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I’d heard about the Myers-Briggs Personality Test for years, but I never took it very seriously. I always just figured it was some cutesy test people take for fun, because, in my mind, people never fit into boxes.
My friend, Caroline, however, is a believer and basically a verifiable expert on the subject at this point. “It’s helped me resolve conflicts with my boyfriend and my sister,” she tells me for about the thirtieth time, after months of insisting I should (really, really) get around to taking it. “Or, I take that back,” she says. “Really, it’s helped me prevent conflict from even happening.”
I tell her that I solemnly swear to take the test later that day; she tells me to do it, yes, but she’s pretty sure I’m an INTJ. I have no idea what that means. But since people frequently tell me I’m “hard to read,” I don’t put a whole lot of stock into it.
I confirm via a 12-minute mini test later that night that I am indeed an INTJ. When I read the description of the type, it’s a little chilling how spot-on the information is. Overly analytical? Decisive? A distrust of emotions? LOL, yes.
All this is intriguing, amusing and, yeah, kind of eerie. But what can I do with it?
Millions of people have now taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It’s administered roughly a couple million each year, in fact, by around 10,000 companies, 2,500 colleges and 100 government agencies. It can be useful when building teams within companies on a larger scale, or within one-on-one relationships on a smaller scale.
But more than that ever, members of the millennial generation seem keen to post their four-letter type on social media profiles or ask prospective dates about their MBTI code as a sort of insta-glimpse into the person’s psyche.
Caroline says that, when she started having issues with her sister, her life coach suggesting digging into her sister’s type, ENTP. The problem was rooted in communication: Caroline’s approach to delivering messages was a bit too “direct” and “frigid” for her ENTP sister.
Why does this work? “The Myers-Briggs is rooted in the work of Carl Jung’s theory of psychological types,” says Hile Rutledge, President of Otto Kroeger Associates, a firm that teaches the types to others. “Type is really determining how your brain is hard-wired.”
Personality typing actually dates back to the Greeks, something David Keirsey points out in his book, Please Understand Me, which rapidly propelled the popularity of mother-daughter team Katherine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers’ work. Briggs and Briggs Myers figured out how to order Jung’s original work on types effectively, determining there are 16 personality types based on eight different mental functions, including four perceiving functions and four judging functions.
“It took Isabel Briggs Myers over 30 years to develop the questionnaire,” says therapist and career coach Carol A. Linden, author of The Job Seekers Guide for Extraverts and Introverts. “It is still being studied and improved.”
At the simplest level, says Linden, each question in Myers Briggs’ “test” — using the term loosely, as there’s certainly no right or wrong answers — requires you to choose between one of two poles, which will ultimately help you determine your preference: Extraversion vs. Introversion, Sensing vs. Intuiting, Thinking vs. Feeling, and Judging vs. Perceiving.
“My mother and I are very different — ISTJ versus ENFP. Learning about Type and Temperaments saved my relationship with my mother. How do you put a price on that?” says Linden, who now teaches the system to clients. “For that reason alone, I’d be willing to use this learning to help people for the rest of my life.”
After first taking the questionnaire, I had everyone in my life take it if they hadn’t already. More than one was totally freaked out at its accuracy. (Reactions ranging from maniacal cackling to dropped jaws ensued.)