The MBTI Is A Tool Not A Box

One of the several books I have with a bookmark in it right now is The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything.  I’m not finished with it yet, and I’m really on the fence as to whether or not I like it.  The title was intriguing and it got great reviews at Amazon, but I’m not sure it’s doing anything for me.

I was a little surprised when the author kind of trashed the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).  He called it a “box-placing tool” and stated that according to some studies, when people re-take the test, up to half of them end up in a different box.  (I took the test twice within less than five years and come out with the same result both times.) He concludes by stating that he doesn’t find it a very useful tool.

Now, who am I to disagree with him?  He’s a published  author with a PhD and I’m … so totally not.

Then yesterday I read a blog post by Nina at My Introverted Life.  She was having a disagreement with a friend who was offended that they didn’t agree on something; he thought she should agree with him because of her astrological sign.  She wrote:

First, I’m a person not a sign and I’m entitled to my own opinions.  Second, being born under a certain astrological sign doesn’t reveal who I am or what my beliefs and opinions are.


I’ve always thought of MBTI as a tool to help me better understand myself.  It’s not a restrictive box.  It’s not a guide for determining your behavior.

Everyone – introvert or extrovert – is unique.  Don’t think of your Myers Briggs type as an end-all explanation who you are.  Don’t let it place you into a box that doesn’t fit you.  Especially don’t let the negative connotations around being an “I” affect you.

Use it as a starting point for better understanding yourself.  Use it to connect with the like-minded people around you.  Use it to develop empathy and understanding for the people who are different from you.  It can be a very powerful tool.

Have you ever been placed into a box that you thought didn’t fit you?  How did you get out?

What About Stillness?

I’ve been thinking about this post by Lee Ann since I read it yesterday.  She remarks on how extroverts seem to need constant motion or activity.

Ironically enough, one of my closest friends is an extrovert.  In fact, we are polar opposites on Myers Briggs.  I’m an ISTJ, she’s an ENFP.  We really do get along well; after almost 13 years, we can appreciate and understand each other’s differences.  But just the thought of how she spends her time makes me want to shoot myself.  She usually works at least 60 hours a week; she serves on the boards of two nonprofits; and this semester she’s teaching three graduate-level classes at a public university.

Then today, I had a call from an extrovert, someone I don’t know well but work with frequently.  I said, hello, and then she just started talking.  And pretty much didn’t stop for 20 minutes.  I understand that extroverts think by talking out loud; that’s just the way their brains work.

But I don’t think I’ll ever understand this near obsession extroverts seem to have for never being quiet or still.  I realize I am generalizing here, and painting all extroverts with a pretty broad brush.  And yet …

Our American culture seems to reward this 24/7 lifestyle.  Everybody is always busy, busy, busy – complaining that they have so much to do.

What about stillness?  What about just thinking?  About who you are, where you are going, what you want out of life?  Or just want you want for lunch?  Has our over-scheduled world made us fearful of stopping to think and reflect?

I need my quiet time.  Every single day.  And I make sure I get it.  I need time to make sense out of the day and process everything that has happened.  Frankly, I can’t imagine trying to get through life in constant activity; my brain would probably explode.

Do you need stillness in your day?  What happens if you can’t find time for it?

(Flickr photo by cyfuss)

The Introvert Scale

I can’t thank Chris Brogan enough for tweeting about my post on How To Build Confidence.  That single tweet alone gave me a huge boost of confidence, not to mention the wonderful attention it brought to the blog.

And my post generated a lot of comments.  Not everyone entirely agreed with me, which is fabulous.  I certainly don’t claim to be an expert and I love hearing other viewpoints so I can learn.

I’d say that most of those who commented are confident introverts, comfortable with themselves and their place in the world.

Two thoughts that stood out for me:

  • The introversion/extroversion scale
  • Taking action

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator judges two different choices along a scale.  It’s not a binary state – either all extrovert or all introvert.  As you can see in my Myers Briggs results from 2005, I’m a pretty strong introvert.  (Seriously, look at the phrase points – a zero for extroversion!)  But we all move along that scale based on the situation.

Although I don’t think I realized it until the comments came in, my post was more focused on work situations than social situations.   In work or business situations, I can be a pretty good “situational extrovert” (a great quote from comedian Mike Myers).  In a previous life, I was a project manager and facilitated meetings on a daily basis.  Then there were presentations, tours with funders and legislators, etc.  My job required it, ­so I had to do it.  And along the way I got better at it.

In social situations, however, my complete lack of extroversion (at least by the scale) is quite evident.   I can and will find any excuse to miss a party unless it’s with people I know well (sometimes even then).  In fact, I can’t imagine myself ever being entirely comfortable in those kinds of situations.

Which brings me to the other highlight from yesterday’s conversation:  action.  Several people mentioned this in the comments.  It’s easy for me to sit here and talk about speaking up in meetings and “just doing it.”  For me, that’s easy, so I make blithe statements like, “Say something in a meeting!”  But I know it’s not that easy for everyone.  Sometimes you want to say something, but by the time you’ve created the thought, analyzed the thought, tested it for sound judgment and decided how you want to say it, the extroverts have already moved on to the next agenda item!  I once worked with an introvert who basically expected everyone in a meeting to stop, wait for her to decide what she was going to say and then give her the time to say it.  While we’d all like that, the world just doesn’t work that way.

So – take an action.  It may be small, it may be incredibly hard or painful, but take an action.  Each little step you take builds on the enormous advantages you have as an introvert.  Use them well.

What is your introvert advantage?