Nature's Mosaic of Qualities

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI®) is one of the most well researched personality measures in the world today, said to be taken by two million people annually. It is based on Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung’s (1875 – 1961) theory of Psychological Type. Jung observed that people had one of two general orientations or Attitudes towards the world – either outward towards the external environment which he termed Extraversion, or inwards towards the subjective world of the individual which he called Introversion.

Further he identified four Functions, having noted that normal differences between healthy individuals resulted from an inborn preference for perceiving information either through Sensing or Intuition, and judging that information and reaching conclusions on the basis of either Thinking or Feelings. The ideal would be to have balance between both Attitudes and the four Functions, but in reality one Attitude and one Function dominates, and the non-preferred Functions are subservient and more or less developed, with the Function opposite the dominant least developed and unconscious, expressing itself only under great stress, and in odd disturbing ways. By combining the two Attitudes and the four Functions, Jung was able to describe eight quite distinct personality types.

Katharine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers found Jung’s typology so revealing of people’s personalities that they decided to develop a paper-and-pencil test to allow individuals to establish their type. By adding an additional two Functions – Judging and Perceiving they were able to describe sixteen diverse personality types.

The MBTI®is a very versatile instrument. It gives insight into how and why people understand and approach the world in such different ways, and how the tendency for an individual to use the preferred Attitude and Function can be the source of much misunderstanding and miscommunication. It can be useful in many situations such as management development, team building, improving communication, resolving conflict, managing change, stress management, identifying learning styles and motivations, relationship building, and career guidance.

The MBTI® indicator identifies two opposing Attitudes with regard to the source and orientation of energy. The Extravert’s (E) energy is mainly directed outwards towards the world of activity, people and things, whereas the Introvert’s (I) attention is drawn inwards towards the world of reflections, feelings and ideas. These are polar opposites as it is not possible to do both at the same time.
People with a preference for Sensing (S) perceive through their five senses. They are well anchored in current reality, and enjoy working with facts that can be verified or confirmed by experience. People at the other end of the pole perceive through their Intuition (N). They have hunches or sixth sense and tend to be more interested in abstract concepts and inherent future possibilities than in what is already in existence and evident.
Once information is to hand, decisions can be reached in one of two ways – either through Thinking (T) or Feeling (F) but not both concurrently. Much misunderstanding and conflict can occur between these two types who approach the world from opposing directions – head versus heart – principles versus values. A person with a preference for Thinking seeks truth, justice and fairness and will decide after an objective logical analysis. On the other hand a person with a preference for Feeling decides on the basis of subjective person-centred values. They seek harmony and will weigh up their emotional response to a situation and assess the impact of their decisions on others. In extremis a Thinking type may find a Feeling type sentimental, illogical and possibly totally irrational, whereas a Feeling type may describe the Thinker as cold, impersonal and uncaring.
The Judging and Perceiving functions added by Myers and Briggs help determine the order of preferences, and describe a person’s preferred lifestyle in the outside world. People with a preference for Judging (J) prefer a lifestyle that is well-organised. They like structure, plan well ahead and in their keenness to reach closure tend to take decisions quickly – sometimes before gathering necessary facts. People with a preference for Perceiving (P) tend to be more adaptable and spontaneous. They prefer to keep their options open as long as possible lest new information become available that will have a bearing on the conclusion. Thus at their worst, they can delay taking decisions to the point of procrastination.


Accordingly with four pairs of fundamentally opposed preferences, it is easy to see how divergent styles can cause the opposite type much stress, and how disagreements can arise when no common understanding exists of another’s paradigm.

One of the key points about preferences is that no matter what natural preference a person may have, the opposite preference can be used, if in a less skilled manner. To take ‘handedness’ as an example – nearly everyone writes with a preferred hand, and once proficient writes with this hand without conscious effort. However, it is possible to write with the non-preferred hand, and with practice and conscious exertion an individual may become quite skilled, but innate handedness does not change and s/he will always revert back to the preferred hand whenever possible.

It is the same when using our mental functions. Jung discovered that people used functions in a hierarchy of preference. He described the order from the most used mental process – the dominant function, through the auxiliary and tertiary function with the least preferred known as the inferior function. We can and do use all of four functions but most of us have a preferred well-developed function we rely on. This superior function is supported by the auxiliary function which too can normally be used at will. The tertiary function however, is somewhat less developed and depending on how evolved the person, may or may not be under conscious control. The inferior function is invariably poorly developed. Buried deep in the unconscious it is unskilled and unpractised, and when in times of great stress it bursts through, it causes havoc and surprise to the individual as well as those around who may be mystified as the person is “acting out of character”.

The interaction between the functions is dynamic. Each pair of opposites are at different ends of a continuum, and if one pole is extraverted the other will be introverted. Hence, dependent on whether the individual is extraverted or introverted, s/he may or may not use their most developed function in the outside world. While extraverts use their dominant function in the external world, Introverts’ dominant function is internalised and the individual relates to the external world through their extraverted auxiliary function.

The various combinations of these preferences result in 16 personality ‘types’ represented by four letters. The resulting gestalt of each four letter type, for example ESTJ, INFP is far greater than the sum of the individual letter parts. Each type is associated with a unique set of values and behavioural characteristics which provide a useful starting point for individual feedback, self-exploration or group discussion.

The MBTI indicator should only be used in development, never selection. It is an excellent tool for opening up discussions on differences as there are no right or wrong types, and no one type is better than another. Each type has its strengths and vulnerable areas and these can be explored in a spirit of learning about differences. An understanding of preferences can help identify special strengths, and provide insight into what kinds of work a person may enjoy and be successful at. By understanding one’s own preferences and likely impact on other types, an individual can choose to build upon strengths or change behaviour to respond to development needs.

Most value is gained from feedback given by a trained professional. This allows the individual to establish their ‘best fit’ type. In a coaching environment the MBTI® can be powerfully combined with 360° giving substance to the impact the person has on his environment, and helping explain why the individual behaves as s/he does.

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Step 1

The Profile Report identifies the participant’s ‘reported’ four letter type. Once ‘best fit’ type has been established during feedback with a trained professional, a narrative report is produced. This explores personality in terms of the dynamics of the dominant, auxiliary, tertiary and inferior functions. This report gives many insights and practical applications.


88 items can usually be completed in 20-30 minutes

Step 2

The Profile Report identifies the participant’s ‘reported’ four letter type. Once ‘best fit’ type has been established during feedback with a trained professional, a 23 page report provides information on the 20 sub-scales that make up the component parts, and gives a detailed overview of how different facets of the personality work together. The report includes the individual’s approach to: communicating, making decisions, managing change, and managing conflict.


131 items can usually be completed in 45 minutes


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