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Why the Myers-Briggs Assessment is Meaningful to Millions

Why the Myers-Briggs Assessment is Meaningful to Millions

By Jeff Hayes, President and CEO, CPP, Inc.

 

The Myers-Briggs® assessment, like any widely used tool, is the subject of intense — often heated — debate. The most recent criticism on the instrument comes from Joseph Stromberg at Vox.com, who called the MBTI® tool “completely meaningless.” For me, this was a particularly interesting line of attack, as I find that the reason for its popularity is precisely the opposite — people use it because they find it meaningful in their lives. To be specific, the MBTI instrument helps people develop self-awareness and other-awareness which are among the most valuable characteristics that one can possess in any organizational setting.

Self-awareness may be the most meaningful benefit of the MBTI
For individuals and organizations alike, the importance of self-awareness cannot be understated. As CPP’s Director of Research Rich Thompson, PhD, noted in Harvard Business Review, “…technology and globalization have transformed what it takes to succeed in business.” He goes on to point out that, amidst a global talent war, companies are going to increasingly need to look within their own ranks and develop the talent they already have to work with, a strategy which he says hinges on “understanding people.” He then describes how the quickest route to developing a thorough understanding of the people you work with is to get them to understand themselves, and points to studies which demonstrate the value of self-aware leadership.

Why does CPP publish the Myers-Briggs assessment? For me, the answer is simple. It supports our stated mission of helping people be better through a deeper understanding of themselves and others to lead more productive and fulfilling lives. This is what we hear from our customers on a daily basis: the MBTI tool provides a framework and common language for developing an understanding of the different ways people prefer to communicate, think, socialize, and carry out other aspects of their lives.  This self-awareness and “other-awareness” helps organizations run better, and it helps people live better by offering insights that improve communication, conflict handling, decision-making, and other aspects of work and life.

It’s not a common research tool — that could be a good thing
Contrary to the statements of certain critics, such as Stromberg, the MBTI instrument is in fact  reliable and valid and continually updated through ongoing research, and CPP freely publishes information regarding its research-based foundation at www.cpp.com/MBTIvalidity. This, however, leads to a very fair question: why isn’t the MBTI tool used more frequently in research? While it certainly does have application in certain research settings, Isabel and Katherine created the tool in order to help people better understand themselves, and make best use of their own talents — research was not their primary consideration. The MBTI tool is not, and was never intended to be predictive of performance or aptitude, and CPP strongly opposes using it in selective capacities, such as screening applicants. And, since much research in clinical psychology involves predictive analysis of performance, or very specific behaviors, a tool such as the MBTI assessment isn’t the right instrument for this purpose and is naturally going to be less popular. Furthermore, as the MBTI instrument was designed to exclusively measure personality in normal, healthy adults and teens, it would not make sense to use it in a clinical setting that focused on dysfunction or pathology.

Additionally, it may be worth noting that many aspects of the instrument that make it less desirable in research settings are precisely what make it so effective in work settings. Consider, for instance, its value-neutral approach to personality type, in which preferences are regarded as neither good nor bad in and of themselves. The MBTI tool is a conversation starter — it gets people talking to each other, thus laying a foundation for better understanding of how individuals prefer to work and communicate. People love to share their type. While some critics have derided it for lacking the ability to point out our flaws, let’s consider what would happen if the MBTI measured, for example, “neuroticism,” which is measured by the Big 5. The instrument would cease to be a conversation starter, and become a conversation closer. While such a measure may be very important in clinical settings, very few people would ever discuss their own level of neuroticism over lunch with co-workers. In this instance, a measurement that perhaps might make the instrument more appealing to researchers would render it useless – and even offensive — as a practical tool in day-to-day life. Interestingly, a 1989 paper by McCrae and Costa, two leading Big 5 researchers, showed that the four dimensions of the MBTI correlated significantly with four of the Big Five dimensions. In fact, the only dimension that doesn’t correlate is the one that the MBTI doesn’t measure — neuroticism.

Additionally, the instrument has been criticized for its two-category format, which identifies individuals as preferring either Extraversion or Introversion, for example. Critics who point out that such preferences are not absolute, and might more precisely be described along a continuum, are correct! The MBTI tool does not describe someone as an absolute “Extravert” or “Introvert” for exactly that reason. Rather, we “prefer” one or the other, just like we prefer using one hand over the other, but are capable of — and advised to — flex our preferences to best serve the situation. There are also reasons for this design that relate to the instrument’s theoretical underpinnings, but setting those aside for the moment, the fact is that the MBTI presents information in a way that people can readily understand and easily relay to other people. While expressing traits along a continuum (vs. a two-category format) might be useful for some clinical psychologists, identifying a four letter personality type helps people more quickly internalize and socialize the information and experience. It also should be noted that all psychometric assessments break down scores into categories so that people can understand their results – the MBTI tool is not unique in this regard.

Too much debate rooted in misunderstanding
While there definitely needs to be healthy public scrutiny of an important instrument such as the MBTI tool, far too much of the debate is rooted in misconceptions regarding what the MBTI assessment is actually designed to accomplish. This is unfortunate, because such misguided conversations may result in some people missing out on the tremendous insight and benefits that this instrument has to offer. However, at CPP, our goal is to change that, and inspire everyone on the planet to know, use, and share the power of personality.

 

Want more? Here’s what some of our MBTI customers say about the assessment:

“We use MBTI assessment about ten times per year and it always sparks amazing conversation. It brings such self-awareness to our students that the MBTI certified trainers here find it priceless.” – Allison Gross-Ebert, Training Manager, US Department of State

“The MBTI assessment has provided an intuitive, relatable, easy-to-apply self-discovery and diversity awareness platform that enables our employees at all levels to better understand their own and others preferred styles of work, communication, and collaboration. This has made leaders better at leading, and all contributors more effective at being led and partnering for success.” – Jerry Chiplock, Talent Development Supervisor & Lead Trainer, Dow Corning Corporation

“The MBTI assessment workshop has helped our organization better understand differences, especially with regard to how people process information as well as how to communicate with others who may have a different preference.” – Jane Creech, Organizational Development Consultant, Strategic Business Systems

“When [the Myers-Briggs® personality assessment is] used as a professional development tool for leaders, the impact is visible almost immediately. Just the awareness is powerful. ” – Donna Draper, Vice President, HR, Ide Management Group

Take a look at all the testimonials we’ve collected from customers here.

9 Comments

  1. As you imply, Stromberg and many other MBTI critics create and attack their own straw men while ignoring the utility of the MBTI. I am interested in your views on two more constructive developmental issues. 1. What research or references can you point me to regarding hemispheric asymmetry and the MBTI dichotomies. (My Phd dissertation explored the different umwelt’s offered by a Chinese Taoist and a Western cultural interpretation of the dynamics between our two hemispheres.)
    2. Who, if anyone, is working on the applications of MBTI for retirees, small residential communities, small towns, and communities of 10,000 plus population.

  2. Thank you for a timely and articulate response. Well said.

  3. Jeff, I agree with your opinion on MBTI. MBTI is not a predictive tool and anyone who proclaims that there is a tool that accurately predicts future behaviour is fooling himself or is clearly delusional. If there are assessment tools that can accurately predict future behaviour, they would be the next best thing in world after bread. MBTI and other self awareness tools have a purpose which is to generate self awareness about the psychological preferences of an individual in the span when the test is taken. My early stage MBTI Step II assesments and subsequent ones have shown a shift in preferences which mirrors the reality of my preference transition. As people grow more self awareness or grow wiser and coherent, there is a tendency to be more balanced on the MBTI spectrum. All other assessments including the Strengths Finder are nothing but a snapshot in time during a very short sample of lifetime. MBTI is the only tool that provides a more accurate assessment of individual preferences. I see this attack on MBTI as nothing but a possible timed release with introduction of a new Assesment Tool, so we should not give too much weightage to the opinions of journalist on VOX who for all we know may be a marketing guy in disguise for an upcoming product.

  4. I have been on board with the Myers-Briggs assessment test for many years, since it did open my eyes to understanding that human beings do function and think very different from each other, and it did help me see myself in a different way. But as I continued my study of human nature, I would have to agree that the Myers-Briggs assessment needs some major overhaul!! It’s test is too generalized, and doesn’t get to the core concept of what Jung was toying with. And yes, Jung was only in the fundamental stages of working through his theory. I feel there was probably more that could have been developed. And just like art, psychology rarely works with black and white. There is a lot more grey area than most are capable of tackling. I would really love to see someone really grasp what Jung was embarking on, and take it a step further. Unfortunately, I haven’t come across it yet. There have been attempts, but people are too emotionally invested in their theories that it is hard to get it molded just right. I believe it is possible though. And that there is stalk in the idea that their are patterns and connections in how different people think.

  5. I find Vox’s comment or opinion both interesting as well as puzzling. As my insight into Vox’s perspective is limited I can only share my experience with this instrument that I have chosen as my second career as a practitioner. The MBTI changed my life after the first time I took the assessment. Being an INFJ,I walked the Earth feeling like I never fit in and very misunderstood. Once I had received the report results from my MBTI, I could not believe how some iniquitous test ( as I referred to it in those days) could ‘read my mail’. How could something understand me more and better than people who I lived with all my life? The MBTI helped me feel normal and it gave me a different perspective on my sense of being.

    • Discovering and understanding my INFJ identity has been life-changing for me, too. It’s easy for some people to brush off the MBTI as meaningless when society so often caters to their preferences and perceptions of reality. For many of us INFJs (and people of other types too, I’m sure), the MBTI enables us to make meaning out of our experiences and provides us a language to articulate these preferences to others.

      Not only is the MBTI meaningful, but for some of us it is precious; the MBTI validates the unique way in which we navigate the world, and encourages us to develop all of our preferences in order to become more effective, well-rounded human beings.

  6. Good response to the critics. However, I prefer the CPI 260 in terms of personality type assignment. “Prefer” may not be the best way to describe human behavior…..it implies choice. A better way to describe human behavior may be to describe human behavior as the result of genetics and social conditioning.
    Rick

  7. I totally agree that being non-judgmental is a major strength of the MBTI. Self-aware and emotionally mature people will most likely be able to see their weaknesses mirrored in their type description and know what they need to work on. Be your own judge as it were. The non-judgmental and non-threatening nature of MBTI allowed me years ago to explain to a coworker, who felt like the odd one out in a team that seemed to see her as slow, fussy (as in complicating things by always finding new problems) and dreamy, how people are different and complement each other in their contributions to a team. She clearly got the message and for me this is one of my happiest memories. Few things are as rewarding and thrilling as being able to make people feel and understand how they are worthy – and how worthy they are.

  8. Having observed hundreds of individual and organizational clients gain useful and actionable insight when discussing their MBTI results, I am disappointed that critics focus exclusively on ways the MBTI can be misused and rarely on ways it is highly effective at facilitating personal and career development.

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