Myers Briggs – what can it do for me?

Personality inventory

Psychologists disagree on how robust Myers Briggs types are as a description of personality. Nonetheless it is a valuable tool to prompt discussion and provides a language to be able to identify and discuss the differences that occur in people’s different preferences for how they do things.

Myers Briggs looks at people’s “preferences” for how they operate between two dichotomies in four areas:

  1. Where people get energy and focus their attention – Extraversion with an outward focus, or Introversion with an inward focus.
  2. How people take in information – Sensing with attention to what is real, actual and factual or iNtuition, paying attention to the big picture.
  3. How people make decisions – Thinking through objective, logical analysis, or Feeling by considering what’s important to people.
  4. How people structure their lives – Judging with plans, order and structure, or Perceiving, being flexible and spontaneous and leaving things open.

Some of these terms are not used in exactly the same way as everyday language, and can be a bit confusing at first – so it’s worth reading the full definitions.

In reality, people may display both preferences at different times, but one is likely to be more natural than the other – it’s often described as similar to writing with one hand or the other – you can write with your “other” hand but it’s likely to be harder.

Understanding these differences and thinking about what it means for you and team members can be most valuable part of this for teams as a whole:

  • It helps you to understand your own work style and where you might find things easy or more difficult
  • It helps you to understand the work style of your colleagues and provides a framework to identify and resolve differences
  • It provides a way to discuss people’s differences
  • It enables you to structure work in a way that gets the best out of people.

For individuals, looking at which of the sixteen types is useful in thinking about what sort of work might suit you and how you use your strengths.

What does this mean for team work?

It is good to have a different mix of people in a team, considering different aspects and preventing “groupthink”. A mix of people increases ideas and creativity, improves planning and delivery through considering a range of approaches, and reduces risk by ensuring that detail is considered as well as the wider vision. However, differences need to be recognised and actively managed to reduce conflict and confusion.

For example people who have an introvert preference may consider that extraverts are rude and don’t give them an opportunity to contribute, whilst extraverts may think that introverts aren’t interested. For iNtuitive types, Sensing types’ questions may seem picky and perceived as a criticism, whereas Sensing types are just trying to understand how an idea might work in practice. Conversely, iNtuitive types’ contributions may seem irrelevant, unhelpful and impractical to people with a Sensing preference. Judging types may get frustrated with Perceiving types’ need for further information and inability to make a decision, whereas Perceiving types may consider that Judging types want to make a decision too soon and without enough information.

Once these differences are recognised, meetings and other work structures can be designed to get the best out of people.

It’s also useful for relationships outside work as well – one participant in a workshop recently identified differences between her and her partner based on the inventory and took the information home to test it out on him.

You can undertake the assessment online – the official site is here and charges a fee. There are free versions online, although they are not certified as accurate.

Ideas to Impact delivers team effectiveness sessions that can include a Myers Briggs introduction and self-assessment by individuals as a basis for discussions about better team working, or we can run a customised workshop to meet your specific needs.

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