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Introducing Type

By Donna Dunning

What is personality type theory?

People are innately different. Studying personality preferences, and patterns of preferred reactions and interactions, is a worthwhile way to learn about individual differences. Personality type is based on and acknowledges the positive nature of individual differences. When people learn about and understand these differences they can build rapport to get along better and work more effectively with others.

Where does personality type theory come from?

Personality Type theory, based on the work of Carl Jung, identifies your natural preferences. Jung’s theory of personality type has been expanded and popularized through the work of Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers. This mother-daughter team created the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator ® (MBTI®) personality tool for identifying personality type. This tool has thrived through more than 60 years of research and development.

Does personality type theory tell us what we are good at?

Personality type is about preferences, not abilities or skills. Personality type tools are designed to sort out your natural approach from 16 qualitatively different patterns. The tools do this by having you pick between pairs of preferences. Although you will sometimes hear people talk about their “scores” on these tools, personality type tools don’t actually measure your behaviors. The score is simply an indicator of how often you chose one side of a preference pair over the other. Scores are only used to help practitioners (and people taking the test) determine if the sorting is accurate.

What are the preference pairs?

There are four pairs of preferences related to how a person becomes energized, takes in information, makes decisions, and interacts with the world. One side of each pair appeals to and best describes how an individual prefers to focus their time, attention, and energy. Although an individual will have a preference for one side of each preference pair, everyone uses all of the preferences some of the time and all of the preferences are equally valuable.

How you gather your energy

The first pair (E/I) describes a person’s overall approach to life and how they are energized. People with Extraverted (E) preferences are energized by action and interaction whereas people with Introverted (I) preferences are energized by calm and reflection. You can learn more about this pair on my What’s Your Preference, Extraversion or Introversion post.

The kind of information you prefer to pay attention to

The second pair, (S/N) describes the kind of information a person prefers to pay attention to first. People who prefer Sensing (S) initially tend to pay attention to facts and realities. People who prefer Intuition (N) initially tend to focus on patterns and ideas linking facts together. You can learn more about this pair on my What’s Your Preference, Sensing or Intuition post.

How you prefer to evaluate information

The third pair (T/F) describes ways to evaluate information and make decisions. People who prefer Thinking (T) are likely to trust logic and analysis when deciding. People who prefer Feeling (F) are likely to trust personal impressions and look at subjective factors when deciding. You can learn more about this pair on my What’s Your Preference, Thinking or Feeling post.

How you prefer to deal with the world

The last pair (J/P) describes how people prefer to deal with the world around them. People who prefer Judging (J) like to plan, structure, and organize time and tasks. People who prefer Perceiving (P) like to approach the world in an open-ended, flexible manner. You can learn more about this pair on my What’s Your Preference, Judging or Perceiving post.

Is there more to personality type than four preferences?

When you put these four preferences together you come up with a four-letter code, such as ISTP or ENFJ.

Unfortunately, most people only learn their four-letter code and think that the theory is just about pairs of preferences. However, the four-letter code is simply an indicator to help you choose a personality type pattern from 16 unique approaches.

For example, two people who differ by only one letter (say INFJ and INFP) may be quite different from each other. They may show the world different parts of their personality and can be motivated differently.

To use personality type theory effectively you need to move into type dynamics, which looks at where and how you tend to use your preferences in your actions, interactions, and reflections.

These 16 patterns can be grouped into 8 pairs. To learn more about the 8 approaches, go to Introduction to the 8 Ways of Working.

What can personality type be used for?

Personality type provides very useful information about how people prefer to work, play, and interact. Unlike traits, preferences are not prescriptive or inflexible. Personality type acknowledges both adaptability and natural development. In this way, personality type does not limit or constrain people as they learn to adapt to circumstances and use non-preferred approaches. However, these adaptations are not as naturally comfortable, energizing, or motivating as operating in preferred modes. Understanding your natural approach provides a rich source of insight for self-understanding and improving relationships.

Some common applications for personality type theory include communication, career planning, team building, coaching and personal development, learning, and change management.

You can take the MBTI® tool on-line, through the publisher, at MBTI® Complete.


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MBTI, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and Introduction to Type are registered trademarks of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Trust in the United States and other countries.