Monday, October 20, 2014

MBTI - A Tool for Understanding Alternate Perspectives

Disclaimer - I'm not an expert on personality typing, I just find it extremely interesting :-)

I've been interested in the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator (mbti) for a while now.  Essentially, it's a personality indicator that "types" people into 1 of 16 categories based on how we process and interact with the world.  Each type has it's own unique "functional stack" of four cognitive functions (basically just how our brains work).  If you want to actually know what any of that means, click here.

Note - for anyone who cares, I'm an INFJ.  I mostly tell you that as a warning that a lot of what I say comes from an INFJ perspective, because that's what I know best :-)

I've used mbti for a while now as a tool to better understand people who think differently from me (in type theory language, people with different functional stacks - who process and interact with the world differently than I do.)

An example.  INFJ is a feeling type.  I'm a "feeler" - I consider how people feel, emotional implications, etc.  I put myself into a situation, and consider it from there.  I live with an INTJ - a "thinker."  Thinkers are much more subjective, and aren't likely to feel the emotions of others.  They will take themselves out of the situation, and look at it from there (note - I'm NOT saying this is bad - it's just different ways of functioning).  Once I understood that simple distinction, and was able to recognize it, I was able to make a lot more sense of our disagreements, and relationship as a whole.

As I learned more about the functions, and how they work together, it started really helping me.  I've always been good at subconsciously recognizing patterns of interaction, but type theory has allowed me to quickly summarize those patterns into applicable units of information.

Looking at the cognitive functions, and how they work together to create functional stacks, can be a pretty good baseline for quickly understanding why someone is approaching a problem differently from you.  Especially the F vs. T dichotomy (feeling vs. thinking - click here for more info) can be very confusing for people of the opposite type, and understanding it really allowed me to relate to people on a new level, because I understood their thought process better.

If I recognize I'm talking to a "feeler" I know what styles of communication are likely to be best for both of us.  If I think someone seems more comfortable in a "thinker" perspective, I will likely adjust my approach to the conversation to better understand them.  It lets me more quickly find an effective communication style, makes them more comfortable (which in turn makes me more comfortable), and generally makes for an easier, more enjoyable interaction.

Moral of the story - I use type theory as a way of deepening my understanding of others.  It isn't a judgement, and I don't put nearly as much stock in it as a lot of people do.  For me, it's a tool I've found helpful to understanding others more deeply and completely.

For anyone who's curious...
You can take the mbti here (at least a version of it).
After you've taken the test, this site has really good descriptions of type, as well as lots of good info on cognitive functions (and I recommend taking the test first, so your answers aren't biased by knowledge of the types and their functions).
This site has more information on this stuff than you could every hope for :-)

A Note - in addition to understanding others, or even before that, mbti can be extremely useful in better understanding yourself. I just didn't talk about that this time because recently I've been thinking more about how I use it to understand where other people are coming from than how I use it to understand myself.

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