Has the MBTI been "debunked"?
The Meyers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI) has been widely criticized for a number of reasons, but it's still one of the most popular instruments used in Organizational Development. Critics suggest that's because MBTI practitioners, such as myself, lack a sophisticated understanding of the science behind psychometric testing. Putting aside, for a moment, the fact that I have a degree in psychology and teach concepts such as reliability and validity in my college courses, lets assume this is a valid criticism. Why am I still a fan? Why did I spend the money to become a certified practitioner?
My first experience with the MBTI didn't involve researching the scientific literature - it came from experiencing the value of the instrument as a workshop participant.
A very long time ago, I was hired, along with two other people, to work on a special project. We shared an office - it was a big office, but we were all in the same room together. We were given lists of clients who would be appropriate candidates for the project, and we were reaching out to them on the phone, making appointments to meet with them to discuss their participation. It was a challenging target group. Of the three of us, I had been around the longest and so although I wasn't the "official" leader of our little group, I became the person who the others would turn to for advice or ideas. No problem for me, it's nice to be valued by your colleagues! The problem arose when one of my team-members turned to me more and more frequently throughout the day, debriefing his calls with potential participants. I was trying to concentrate on my own work, and found this "chatter" to be extremely distracting and annoying. I did everything I could to discourage him - monosyllabic answers, refusing to turn around to engage with him, grumpy responses. I became the cranky person.
As my blood pressure continued to rise, my crankiness increased. Our working relationship began to suffer, as he didn't feel supported by me and in all honesty, I was worried about becoming homicidal. A slight exaggeration, but I was definitely progressing from "cranky" to "angry".
One day our supervisor announced that as a team-building activity, we were going to do the Meyers-Briggs Type Inventory. To this day I have no idea if she was aware of the tension that was building in our office, or if this was just an amazing coincidence. Going into the session, I had no idea how profound that morning was going to be - but it didn't take long. It was as if a light bulb was turned on. I realized that I had been judging my co-worker, using words like "needy", "attention-seeking", "dependent", "rude", "loud", "abrasive" and "inconsiderate". I'm not sure what words he was using to describe me, but they were probably variations on the "cranky and unsupportive" theme.
Turns out he is and extrovert and I'm an introvert. Extroverts like to engage with others, and process information out loud. Introverts like quiet environments where they can focus and process information internally. Once I realized that his need to discuss everything was as strong as my need for peace and quiet, and he realized why I kept shutting him down, we were able to talk about the tension that had been building in our office using non-judgmental words. We grew to understand each other and negotiated a compromise - he would give me quiet time, and periodically throughout the day I would engage him in a discussion about his contacts.
A simple thing. A half day workshop. We went from a team that was becoming more toxic by the second, to a team that enjoyed each other's company. He has retired and moved away so we're no longer in touch, but I think of him fondly and really value the time we worked together, and the friendship that evolved.
The MBTI increases understanding of individual differences and promotes understanding of how we can work better together. Diversity can boost problem-solving, creativity and customer service, but only if we understand and value individual differences. The Meyers-Briggs worked for me, and I want to share that experience with my clients.