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TRUE TO TYPE
Answers to the Most Commonly Asked Questions About Interpreting The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
By William C. Jeffries
Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.Copyright © 1991 William C. Jeffries
All rights reserved.
QUESTION 1: Where do our preferences come from?
This is a question frequently asked in virtually every session, particularly if the consultant fails to deal with it during the formal presentation. Schools of developmental psychology fall into camps with one of two operating premises: nature or nurture. Those who hold to the former see genetics as the factor responsible for human characteristics. Those who hold to the latter see environment as the factor responsible. Those who hold to the validity of type theory are found in each camp. That distinction is complicated by the fact that Jungians can also be found in either camp. As I read Jung, however, it becomes clear that Jung himself ascribed our traits to genetics. In other words, according to Jung, we are born with our preferences. But while type theory begins with Jung, there is not a perfect congruence. Clearly, our preferences are also shaped, molded, reinforced, or restricted by our environment: friends, family, religious training, jobs, etc. Type, then, for me is a reflection of both nature and nurture. Both play a role in who we see ourselves to be and what we prefer.
QUESTION 2: I've heard some people talk about "True Type." How does that differ from my "Myers-Briggs Type"?
The distinction being raised is an important one to be made in any presentation. In short, the four letters a client receives may or may not be the person's "true type." The client must be the one to make that decision. The theory holds that each of us has a "true type." Whether or not the MBTI reflects that type at any one taking is, to a certain extent, up for grabs, depending on the circumstances, frame of mind, and "honesty" of the person taking the indicator.
There are several reasons why individuals may misreport themselves. Perhaps they find themselves in jobs where a certain style of behavior is expected and maybe even rewarded. Perhaps they have heard just enough about the MBTI from others to believe that a certain type is "better" for a job than others. For example, I once taught a graduate education class for about thirty teachers, all of whom were aspiring candidates for jobs as guidance counselors. As part of the program they all completed the MBTI. One of the individuals obtained access to a set of scoring keys and scored her answer sheet herself and discovered she had picked INTP. Having heard, somewhere, that the typical type for high school guidance directors was ESFJ, she went back and redid her answers, erasing almost every one, so that she would come out ESFJ when I tallied her responses. A simple, but not infrequent, misunderstanding of how the results might be used had caused this problem.
I have also had an army general officer provide some real insights as to how strongly we can be scripted by our jobs and colleagues. This person had taken the MBTI four times during his career. The first three times he had elected ISTJ (the modal type, by the way, for the armed forces). When I met him he had just received his results for the fourth time. This time he scored INTP. After we had talked for some time, he admitted, "It has taken me a long time to get here, but finally I've had enough confidence in my abilities to report myself as I truly see my preferences." He went on to say that he knew then that he had been masquerading for years as an ISTJ in behavior, because that kind of behavior won applause from his community. That behavior—that mask, to use Jungian terms—had been reflected in his responses each previous occasion. Unfortunately, the act, for many years, had become the person. Sad to say, that same dilemma faces many people in many professions. We often hear subtly or more overtly, "shape up or ship out!"
Family pressures to conform can likewise discourage individuals from reporting honest "preferences" on the indicator. Our research has shown, for example, a disproportionate number (as would be expected in the general population) of INFP children in military families, where the predominant uniformed parent is ISTJ and the other parent is ISFJ. Is the reported type an indication of rebellion, the desire to provide something different from what they see as the norm, the need for flexibility in an otherwise rigid system, the need to be able to respond to frequent moves, or "true type?" We just don't know. The individual is the final arbiter. In families of corporate executives where the spousal types are much the same as above, we see much the same kind of data, although the sample size is much more suspect.
Of course there are other reasons as well that individuals may misreport their types. These reasons range from being under stress to misunderstanding the questions or the words. There are also those who may have been culturally, socially, or linguistically disadvantaged and those whose level of education is inadequate to respond to the questions. Those for whom English is a second language, those from non-white, non-male groups, or those people just enjoying normal developmental changes may likewise misreport themselves. The burden is on the consultant, however, to ensure that clients do not assume that the indicator is telling them their type. Each individual must decide for himself or herself. The language we should use in reporting a person's type, therefore, should be something like:
"When you took the indicator you reported yourself as—"
QUESTION 3: How reliable are my results?
Usually when people ask this question they asking whether or not they can trust their results to reflect their true personalities and behaviors. They are not, in other words, really asking about "reliability." So it is best to press them about what they are really asking. If they want to know to what extent the indicator really measures those things it claims to measure, they are concerned with validity, or the degree to which inferences about the results can be supported by evidence. Psychometricians traditionally discuss validity in terms of criterion-related, content-related, and construct-related forms of evidence. Most users of the indicator need not worry about such fine distinctions because the validation has already been done for them. Chapter 11 of the Manual provides solid documentation of the indicator's high validity. From time to time, however, the language surfaces in questions, and knowledgeable users will want to be able to respond appropriately.
If those asking the questions truly understand what reliability means, then you must answer a different question. Chances are they are asking what the likelihood is that they will replicate their results on retake—in short, they are asking about take-retake reliability. In that case, chapter 10 of the Manual is your source. The reliability of the results depends on several things (gender, age, education, achievement level, and all those issues discussed in Question 2). It also depends on the strength of the individual preferences—the clearer the preference, the higher the reliability. The consensus is that a personality indicator should be 70% or higher to be considered reliable. Taking all things into consideration, one can see that the MBTI is about 85% reliable—that's impressively high reliability. To be any more specific in positing differing reliabilities according to preference strengths, as some trainers do, is to stretch the data beyond its elasticity.
Some trainers routinely refer to subscores or subscales when interpreting MBTI results (see Question 18). These individuals, to be responsible, incur special responsibilities. Proper standards for psychological testing suggest that when subscores are reported, it is not sufficient to report reliabilities solely for overall scores but that reliabilities should also be reported for any subscores that are discussed. Chapter 10, again, is the source for this valuable information.
QUESTION 4: If my colleague and I are the same type, why are we so different?
With this question, the client has hit on one of the exciting attributes of the MBTI. Type does not constrict us or demand that we perform in prescribed ways. While a knowledge of type can give us an understanding of predictable differences in individuals and, therefore, allow us to deal with those differences in a more constructive way, it in no way determines our behavior. It simply helps us to see "that much seemingly chance variation in human behavior is not due to chance; it is in fact the logical result of a few basic, observable preferences." (Manual, P. 11).
Once you know that Bill Jeffries is an INTJ, you do not know precisely how I will act at any given time. What you do know is that when my personality was in the process of forming, I picked Yankee Stadium, not Shea Stadium. But once I'm in the ballpark, there are about 50,000 seats for me to move among. Far from boxing us in, type theory gives us a chance to deal with diversity in the workplace in a much more productive way, truly cherishing our differences for the strengths they bring. Each person is unique, despite his or her preferences.
Having participants with the same preferences meet and discuss their preferences with one another can be a very informative process. Of course they are going to feel at home together; there will be similar ways of dealing with the world. Often, however, the insights they gain are around differences—sometimes slight, sometimes substantial. Such a process helps individuals understand the nonrestrictive nature of their preferences.
Furthermore, there may be differences between colleagues of the same psychological type for reasons for which type offers no answer. No paper and pen indicator, however well conceived and normed, can sum up human personality. Those of us who appreciate so much the work that Katharine Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers did to bring the indicator into being, sometimes have a hard time admitting this fact, but type doesn't explain everything. Human personality is far too rich. If personality were to be illustrated by an iceberg, then perhaps type is the rather substantial tip. But there is much more below the surface than there is above.
Type development and clarity of a person's preferences also play important roles in explaining why two people of the same type may be very different in behavior or appearance. I believe it was Isabel who said something like, "Every ESTJ is like every other ESTJ, like some other ESTJ's, and like no other ESTJ you may ever have met." Even if the story is apocryphal, the sentiment is true. An INFP with preference strengths of 1-1, N-3, F-5, & P-3 is behaviorally a very different person than an INFP with preference strengths of 55, 49, 31, & 59. In fact, a person with very clear INFP preferences may well experience an INFP colleague with less clear preferences as an "E," "S," "T," or "J." What we observe as preferences is often a matter of degree. This is partially the reason why it is often difficult to guess the type of a loved one. We see that person in comparison to ourselves.
Similarly, if a person has achieved some degree of good type development (see Question 22), he or she has learned when to use the appropriate preference, whether favored or not. For instance, as a golfer, I may prefer using my driver over the other clubs. But even though it is my preferred club, I'm a stupid golfer if I try to putt with it. It's just an analogy to be sure, but it is an apt analogy to type. What I want, if I'm a well developed golfer, is a bag of clubs from which I can choose depending on the shot. Making that choice does not naysay the fact that I have a favorite; sometimes, to be pragmatic, I must use a non-preferred club. When individuals have achieved some level of good type development, they occasionally use their non-preferences with some skill. Their behavior at these times may be seen by others as running counter to type.
QUESTION 5: Can I change my type?
The theory says there is a true type for each individual. If the client is asking about this type, then the answer is no. If the client means can the reported type change, see Question 2. Often what this question is attempting to probe, however, is the differences in themselves that people see as they mature. Clearly, we do change, we do develop as we go through life, but those changes are more a reflection of our types than they are changes in our types. The theory says we have a type, and if we have accurately identified that type, it does not change.
QUESTION 6: I am a very different person at home from the person I am on the job. How does your theory and data explain that?
This is a common observation that often arises. Sometimes the question is raised because the individual has not received the proper directions for filling out the MBTI. The frame of reference an individual uses to answer the questions can color some responses. Unfortunately the directions on the back of the answer sheet are not as clear as they could be. The point to keep in mind is that the MBTI is a preference indicator based on theory, not behavior. Yet the directions say: "Read one question at a time, with both (or all) its answers, and choose the way you more often feel or act" (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Form G, answer sheet). The directions seem to tell the respondent to answer behaviorally.
I prefer to be clearer about the purpose and suggest that the client answer all questions with the frame of reference, "Given the best of all possible worlds, what would you prefer to do, how would you prefer to act, which word appeals more to you?" With this frame of reference, then, the client has a greater chance of registering the same preferences, regardless of the setting.
But there are some other interesting offshoots from this question. Sometimes, sitting in the office filling out the MBTI, a client may register a set of preferences that differs from the preferences he or she registers when filling out the MBTI while sitting at home. The client will say, "See, I really am a different person at home from the one I am at work. At work I'm hard-chargin', bottom-line-oriented, and maybe a little rigid. But you have to be; that's the nature of the job. But at home, I'm a kinder and gentler person, more open to feedback and the concerns of my family."
Well, as in any business, the customer may be right. But more often than not, people who report their type one way on the job and another way at home are just fooling themselves. When I give the MBTI to the spouse to fill out on how he or she sees the spouse at home, the report is routinely the same as the one on the job. In other words, we are very successful in lying to ourselves in thinking that we have dropped a lot more at the office than we have. The family simply does not see us the way we think we are behaving. That misconception can be crucial information for us to know.
QUESTION 7: Is type related to horoscope?
Depending on the client's perspective regarding astrology you could have good news or bad news. The informal comparisons that people tell me they have done—none very rigorous—point to there being no correlation between a person's horoscope and type. There are some interesting similarities and some intriguing relationships but no correlations. Perhaps the reason this question is raised so frequently is the way type is often reported to the client. Invariably some set of personality portraits is given out with the report form. Because of the nature of type (with our overlapping preferences) we can often find something about ourselves in almost any of the sixteen types. Likewise, persons scanning the horoscopes in the newspaper can find things under several of the signs that seem to correspond with their lives. The similarities seem keen, but the limited research done does not justify the relationship.
QUESTION 8: Why do we have to pick between just two answers, (A) or (B)?
On 117 of the 126 questions on Form G of the MBTI, one does have to choose between just (A) or (B). For eight of the questions there is also a (C) choice, and for one question there is also a (D) alternative. While some types predictably find the A-B choices irritating, such a format merely reflects the dichotomous nature of Jung's theory. While all of us "E &I," "S &N," "T &F," and "J &P," we only do one at a time. In other words, before I begin to extravert, I have to stop introverting. Consequently, at any given time I can only do one or the other. Since each question on the indicator deals with only one function or attitude pair, while I may (A) and (B) at different times, I can only do one at a time; hence, I have to choose. A mathematical correlation of the sum total of the times you pick (A) or (B) will show your preferences.
Here's another explanation that often clarifies the dichotomous nature of the choices. When an artilleryman learns gunnery, he learns how to hit a target with a round by first bracketing the target. He fires a round to the left (call that "A") and a round to the right (call that "B"). Once he sees where the rounds land, he narrows the bracket and fires two more rounds. He continues to narrow the bracket until the rounds fall directly on top of the target. The command then is "fire for effect," and the rounds land right on target. Something akin to that is happening with the indicator. The client is asked to make 21 choices between "E" &"I," 26 choices between "S" &"N," 23 choices between "T" &"F," and 24 choices between "J" &"P." Once the client has indicated choices that many times (narrowed the bracket, if you will), the scorer can say "fire for effect." These are the four targets you have selected.
Excerpted from TRUE TO TYPE by William C. Jeffries. Copyright © 1991 William C. Jeffries. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
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