish. Obviously, you'll get more accurate results by answering each question as honestly as possible.

After the Team Building seminar ended, one of my co-workers wondered aloud what the point of the Myers-Briggs test was.  "Why would I care whether Tom is an ESTJ or an ISFP?"  He was obviously in ISTJ, or possibly an ESTJ.  And therein lies the answer to his question.  Once one understands the Myers-Briggs profile, one can learn to recognize specific personality types.  This recognition, coupled with an understanding of the Myers-Briggs profile, enables us to understand what motivates the person, how that person thinks, how they arrive at decisions, indeed to predict what they will do in various situations.  This understanding, then, enables us to play them like a Stradivarius; to pull their puppet strings and make them dance to our tune; to manipulate and subjugate every person we encounter and, ultimately, to bend other puny mortals to our wills and ultimately rule the world!  MUHAHAHAHAHAAAAA!!!


Tubes said...

ENTJ The J surprised me, but it was only 22%.

Martin said...

Interesting. However, after four years of university psych, I find myself unable to take this kind of a test without those preconceptions you warn about.

Anonymous said...

I guess you're ENTP...Am I right?

Halmanator said...

Close! INTP, actually, but only a very slight "I" (about 15% or so).