I have just received my certificate testifying to having passed the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) Step 1 training, with a score 0f 100% (yippee, the first time I have passed a test with no errors since my cycling proficiency exam when I was 10). The training was run by OPP in Oxford, one of the very few organisations licensed to sell the questionnaire and therefore, de facto, also offer the route for qualification for practitioners. As it goes with these things, MBTI seems to have been cropping up everywhere. At Henley, of course, where a number of programme members have recently also received feedback on their type, which acts as induction into a sort of club.
Then this week I heard Mirela Frostup’s Radio Four programme (I now have to imagine saying this in Harry Enfield’s funny voice from this season’s “Radio 4 documentary” running-gag on “Harry and Paul”) about the same instrument, so weirdly perhaps here we are thrust into the Jungian world of synchronicity. The Frostrup programme was interesting as it tried to provide a range of views on the ubiquitous MBTI, both strongly pro and strongly sceptical/dismissive. Actually, I should probably say clearly rather than strongly, since it’s about Myers-Briggs.
Before the training, I was familiar with MBTI – having taken the questionnaire twice before – but counted myself among the comfortably skeptical. I thought it was interesting and quite fun, but ultimately essentially just a pigeon-holing exercise, with a horoscope quality to it. People who were “trained” in MBTI had a slightly esoteric air about them, often with a knowing look, as they appeared to peer into you and see your type.
Now having spent a total of 5 days in training, I have read the manual and run two full self-assessment feedback sessions, as well as undergone two observed feedback sessions. Over this time, I did revise my thoughts quite a lot and see a level of subtetly within MBTI that wasn’ apparent prior to the course. I do retain some important reservations and a few previously unasked, and still unanswered questions about MBTI and about the Jungian theory on which much (though not all) of it is based.
It would be impossible to summarise what MBTI is trying to say in detail in a short blog like this, but here are a few things I did manage to clarify during the training, which has been useful:
1. It does has a positive intention. No types are better or worse than other types (though evidence of MBTI’s use as if it were so is widespread). I think therefore it could be a useful addition to coaching and a possible new source of self-awareness if one accepts its various premises as given.
2. Since it’s about preferences (either/or) and not about traits (weak to strong), one dones have to accept the assumption that the four dichotomies exist and also that a preference one way or the other is innate. This means one does have a “true type” which doesn’t change over time. However, settling on what your true type preference is can be tricky because we may have adapted how we operate over time in our careers. Myers-Briggs also supported the idea that you develop proficiency in the various Jungian functions over the course of your life.
3. the questionnaire, for all its US pedigree of statistics on reliability and validity (and we were given a book several hundred pages long which documents the stats ad nauseum!!) can suck a person in to believing either that whatever the result is the be-all and end-all, or, since it is quite easy to second guess, pretty easy to manipulate. In fact, one of the best and most challenging things about the MBTI training was the development of the skill of interviewing someone and coaching them to settle on their own “best fit”. How one does this without sufficient time, as happens on many training interventions where MBTI is used, is another matter.
4. Robust or not, MBTI demonstrates that the more you think about how you are with the world, and how others are with the world, the richer the world looks. I found the training a little light, actually, and also somewhat rigid (though this always happens when you repeat things or scale them up) but the interaction with other course participants was great, and could have been much more used.
5. Three side-effects of spending so much time with MBTI:
a. you do start to speculate what other people’s type might be. I found the OPP position on this a bit contradictory, as you are encouraged on the one hand to do this while on the other you are reminded that each person must find their own preference combination.
b. you do start to want to know more. I am interested in the “Step II” training, which looks in more detail at type development and interaction. I also would like to return to some of the Jung texts which informed the original research. I have also found that there is a “whole other world” of practitioners out there who blog, newsletter, tweet and (for all I know) name their kids after MBTI…
c. as with all training related processes, I find myself looking for ways to put a twist on it, to come up with new ways and new angles. Mirela Frostrup featured a self-assessment interview with one of the OPP trainers (someone who also appeared as a trainer on my course last week) and I couldn’t help but notice that the scenarios, examples and questions being used were straight from the manual.
To sum up, I’m glad I demystified the MBTI for myself, was happy with my level of performance in the training, am looking forward to exploring the indicator with managers on the MBA, and retain enough of a critical eye not to get completely sold or sucked in.