I am a Master Practitioner of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®). Here’s my response to Adam Grant’s recent post about his “break-up” with MBTI®.

First, some background:

  • I would like to preface my comments by saying I do not believe Prof. Grant meant any intentional inaccuracy or wrongdoing. I am simply hoping to correct some misconceptions as someone who has put in a lot of time and effort to study and apply the instrument with my clients.
  • In my opinion, ANY personality assessment is better than none, because I believe the value of self-awareness cannot be understated for personal and professional growth. Therefore, I do not identify as some kind of MBTI® cheerleader. I find this particular assessment to be most helpful for teams and for my executive coaching clients who have been given feedback on their perceived “weaknesses” to address.
  • I am only responding to this tweet itself for sake of brevity. The article behind it was so much longer that it would involve a series of blog posts to respond. Let’s see what people think of this and I’ll go from there.

With that said, I want to address misunderstandings about the instrument in Prof. Grant’s tweet:

  • “Each trait exists on a continuum shaped like a bell curve.” That statement is true about traits. However, the MBTI® is based in type theory, not traits, so it does not appear on a bell curve (or normal distribution, for you statistics fans out there). Plotted out, it actually looks like an inverted bell curve, with most people having clear preferences on either left or ride side of the graph, and with a gap in the middle representing that nobody can prefer both sides equally. (It’s in the very definition of “prefer.”)
  • “You’re more likely to be an ambivert than an introvert or extravert.” Points for spelling extravert correctly, but again, this is a misunderstanding of the instrument. We all can — and do — leverage all 8 letters represented in MBTI®. So yes, everyone is technically an “ambivert” in that sense. The people with the clearest preference for introversion can show up with energy to a group at work in service to the situation, and the people with the clearest preference for extraversion can find rest alone reflecting with a journal in-hand. The instrument simply measures clarity of preference for either introversion or extraversion (in the report I prefer to use, anyway–if I remember correctly, the most recent one measures the likelihood of getting the same answer again). It is worth noting that there are a few different understandings out there of what introversion and extraversion are, as noted in Susan Cain’s book, Quiet. I think it is important to be clear what this specific instrument and theory say about introversion before rebutting it.
  • “And you don’t have to choose between Thinker and Feeler.” The correct terminology is preference for Thinking or Feeling. Therefore, the instrument does not make you “choose.” In fact, we had a whole day in the practitioner training dedicated to leadership development, and one main takeaway was the importance of flexing the use of both sides depending on the need in various situations. To develop, then, is to learn how and when to use both sides, not to choose one. Also, according to Jung’s theory, preference is innate and inborn. So to say that we would choose goes against the idea behind the instrument; specifically, according to Jung, preference is “nature,” not “nurture.” Next, I will note that several research studies demonstrate that the best outcomes are achieved when teams have diversity of type, meaning that the best approach combines both preferences for decision making. We also know that senior leadership skews toward the Thinking preference, so there is great opportunity to leverage the Feeling preference in those teams for better organizational outcomes and balanced decisions. Lastly, because Jung was looking into differences among normal, healthy adults, then by definition, all types are equal. There is no “correct” personality type, so therefore, it is best to use both Thinking and Feeling styles in one’s decision making, given that neither one is a correct way of doing so.

And as I close, I’ll give my opinion: I feel it is unfortunate for misunderstandings on such a huge platform to create a dislike or distrust of an instrument that, when properly understood, can and does really help people. I think what is important is to be clear what the instrument does and does not do so that one can decide if it is helpful for a particular situation. Whether it’s teams learning how to enhance their effectiveness, or an individual client who suddenly realizes there’s nothing “wrong” with her, I see it help people every day. I also see a lot of posts against use of MBTI® over the years, and anecdotally, I have noticed that is most often done by people who simply don’t understand the assessment. If it’s not the right assessment for someone, no problem!–there are plenty of other ones out there. I just wish it would be for accurate reasons.

I hope you’ve found this post to be helpful. I welcome your comments below for discussion!

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Myers-Briggs, and MBTI are trademarks or registered trademarks of Myers & Briggs Foundation, Inc. in the United States and other countries.

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