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Don’t Box Me In

Don’t Box Me In

By Donna Dunning

Many people are not comfortable with the idea of being categorized and placed in a box on a wall chart. No one wants to be labeled in a system that seems inaccurate or negative.

Yet, we all know people are different. Everyone approaches situations in a unique way. But there are also commonalities in the way people are energized, process information, decide, and act. Is it possible to find a system for appreciating differences that does not label or limit people?

Appreciating Differences

When used correctly, personality type provides a solution to these problems. Personality type looks at innate preferences in the way people take in information and make decisions. These preferences do not dictate how people act. People can choose their preferred or non-preferred ways of acting to respond to situations. Personality type provides a flexible, positive approach to individual differences, but only if it is used correctly.

Unfortunately, not everyone uses the model correctly. When type concepts are used in one of the following inappropriate ways, the meaning and value of the theory are distorted. Focusing on the positive intentions of the model and avoiding inappropriate uses of type builds understanding, without boxing people in. The following points clarify the appropriate uses (and misuses) of personality type theory.

Don’t Use Personality Type to:

  • Make excuses (I’m an ISTJ, I can’t brainstorm). Everyone can learn to do what he or she needs to do to be successful.
  • Avoid a task or personal development (I’m ENFP, I’m not interested in making a business plan). We can’t always work in our preferred mode. We need to use and develop the non-preferred parts of our personality.
  • Push tasks on others (You prefer S, so you take notes). It is inappropriate to use type for selecting people for jobs or teams.
  • Justify problems (I’m an F, I can’t help it if I take things too personally). Everyone can learn to work around their challenges.
  • Stereotype (She prefers Thinking, she won’t consider people in her decision). This might be the most dangerous misconception of all. It assumes that people are not able to access or develop skills outside of their preferences.
  • Put others down (Intuitive types are impractical dreamers). You have all heard these. They use negative rather than positive language. Personality type theory is designed to describe alternative, positive approaches.
  • Predict (You must be a Sensing type since you are so focused on the details). This assumes that only Ss can attend to details – not true. Other examples, such as “She’s late because she’s a P. He’s uptight because he’s a J.” imply causation; a certain preference causes a certain behavior, something that is not true for personality type preferences.
  • Explain everything. Some people use personality type to try to explain or solve any issue, conflict, or action. People are complex and their personality type is only one part of who they are and how they interact.

Do Use Personality Type to:

  • Build your awareness of individual differences. Realizing that there are differences in people is an important first step for gaining knowledge about yourself and others.
  • Understand others. Once you acknowledge differences you can begin to learn more about them.
  • Understand yourself. By studying and applying the concepts of personality type, you will learn more about your interactions and yourself.
  • Appreciate the typical gifts and strengths of others. This fourth step goes beyond understanding. When you appreciate other preferences and approaches you see the gifts and strengths in all of the approaches.
  • Accommodate others’ preferences. Customizing your actions and interactions so that others will be comfortable and get what they need from you is a highly developed way of using personality type preferences.
  • Develop and grow as you learn from others. Seeing others’ strengths and learning more about alternative approaches facilitates your self-development.
  • Resolve difficulties and differences using positive language. In the context of personality type differences you can discuss the merits of different approaches and determine positive solutions to issues.

I’m sure you have your own examples of appropriate and inappropriate uses of personality type. Thinking about how we currently apply the concepts of personality type will help us use it more wisely.


Introduction to Type and Communication describes in detail how personality preferences influence communications.

If you live in the USA, Introduction to Type and Communication is now available on Kindle.

Looking for a practical resource to help you plan your ideal career? Check out my book, What’s Your Type of Career?: Find Your Perfect Career By Using Your Personality Type

Want to use your personality type to excel at your career? Check out 10 Career Essentials: Excel at Your Career by Using Your Personality Type

This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 26th, 2010 at 7:35 am and is filed under Blog. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “Don’t Box Me In”

  1. Vicki says:

    Thanks for this.

    One of the things I love about the MBTI (when used correctly 🙂 is that I give myself the label that fits me best. I had a “discussion” with a coach in another forum where she kept saying “We don’t say ‘you are an Introvert'” and I kept saying ” but I AM an introvert”. We were both right. As a coach, she can’t say “you are” but I need to be free to say “I _am_.”

  2. Nadya says:

    It really is dangerous to stereotype based on personality preferences. For example I know an ISTJ who, as the chairman of a board, initiated so much change that it made the other members uncomfortable. But if you stereotyped him based on his ISTJ preference you’d think he must always resist and hate change and miss that he’s reasonable and well-rounded enough to know that change is often necessary and good, and responsible enough to put that change into effect when others won’t.

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