First, a little assessment. What do you think of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®?
- What’s that?
- I love that!
- Oh no, not that!
Let’s look at these options and unpack what each choice indicates.
We are all different and unique creatures—every coach knows that—but there are certain personality patterns that have been observed for more than 2,500 years that identify how human beings “tick.” This ancient knowledge may be the closest approximation to a human “user manual” we’ll ever have.
Isabel Briggs Myers made this body of knowledge accessible by creating the mother of all self-reporting instruments, the MBTI. It was informed by Carl Jung’s psychological theories, the outcome of which is a four-letter “code” based on contrasting personality dimensions. Isabel’s contribution was intended as a remedy to World War II. She believed that if we understood each other, peace would reign in the land.
The MBTI is a class B psychological instrument, requiring a particular level of education to administer. It is a serious instrument that has been scientifically researched and rigorously validated. Since its release in 1958, its use has grown and it’s now taken by approximately 2 million people every year.
An enormous bank of data has been collected from the assessment—from statistics regarding its accuracy to sociological data identifying common occupations. There are no “right” answers on the Indicator, as every outcome represents normal and healthy ways to be in the world. This distinguishes it from most other assessments and contributes to its enduring popularity. It provides a highly egalitarian approach to exploring human differences.
“I love that!”
I’m in this category myself because I love it, too. Unfortunately, some people who love the MBTI enthusiastically perpetuate its mis-use without realizing it. It is frequently trivialized as little more than a parlor game, sometimes via inventive knock-offs. Sometimes the Indicator is administered by unqualified people, which is unethical and may cause psychological harm. And even qualified, experienced practitioners have been known to pass out results like they are absolute and unassailable. And all these acts are usually performed with the best of intentions!
As coaches know, the way we talk reveals the way we think, and the language people commonly adopt around type reduces its value. People get attached to some of the dimensions and speak of them as if that’s who they are, rather than identifying them as a preferred way of interacting. The dimensions are sometimes used to pigeonhole or disparage certain people. The benefits of the model are lost when it is abused in this shameful (but popular!) way. If you selected this option, I invite you to depart from traditional methods of describing type and discover what’s happening on the cutting edge. It’s not too late to fix what’s wrong.
The amazing thing about type is that even when applied poorly, it’s still valuable! Sometimes the greatest benefit derived from encountering type is the simple insight that people have different “operating systems.” Many people love type because they’ve grasped the inherent value of this concept and want to share the thrilling news.
Type is a powerful tool for shifting perspectives about how we see ourselves and how we relate to others. When used appropriately, the revelations about who we are and how we show up in the world seem limitless.
“Oh no, not that”
Many people are familiar with the MBTI—after all, it’s been around for 50 years and has entered the mainstream in its popularity. People say, “What’s your MBTI?” as if asking for a phone number. It’s even been lampooned in “Dilbert”! In fact, it’s so popular that it has become unpopular with some people, since its use often deteriorates into stereotype and becomes an embarrassing source of discrimination rather than encouraging an appreciation of differences as originally intended. No wonder some people are uncomfortable being with it!
Some will choose this response to the assessment because they have “done type.” They may experience type as limiting, see it negating our individual uniqueness, or may hold a perspective that personality type codes are static, making no allowances for adaptation. Thus, they miss out on the capacity and richness of this multi-faceted model.
The important thing about the MBTI (which eludes many people) is the model that stands behind it. The MBTI is merely a tool that gets at something much deeper than just a four-letter code! My own methods don’t even map preferences to four dimensions—I use eight dimensions (unfamiliar to most people) and reference four interconnected models whenever I interact with a type code. Forcing everybody into 16 discrete boxes is not what discovering type is all about.
Although you may be jaded by the MBTI, I invite you to take another look. You may not know that some of the most innovative work done with type happened in the past decade! Modern type experts are returning to Jung’s original work, incorporating his notions of preference, adaptation and environmental influence into new and exciting applications. (It’s worth noting that Jung never intended his theory to be used to type people; he saw it as a way to type psychological content.) The MBTI is still vital and relevant, providing a solid, time-tested foundation for new developments and remarkable breakthroughs.
How type facilitates coaching
Assessments are useful only to the degree they accurately mirror a person’s true preferences. And sometimes the MBTI fails to achieve that. Good type practitioners expect and are prepared for this outcome, and know how to artfully coach clients to a best-fit result—one that hopefully culminates in an “aha” experience (that delightful sense of discovering something new and true about ourselves).
The rigorous training program I underwent for my MBTI qualification required me to know the model well enough to assess a person’s type correctly without even using the MBTI. Since the MBTI is accurate maybe 70% of the time, this is prudent wisdom.
Coaching is a powerful tool for self-discovery and growth. The same may be said about type. In my practice, type operates as a meta-model—always running silently in the background, alongside the Co-Active model. It connects my coaching to a “bigger picture” of who my clients are, occasionally allowing me to educate them about normal differences, even helping them discover new aspects of themselves.
One of the premises of the type model is that all types are normal and healthy. This dovetails perfectly with the Co-Active cornerstone that every client is naturally creative, resourceful and whole. Actualizing a client’s type potential to the fullest always shows up in their “Big A” agenda.
Type informs and supports the Co-Active principles. It helps me guess what clients “can’t be with” when doing Process work. In Fulfillment, I have the advantage of knowing certain values are implicit, depending on my client’s type preferences. With Balance, new perspectives might include exploring a less-preferred type dimension.
Type is only useful to the extent it connects with one’s own personal story and offers useful insights about our ways of being in the world. (If this connection is not made, it can leave people cold.) Clients who have participated in a Self-Discovery Process® with me can attest to the profound value of the self-knowledge they have gained as a result. I invite you to visit my website and explore further, as psychological type is one of my all-time favorite topics.
Vicky Jo Varner is qualified and certified to use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® and the Interstrength Methodology. She presents personality type workshops regularly at international conferences, and Co-Actively coaches clients through the Self-Discovery Process®. Sometimes known as the “Type Fairy,” she has INFJ preferences and strives to always “dance in the moment.” Her website may be found at www.TypeInsights.com. She offers a free mini-course on “The Origins of Personality Type,” as well as a variety of self-discovery packages.
Self-Discovery Process® is a registered trademark of the Temperament Research Institute.
Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® and MBTI® are registered trademarks of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Trust. CPP, Inc. is the exclusive publisher of the MBTI® instrument and is the exclusive licensee of its associated trademarks.