Assessments of psychological type, such as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) instrument, rely on self-reporting rather than clinical observation. Respondents answer a series of questions, and based on their answers, receive a report of what their likely personality type is. In fact, one of the MBTI ethical principles is that only the respondents are qualified to determine which type best fits them. The role of the MBTI practitioner is to guide them through the process.
What, then, is the value of psychological type? If you’re just relating things you already know about yourself, how are you learning anything?
To answer this question, it’s useful to consider the knowledge pyramid model. One version of this model proposes three different levels of understanding: data, information, and knowledge. The answers to the questions on the MBTI assessment are at the lowest level—data. But data, on its own, isn’t meaningful. It doesn’t contribute to knowledge until it’s combined and organized with other data, so that context and patterns emerge.
For instance, here are some things I knew about myself before I first took an assessment of my psychological type:
- I prefer to spend time alone. I rarely look forward to social gatherings, but once I’m there, I usually enjoy myself.
- I have a hard time talking to people I don’t know, but among friends, I’m quite outspoken.
- I can spot a typo from 10 paces—but I’m unlikely to notice a new shopping center under construction until they put out the balloons for the grand opening.
- I can’t follow a discussion until I understand the context. I consider facts to be details supporting a larger theory.
- I care more about the spirit than the letter of the law.
- I’m deeply concerned about issues of emotional well-being, but less concerned about physical well-being.
- Although I have a strong sense of compassion, I avoid investing myself in the personal troubles of those outside my circle of family and close friends. It’s too emotionally draining.
- I keep my calendar in my head. I’m rarely more than five minutes late for anything, but I experience a high level of stress over it.
- I’m a perfectionist almost to the point of unhealthy obsession.
- I despise housework and usually do it in bursts of activity when I can’t stand the clutter anymore. I know I’d be happier if I’d do a little at a time, but I can’t seem to make myself function that way.
Before I learned about the MBTI personality types, I had a hard time understanding the apparent contradictions in this list. If I like people, why do I avoid spending time with them? If I’m a perfectionist, why is it so hard for me to keep the house neat? Without a means of classifying this data, I couldn’t make sense of it.
The Myers-Briggs theory explains these contradictions. I’m people-oriented because I’m an F, but I enjoy time alone because I’m an I. I’m a perfectionist because I’m a J, but I hate housework because I’m an N.
I never felt I understood myself until the first time I read a description of the INFJ. The description converted data to information—information I could analyze, organize, extrapolate, and use. This information helped me recognize my strengths and my blind spots. It helped me understand how to become a better version of me—not by changing, but by more fully embracing who I am.
Then, I realized that this information could help me better understand other people. Up until this point, I regarded certain traits typical of my opposite, the ESTP, as character flaws. In particular, I despised self-promotion. Now, I recognize it for what it is—a brand strategy. Branding is necessary to tell people who you are and how you can help them. And INFJs like helping people. 🙂
The more I researched the Myers-Briggs theory, the more applications I found for it. As a fiction writer, it could help me add depth to my characters. In my career, it could help me work with others more effectively. In my personal life, it could help me improve communication within my family.
Through this application of information, I developed knowledge. Now, I want to share what I’ve learned with others. So here’s a housekeeping tip for other NJ types: Don’t think of it as cleaning the house, think of it as organizing the house. NP types, you’re on your own.