MBTI is a useful psychological tool for better understanding yourself and people around you. It describes people’s inner preferences and personal characteristics, which help one better appreciate other people’s behavior and actions. It is naturally a bit simplistic (as people’s personalities are much more complex to fit into a handy framework) and has its deficiencies, but I have found it a helpful starting point and you may too.
I will not describe MBTI in detail as there are countless resources on the internet (e.g. see the official website here). In short, you can complete an online test (or have a professional administer it), and you will get your four letters, which represent your MBTI profile. These four letters cover four personality preferences, which (in a simplified way) are:
- Introversion (”I”; focus on one’s inner world) vs extroversion (“E”; outer world)
- Detail-orientation (“S” for sensing) vs big picture focus (“N” for iNtuition)
- Thinking/fact-based (“T”) vs feeling-based (“F”) decision making
- Structure-based approach (“J” for judging) vs spontaneity/flexibility (“P” for perception)
My profile is ISTJ. This tells you that I am an Introvert (prefer smaller groups of people; regain energy from being on my own or with my wife, rather than with a big group of people; prefer writing to speaking – hence maybe the Teekay blog, and not a youtube channel!); with a detail-oriented (“S”), thinking/fact-based (“T”), and very organized and structured (“J”) approach.
The best part of MBTI is that it tells you much more than just these four preferences. The specific combination of the letters tells you further characteristics, which are not per se included in the four explicit preferences, but result from their joint influence and impact. In total, there are four personal dimensions, each with two preferences, resulting in 16 distinct personality types. If you read the description of an ISTJ (e.g. here), you discover that I also have a strong sense of duty, loyalty, and integrity; have an artistic appreciation; and have a tendency to fall into a ‘catastrophe-mode’ in stressful situations (all true).
Fine, that starts to be a bit more interesting. But how do I use it in practice?
I have used MBTI in three primary situations:
- First, even though you think you know yourself well, it sometimes helps to remind yourself. E.g. when I am falling into a catastrophe-mode (and I am genuinely convinced that the situation is really that bad or the deadline is impossible), it helps me to admit that it is my natural tendency to over-react/over-stress, and realize that ‘this too shall pass’. Knowing your personality preferences may also help guide you in your academic/professional choices, as your personality may be more or less suited to different paths.
- Second, when working in teams and interacting with people above/below/besides you, it helps to know what one’s preferences are. It helps you adjust working style; communication style; and also be aware and fill for each other’s ‘blind spots.’ It helps in realizing that people are indeed different, and your approach may not be the only or the best one.
- Third, it helps you to build rapport and tailor your communication when meeting someone new. At McKinsey, when we went to present to a new client, we always tried to gauge or find out their personal style. Should we bring the full team, or rather do a smaller meeting? Focus on big picture logic or a detailed fact-based analysis?
You may ask whether the personality type and the individual preferences are constant and stay with you for the entire life, or if they change as you evolve. I think the official answer would be that your preferences do not change, at least not in any significant way. There are obviously different degrees of each of these preferences, and you may move slightly on the spectrum. And if you were roughly in the middle in the first place, it is possible you swing from one side to the other. Your natural inclinations are likely to stay relatively unchanged though, and trying to ‘fight them’ (e.g. when your job forces you to act in a certain way) may be counterproductive. That does not mean you cannot learn to operate on the other spectrum – in my case, over the years, I have become more comfortable with large groups and public speaking, and others often do not believe me when I say I am introvert. But when the show is over, I know I need a quiet evening at home with a book to regain energy.
For further reading on psychological profiling, suggest you review also the Hogan Personality test – statistically more robust, but also more complex to administer and interpret.