Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Understanding Personality (Meyers-Briggs)

I found the Myers-Briggs personality analysis an incredibly helpful tool in seminary, not only for understanding myself but for understanding others.  Why does my wife want to get together with others when I want to stay at home?  Why did I like trigonometry when my friends were asking when they were ever going to use this stuff?  Why does my mom like to take spontaneous side trips while my dad wants to reach his driving goals for the day?  Why can't some of my colleagues see that it doesn't matter whether they are right or wrong if they are outvoted?

Myers-Briggs gave me a framework once upon a time for processing these sorts of interpersonal dynamics.  They are massively helpful in figuring out what is going on sometimes in interpersonal conflict, as well as to know your own strengths and weaknesses.  The test gives you four letters--the formal version with scales attached, because you can be more or less.  I currently consider myself to be an INTP.

I have since learned more about this tool as I have been involved in implementing it into our spiritual formation sequence at Wesley Seminary at IWU.  One of the middle types, I've discovered, is a person's "dominant function."  So my I, T, and P are right down the middle and fluctuate.  The N is what most defines me.

N--This is my dominant function, and it stands for intuitive.  It is why I liked trig and calculus whether it applies to anything or not.  It is why I like theoretical physics but don't care much for botany or biology.  It is why I have started about thirty novels (the P is why I haven't finished any of them).

S--stands for "sensing."  It is the opposite of intuiting.  This is the concrete person who wants to know how something relates to the "real world."  Since N is my dominant function, the S is my "inferior function."  In the S domain lay my greatest weaknesses because it is the opposite of my greatest strengths.

T and F stand for "thinking" and "feeling."  This type has to do with whether you are a person who makes decisions primarily on the basis of what seems logical to you or on the basis of more relational dynamics.  Of course just because you are a T and you think something is logical doesn't mean it is.  For example, taking relational dynamics into account is quite logical, since they exist and you have to deal with them.

But herein are many a conflict.  Spouse F is blowing off steam to Spouse T.  Spouse T, rather than recognize that Spouse F just wants them to listen, begins to problem solve with them.  Sorry, this conversation is not about solving anything, it's about me feeling better.

So the S-N and T-F types are the ones where your dominant (and inferior) personality traits will lie.  Two other dynamics then complement these basics.  Are you an extrovert (E) or an introvert (I)?  This is not about whether you talk a lot but about where you draw your energy--from getting alone or from getting around people.  An extrovert can be quiet, and an introvert can be rather talkative (before then going off to crash somewhere).

Finally, do you like to reach closure on things (J for judging) or do you like to leave things open-ended to keep exploring or taking in more things (P for perceiving).  A J likes structure and organization, finishing what s/he starts.  A P likes spontaneity and informality, keeping options open.  The J likes to nail things down.

These are not necessarily fixed over a person's lifetime and can vary given a person's context.  I for example came out as an F in seminary, but a T more recently (I like to say that I take relational elements into account because it is logical ;-)  I tested as a J in seminary but more recently as a nominal P.

The fact that I could be a J at all often comes as a surprise to people, because I consider a preoccupation with policies and structures--and obsessive tidiness--a time-wasting and often counter-productive disease.  But, of course, these are J issues that relate to the S domain, which is of little interest to me.  What people often don't realize is that I very much insist on organization in my intuitive life as an NJ, in my ideas.  I actually went back and edited out an extraneous space from this post that was bugging me.

So these personality types are very helpful for self-analysis and interpersonal relationships.  On the other hand, if you are a ESTP, you will strongly disagree with the helpfulness and accuracy of this tool. ;-)

Here's a free, but therefore not as accurate, version of the test: http://www.humanmetrics.com/cgi-win/jtypes2.asp


FrGregACCA said...

I'm an INTP as well, Ken, and although this personality type is pretty rare, we are in good company. Einstein and Darwin for example. Perhaps Lincoln.

I KNEW there was something I liked about you! ;-)

Anonymous said...

Years ago, my wife and I certified to administer the MBTI. The biggest thing I think one can get out of it is the realization that other people have different perceptions of reality. Not in a post-modernist sense, but in a sense of the things that they focus on and retain.

Paul Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger had some interesting insights on married couples. My partner and I have found ways to bridge the I/E and T/F gaps once they were laid bare by Meyers-Briggs. However, the Tiegers found that the most successful relationships were between those who matched on their the N/S functions. It seems that you can adjust to differences in the way your partner reaches conclusions but when your very perception of the world is different, when you can't agree on the facts, things get rocky in a hurry.

I must admit that I keep a small piece of skepticism reserved for these kinds of tools. Not only is temperament not destiny, but the chance that MBTI could one day be proven false, no matter how seductive it seems, is still real.

Have you tread Isabel Briggs Myers' book, "Gifts Differing"? It is a lovely read. Also, "TypeTalk At Work" by Otto Kroeger is my go-to source for freshening my thinking on MBTI.

ENTP's Rule!
[When the ESTJ's are on vacation, that is... ;) ]

Mike L said...

Interesting post, Ken. I am using a similar tool called the Keirsey Temperament Sorter for my dissertation research. It uses the MBTI framework, but interprets the middle two letters as "clusters" from more of a behavioral perspective than does the MBTI. More to the point, I've often wondered how personality influences our faith...how and/or if we embrace it, how we interpret it, etc. Are you aware of any such studies that might have been done? I suppose you know where I'm going with this: could it be that some people are more predisposed to embracing faith than others?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Though nature endows us with certain 'facts' about us as individuals, I wonder and have asked about whether situations and education might change those natural facts...I was told that it might.

And the reason for asking this was that during an extremely emotional time, I took this test and wondered if my situatedness would affect the outcome. And it has.

Now, I wonder if it is the variable of education or my circumstances that has changed my natural tendencies.

Whether one is an E/I will probably remain categorically constant, but might vary in intensity due to situatedness. But, one's tendency to analyze theorhetical problems or be prone on focusing on producng a result won't vary that much.

I wonder if education would change the T/F tendencies? It seems it would if potential was there, because education would increase critical thinking. It seems it did change Ken. Anyone have research?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Now, if we try to understand personality withint contexts of developing the intellectual, faith, and moral, then how can we "fit" these natural tendencies into these frames of reference? Wouldn't this be where values clarification would come?

Faith, then, is not about dogma (faith in church/God via theology), or law (government's power via authoritarianism), but about reason (intellectual development) via commitment to personal values.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

And isn't such development end with Objectivism? The virtue of selfishness, is productive to society, beneficial for family provison, based on reason and objective reality for the end of the individual person!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I wonder how much is affected by social conditioning during childhood. Does one's brain have to do with Personality? I would think that one's brain can change if one is exposed to certain stimuli, as this is how social conditioning works.

But, suppose that a social environment chooses to do such experiementation, do they know ALL of the variables that were in the person's past social environment, and how these affected the person's personality, thinking or seeing/understanding the world? One's interpretive schema is 'set" during childhood about the child's value and importance.

But the child's early environment does set a schema where they child understands "self" and "world". Is the world trustworhty, and is "self" important or valued? What do traditions teach that would affect a child's percepton of the world and themselves? This is an important aspect to emotonal development and a child's coming to terms with himself.

So, one can have a personality, but how personality itself is understood is n question as well as the development of personality. Does personality equal the person? What is the person, just exactly?

JohnM said...

Interesting how you said "I currently consider myself to be an INTP". Have you changed your mind or gotten inconsisent results from various tests? I have, and I've never been able to settle what Myers-Briggs type I am. Never taken a professionally analyzed test though. This one pegs me as INTJ, but I don't think I am. Maybe I should say I dont FEEL I am, since the description of an INFJ seems to fit me better ;)

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I also wonder is being moderate or between the two extremes makes one "more balanced" or "whole" psychologically. I mean the theories in psychology lend themselves to different stances toward Ego...

Do counselors give this test before they counsel their clients, so that they know where their clients tendencies are? and what is the goal, then of the counselor, when two people of different personality types conflict....? And even then, what of background "junk" that impinges on individuals...what is emotional or psychological health?

Spiritual or religious people also have their "answers"....but I've tried those!!!

What everything boils down to is politics (allegiences) and political philosophy (how one sees the world)....

Ken Schenck said...

John, I have always tested as an IN, but the T/F and J/P have fluctuated. I would go with the one that you think best describes you ;-)