Myers Briggs

What is Briggs-Myers Typology Good for and What is it Not?  Part 1: A Cautionary Tale

This week I listened to one of my favorite podcasts – The Hidden Brain and was saddened by it’s disparagement of personality tests in the episode “The Sorting Hat”. I won’t deny that valid points were made about the dangers of using personality typology as criteria for hiring and firing or judging performance capacity either prospectively or retrospectively, all of which I agree are toxic miss-implementations of a valuable tool. However, I’d encourage people not to blame the tool, just as I wouldn’t want to outlaw computers just because they can be used for nefarious purposes.

It is common to have clients seeking career path clarity as one of the goals of consultation with me about their type. After hearing the above podcast I did some reflecting and realized I may not have applied as much caution as might be prudent in discussing career path with clients so I want to set the record straight.

First off, if you’ve had a consult with me, we’ve probably discussed your education and professional experience. I want to clarify that I do this not as a clear-cut stereotyping criteria for determining type such as “NTs go into hard sciences, NFs go into arts and social sciences, SPs hate school, SJs go for stability” etc. I do it to start a conversation and get a big picture view of one’s adult life, motivations, and style of initiating and pursuing goals. From here there are a lot of clarifying questions, seeking a lot of context to help illicit less concrete information that can point toward type. My partner, for example, busts ENFP stereotypes – having a 25 year career in academia at one institution. He gets his Ne on by getting a ton of freedom to explore different research topics within that stable framework. He wouldn’t have known academic research could be a great career path for him if he’d known his type and followed some of the ENFP career advice out there. He might not have even been hired if his institution knew his type and had resolved to write off ENFPs as fickle and not well suited to heirarchy, oversight, and stability inherent in an ivory tower institution.

I’d like to reflect now on the historical development of the typology system as conceived by Isabel Briggs-Myers. Her work, which was to become the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI), inspired by the work of Carl Jung’s theories of Psychological Types, was developed as a means to help match women into jobs during WWII. Most of the able-bodied men of the country had vacated their previous professions to advance the war efforts, prompting women to enter the workforce to maintain the every-day functioning of the country (as well as roles surrounding the all-conssuming war industrial complex).

There are a lot of differences though between finding well-suited roles for women during WWII and modern employment practices. Most of the women entering the work force in the 1940s were not educated past high school. If they were, many never entered the professional sphere, rather going to college to become a worldly sophisticated candidate for married life of entertaining the colleagues of their accomplished husbands and bringing up good children, known as getting their “MRS degree”. Thus for most women of the time there was little to go on in terms of what their non-domestic talents and inclinations would be. It was a question most women never had the opportunity to ask themselves. Thus a personality inventory was a very good starting point to categorize their natural talents that could be honed into skills with training and practice.

Now days there is a lot less stopping kids of any gender from pursuing careers reflecting their interests from an early age and throughout their lives as they learn, grow, and get exposure to new things. Excluding people from careers that they may be extremely dedicated to, adept at, and have unique approaches to is a tragic misuse of typology.

Now that I’ve unloaded about how typology has become somewhat of a monster in modern employment practices, stay tuned for Part 2 where I’ll discuss why it is nonetheless invaluable when used constructively.

If you’d like help discovering your own Briggs-Myers type, schedule a consultation with me today!

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