Cartoon: Demon receives MBTI rating


By Jeffrey Baumgartner

By Jeffrey Baumgartner

Are you familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)? It is a popular exercise in which people complete a questionnaire and are then tagged with one of 16 personality types. According to one of its vendors, it helps in team development, leadership development, conflict resolution and all kinds of good things. That's great except for one niggling little issue: MBTI has also been clinically tested and found to be, and I don't know how to put this nicely: absolutely useless.

This raises an interesting question. Why are MBTI testing and related activities so widely used if a bit of research with Google makes it clear that their value is doubtful? Perhaps part of the problem is that the results of those clinical tests are published in rather dry research papers which, at best, are cited by science and psychology blogs. The defenders of MBTI, on the other hand, are generally vendors who, by definition, are better salespeople than psychology researchers.


One big reason for the persistence of MBTI testing is that many companies and individuals make large amounts of money selling these services to companies like yours. Entire institutions, complete with hungry sales teams, are built around MBTI. Companies train facilitators who invest time and money to become certified so that they can sell MBTI training, workshops and the like in order to pay off their mortgages. As a mortgage holder myself, I can sympathise. Clearly, it is not in the financial or career development interests of any of these people to admit that what they are selling is nothing more than corporate placebo.

MBTI Feels Good

Yet, there are vendors selling other alternatives to MBTI that actually work. So, there must be something more to its popularity than good sales people. I reckon that secret of the success of MBTI is that it makes people feel good about themselves. MBTI classifies you into one of 16 personality types, each of which is described with glowing terms. For example, according to the Myers-Briggs Foundation, the INTJ types:

"Have original minds and great drive for implementing their ideas and achieving their goals. Quickly see patterns in external events and develop long-range explanatory perspectives. When committed, organize a job and carry it through. Skeptical and independent, have high standards of competence and performance - for themselves and others."

You could also call someone like that, "a rebellious and compulsive trouble-maker who does not get along with others". But who would be keen to get a personality report like that? Hence, each of the 16 personality types sounds marvellous. It is full of positive words and omits negative words. If a terrorist did the MBTI test, he'd get a glowing personality type description.

As a result, doing the MBTI test makes you feel good about yourself, no matter what kind of despicable excuse for a human being you might actually be (just joking, I know you are a lovely person!)

Useless Results, But...

That is surely why managers continue to buy the services of MBTI vendors. The results may be useless in terms of understanding people or assigning them roles according to their personality types, but MBTI tests are great at making people feel good for a while. On one hand, that's marvellous. People should feel good from time to time, if not more often. On the other hand, it is ridiculously inefficient. It's rather like taking a business class flight to a distant city and back for the free champagne. It's cheaper, quicker and more effective just to buy the champagne and enjoy it without the cost and hassle of a long, unnecessary flight.

Focus on Making People Feel Good Instead

Instead of going to all the trouble and expense of hiring an MBTI consultant, testing people and running workshops to understand those tests, all in order to make employees feel good about themselves for a few hours, why not just do simple things that will make people feel good about themselves for a few hours − and do those things regularly so they feel good regularly.

Empowering employees, recognising good work, listening, respecting their input and complimenting them on a regular basis will go far in terms of making employees feel good at a fraction of the cost of doing an MBTI workshop.






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