Updated: Aug 20, 2019
The debate about the pros and cons of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator has been going on for many years, often between assessment experts each with their own opinions – and now it seems the debate is growing.
On the BBC Radio 4’s Start The Week programme broadcast on 8 October 2018 the presenter described what he called ‘the strange and surreal qualities’ of a popular questionnaire called the MBTI. Later in the same programme, Robert Plomin whose book ‘Blueprint: How Our DNA Makes Us The People We Are’ was published last month, described the MBTI as an ‘elaborate fortune cookie’, with poor reliability and validity.
So, what is the truth about the MBTI and why does it cause such heated debate? What are the real pros and cons for someone who is thinking about using it to assess people at work and can you use it to predict effectiveness in jobs? Does it tell us that all successful sales people are extraverted?
First, some background. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a personality questionnaire that was developed by Isabel Myers and her mother, Katharine Cook Briggs. It was first published for research use in 1962. The authors were fans of the work of the psychologist Carl Jung who had put forward his ideas of how to describe normal differences in human personality by using a framework of personality types. These types reflect normal differences in preferences. For example, one type of person might like to plan what they will do during their work day, while another type of person might prefer to wait and see what the day requires as it unfolds.
Myers and Briggs saw the descriptions as useful, and matched up with their real world experience of what people were like. So, they thought why not develop a way to measure these differences that could help people to realise their potential in areas such as education, jobs and career and to reduce misunderstandings and conflicts between people.
I have to declare that I am a fan of the MBTI. However, I completely understand many of the criticisms that are often voiced. I think that these arise in two ways: either because people do not know enough about the MBTI itself; or, in some cases, people find the psychological construct of type so appealing that they make over inflated claims about what the questionnaire can do, and rely too much on the result, seeing it as truth, rather than simply as an indication of likely behaviour that may not be accurate.
In a nut shell the MBTI is a way to describe how someone is likely to behave(based on how they perceive the world and make decisions)not how they will behave. On top of that, the results can be quite fuzzy for some people due to a whole host of factors, such as how well someone knows themselves and is able to answer the questions honestly and openly.
So, what are some of the pros and cons of the MBTI?
The MBTI is a relatively simple theory that describes normal differences in the way people often think and behave. More than 2 million people use it each year to better understand themselves. When interpreted through feedback and discussion it is a great tool to raise self-awareness.
The MBTI can provide a positive frame of reference that uncovers differences in style, rather than saying one way of doing something is better than another way. This is a key factor to help people value diversity and to help teams and colleagues work more effectively together. For example, you might like to make decisions by talking things through, while I might prefer time to think a decision through by myself. We may well come up with a similar decision, but the way we do it is different, not better or worse. So, when it comes to making a joint decision, we need then to think how to do this in a way that plays to both of our strengths.
The MBTI model, questionnaire and other resources that are available provide a plethora of ideas and activities to apply the insights from the theory in practical ways. For example, to help communicate a message that is easy to understand, or to problem solve effectively as a group, sell ideas, work in teams and resolve conflicts, and manager stress more effectively, to name a few examples.
Overall, the MBTI is one way to build better relationships between individuals and groups in all walks of life, including within the workplace. For extraverts, it can help them better communicate with the introverts they encounter and vice versa. Anything that can help people better understand, relate and communicate with each other is certainly a positive, especially in today’s modern society
The characteristics described in the MBTI, such as Extraversion and Introversion have particular meanings that are different to how those terms are used in everyday language. This means results can be misinterpreted if they are not explained carefully and people given the very same information can walk away with very different understandings. That is why the publisher of the MBTI insist on thorough training to ensure the results are fed back according to certain ethical guidelines.
Another issue with interpretation of the results, is that many people confuse the fact that describing likely behaviour is very different to predicting actual behaviour. Just because the MBTI predicts your personality type could react in a certain way to a situation doesn’t mean that this will actually happen. This means that one thing the MBTI should never be used for is to recruit someone or reject someone for a job application. This means the MBTI cannot be used to predict someone’s capacity to do a job, nor would it say that extraverts are any better at sales than introverts.
Studies show that personality types are inconsistent and cannot predict career success or other characteristics over the period of a person’s lifetime. In fact, when the MBTI is retaken by individuals, only 24-61% of people receive the same results a second time as they did initially.
As I said earlier, another downside to the MBTI is that people think the questionnaire is right, when in fact it is only an indicator. Without the right interpretation and feedback, people can make the wrong inferences based on what the profile has shown.
So, in summary, these are just a few of the more common and easy to digest pros and cons. There are many others also.
What do you think the pros and cons of the MBTI are?
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