I’m often asked by clients which personality profiling system I use when I’m helping people to consider what path to take in their lives and careers. The short answer is – I don’t. I prefer instead to direct clients towards discovering their innate gifts and talents as a means of figuring out where their purpose lies.
That’s not to say that I don’t think that personality profiling can be useful. It can, and if it’s what a client needs, I can point them in the right direction; but in my experience, profiling is best used not as a pointer to what a person should be doing, but rather as a pointer to how they should be doing it, whether it be a job, a career – or even a relationship.
There are many personality profiling systems out there, each with something different to offer. Perhaps the one based on the greatest amount of research and psychological observation is the assessment method known as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator or “MBTI” test.
The MBTI is based on the theory of personality developed by the noted Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, and was developed by Jung’s contemporary Katherine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers. The MBTI test is based on Jung’s observation that all human beings have a tendency to direct their energy and attention either inwardly (“Introversion (I)”) or externally (“Extraversion (E)”). We also, he noticed, tend to mentally deal with the outer world either by taking in information (“Perceiving (P)”) or organizing it (“Judging (J)”). Jung refined his observations still further by identifying two different ways in which we Perceive – by “Sensing (S)” or by “iNtuition (N)”. The two different ways in which we judge are by “Thinking (T)” or by “Feeling (F)”.
The various preferences can be combined into 16 dominant personality types, each one with a four letter code which describes it, such as ENFJ, INTP etc.
What’s the point of doing this? It’s important to note that no one personality is better than another. However, it does seem to be the case that different types are statistically more suited to particular types of activities, because each type brings with it particular strengths. Equally, each type has its own challenging aspects. Getting to know your type is useful, because it can help you to make the most of what you’ve got, help you understand how other people might see you, and also alert you to the pitfalls you may be likely to fall into – and also how to get out of them.
Finding Your Type
According to Anne Miller in her fascinating book How To Get Your Ideas Adopted (And Change The World), two specific aspects of the MBTI are particularly interesting when exploring an individual’s unique creative abilities and their resonance with particular ideas: and that’s whether they have a tendency towards Sensing or Intution; and whether they have a tendency towards Judging or Perceiving.
You can only get an accurate assessment of your MBTI type by taking the actual MBTI questionnaire and having feedback from a properly accredited professional. However, the exercise that follows (devised by Anne Miller) should enable you to make a reasonable assessment of your preferences in the two areas noted above. It simply involves considering which of the descriptions seems to give the best fit for your natural personality. Your “natural personality” is the way you are when you’re feeling relaxed, and comfortable, not under any pressure or requirement to fulfil a particular role. Don’t over-think this. Simply read the descriptions, and make a note of which aspect seems a better “fit” for you.
1. Sensing or Intuition: How do you prefer to take in information?
People who prefer Sensing are oriented most to the present, and to practical issues. They tend to be factual and concrete, focusing mainly on that which is real and actual. They tend to remember specifics from things that they observe. In discussions and thought processes, they build carefully and methodically toward specfic conclusions. They have a tendency to understand ideas through practical applications, and are most likely to trust their experiences.
People who prefer Intuition are oriented most to the future, and to possibilities. They are imaginative, verbally creative, and tend to focus on patterns and meanings in data that they perceive. They will remember specifics when they relate to a pattern. They have a tendency towards moving quickly to conclusions by following hunches. They’ll trust their inspiration, and will want to clarify ideas and theories before putting them into practice.
2. Judging or Perceiving: How do you deal with the outer world?
People who prefer to use their Judging process in the outer world like to live in a planned, orderly way, and they tend to make efforts to regulate and manage their lives. They are systematic and methodical, and want to make decisions, reach closure, and move on. They make short and long-term plans, and try to avoid last-minute stresses, because they like things to be settled. They are energized by getting things done, and feel most comfortable when sticking to a plan or schedule.
People who prefer to use their Perceiving characteristic in the outer world like to live their lives in a spontaneous and flexible way. They like to experience and understand life, and are less interested in feeling that they control it. They have a tendency to be casual, open-ended, and adaptable. They feel comfortable changing course at a moment’s notice, and feel confined by detailed plans and the need to make final decisions. They are energized by adapting to the demands of the moment, and by last-minute pressures.
In considering the above descriptions, you should be able to determine which group you fall into: NP, NJ, SP or SJ. If you’ve found it very hard to decide on one of the letters, it may mean you don’t have a very strong preference on this aspect. The full MBTI test could help you get more insight into your preferences.
Strengths and Problem Areas by Type:
NP: CREATIVE MAVERICK or SCATTERBRAIN?
A high proportion of very creative people are NPs. If you fall into this category, at your best you are enthusiastic in developing and exploring creative ideas. When stimulated, you will tackle tasks energetically and sometimes unconventionally. You will see alternatives and connections that others will miss, and you may well exhibit a high degree of passion and vision.
Potential problem areas: There’s a risk you’ll bounce from idea to idea, never committing enough energy to completing any one of them. Other people may find you hard to understand, and you may struggle to get them “on board” with you because they may see your ideas as being somewhat unrealistic, jumbled up, and confusing.
Make the most of your personality: Be prepared to slow down, organize yourself, and ground your ideas in reality before communicating them. If you find it hard to settle on an idea to pursue, write a short summary of the advantages and disadvantages of the competing ideas, and give yourself some quiet time to reflect on them before deciding on a course of action. It can be helpful to plan and structure what you want to say to people. You may worry that this will make your ideas sound boring, but it’ll actually help you get your key messages across.
NJ: VISIONARY LEADER or FIXATED BORE?
A high proportion of senior executives are NJs. If you fall into this category, at your best you are able to combine vision with decisiveness. You are likely to be curious and creative, but in a quieter way than the Creative Maverick. Your ideas will often gestate for quite some time before you feel prepared to share them. You’ll feel comfortable with rules, but also enjoy making decisions and developing visionary solutions to complex problems. In order for your intuition to have time to work, you’ll probably need some quiet space.
Potential problem areas: If you don’t give yourself long enough to think about ideas, you may make wobbly decisions. After a long gestation period, your ideas may seem clear to you, but could be less obvious to others, so you may find yourself getting frustrated in having to persuade them before they will support you. When the pressure is on, or when you meet resistance from other people, you may find yourself becoming dictatorial, bullying and single-minded.
Make the most of your personality: Be prepared to share your ideas with other trusted people, even at the embryonic stage. This might not feel entirely comfortable, but you’ll gain useful feedback from them. Give yourself plenty of physical and mental space in order to create an environment for your ideas to develop. Cultivate your ability to be flexible, so that you are better able to adapt to any setbacks you may face.
SP: INNOVATIVE TROUBLE-SHOOTER or MAD INVENTOR?
A high proporation of inventors are SPs. If you fall into this category, at your best you will tend to take an active, hands-on approach to life and work. You’ll enjoy variety and will be resourceful in fixing problems and getting things done. Rather than talk, you’ll act. Your style of creativity will tend to be practical and realistic, rather than radical or innovative. If you are extroverted, people are likely to find you gregarious and fun to be with.
Potential problem areas: You may postpone making decisions, or make them rather randomly, because of your tendency to caught up in the world around you and your acute awareness of other people’s immediate perceived needs. There’s a risk that you can create a great solution to a problem you’re facing, but could feel disappointed when idea is of little interest to anyone else. If you don’t feel recognised or appreciated for your contribution to life or work, you may have a tendency to become impulsive and focused on immeidate excitement, at the expense of longer-term achievement.
Make the most of your personality: Be prepared to question your contstraints, and to spend some time thinking things through from the perspective of other people. Gathering new information and experiences – particularly in unfamiliar fields – will help you to cultivate the ability to see things from the point of view of others.
SJ: CAREFUL CONSERVATOR or OBSTRUCTIVE NITPICKER?
A high proporation of accountants are SJs. If you fall into this category, at your best you will tend to be thorough and realistic, and will enjoy working in an organized, defined space where you are able to exhibit a high degree of precision. You’ll enjoy dealing with detail and getting it right. You can be very energetic in devising solutions, particularly once you are convinced a change is needed. Much of your work will be grounded in your past experience.
Potential problem areas: You’ll be reluctant to change from well-worn ways of working unless you are thoroughly convinced of the need; this can make you slow to respond in certain circumstances. Consequently, other people may see you as resistant to change. If you are particularly logically minded, you may have a tendency to see the world in black and white, and if a piece of information doesn’t fit with your world view, you may unconsciously ignore or reject it. Such an approach can seriously limit your ability to be creative.
Making the most of your personality: Be prepared to give other people space to do things their way. Challenge yourself to gather new information and experiences, even those that don’t feel immediately comfortable and familiar. You will be able to enhance your creative capacity by learning to use new tools and techniques in your work.
A Final Note
Let me reiterate: no one personality type is better or worse than another. Nor will every individual who falls into a specific category exhibit exactly the same strengths and weaknesses. A great deal will depend on the circumstances you’re in. In addition, personality can change over time (although your tendency towards a particular type is likely to remain throughout your life). The point of learning more about your personality characteristics should never be about trying to force yourself into a prescribed position for that type (hence my resistance to using personality typing as A means of helping people to choose their career of life path). However, learning about your type can undoubtedly furnish you with useful information that can help you to be the best you it’s possible for you to be.
© Brian Cormack Carr, 2010