I get a lot of questions on Quora about the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Most of them seem to suggest that people are hoping that this behavioral assessment is going to give them a shortcut guide to living their lives. Unfortunately, some of those people are expecting too much from the MBTI.
Don’t get me wrong. I love the MBTI. I have been a fan of the instrument and the insight it gives us, since I was introduced to it as a university student. So much so that it was the first professional certification that I pursued and I use it in most of my leadership and management development training as well as team building and team dynamics programmes. It is an excellent tool for getting to know yourself better and to help each of us begin to recognize how differently other people see the world.
So my recognition of the limitations of the MBTI is not a criticism of the tool. Rather it is a caution to the user and what they appear to be expecting it to provide.
Many of the questions I get on Quora suggest that people are displaying a need to make the right decisions and they are hoping that the MBTI can help them to do that. Those who post the questions seem to be hoping that they can find the perfect mate, the perfect job or even the right friends using their preference information. The reality is however, no matter how good the MBTI is at giving us insight into ourselves and others, unfortunately, it does not guarantee a problem free life. You could choose what seems right for you on paper and later when you face the reality of the experience, you could come to realize that it is not what you want. That does not mean that the MBTI is wrong or has failed you. It simply means that we as human beings are complex and our happiness cannot be so easily predicted.
There also seems to be a lot of misunderstanding in the world about how to use the information from the assessments. There is a real lack of clarity about how much you can rely on type preference as a guide when making your life decisions. One of the major cautions that is stated about the MBTI is that it is not predictive of your future behavior. To determine your preference type, the assessment starts by asking you about the decisions you normally make. This is looking at what you do now or what you have done in the past. However, it does not decide what you may do in the future when you have more information.
Therefore, even though something may not your preference, you can still choose to do it if you need to. Knowing that it is not your preference prepares you for for the fact that it will take more effort and energy and the realization that it might not feel natural at first. However, just like what would happen if you started writing with your non-preferred hand, eventually it will get easier with repeated experiences.
Nowhere, in any of the MBTI information, does anyone suggest that the MBTI should be used to decide how you live every aspect of your life. One of the most popular type of questions I get comes from people trying to figure what is the best type for them to have as a partner in a relationship. According to all the guidelines about how to use the MBTI, its purpose is not to help you choose a partner. Rather its role is to help you understand each other so that you realize why you each react the way you do.
The MBTI gives us information about how we are energized, how we take in information, how we make decisions and how we choose to organize our lives. It does not give insight into our soul. It does not tell us who to love or like. The best we can hope to do is understand why we make the choices that we do and how to use that insight to become the best version of ourselves.
There is no panacea. There is no guarantee. However there is awareness and there is appreciation of how much we can achieve when we recognize the value in our differences. We may not have all the answers but with a willingness to try, we have enough information to enjoy the process of learning about who we are and who we can grow and become.
Marjorie Wharton is a trainer, facilitator and coach who works with individuals and organizations to help them improve their performance. She is based at the Sagicor Cave Hill School of Business in Barbados. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. For more of her writing visit https://marjoriewharton.live