Myers Briggs (and other personality profilers) and the danger of type-casting
I wanted to tell you about a really important reminder I got this week. I’m taking a course at the moment, and one of the things we were asked to do was complete a Myers Briggs personality questionnaire.
I don’t know if you’ve done one or something similar? There are a whole load of personality profile tests out there which tell you whether you’re red, green or blue, creative or logical, introvert or extravert. They’re often used in a corporate setting, under the guise of understanding yourself, your team mates, and working out how the hell you can adapt your behaviour to each others types, capitalising on the differences you bring.
Sounds like a great idea?
Well the first time I did one of these I was mortified. You see the problem is, what they present back to you is compelling and scarily familiar. From a set of question what lies before you is a description of you. Your strengths but also a blow by blow account of your weaknesses, overplayed strengths, underplayed potential and just stuff that isn’t good with some instructions on how to play round it.
The first time I did one of these (some 10 years ago) I became the butt of the team joke: “Fiona is so assertive, driven, thinking and judging that she needs her own small country to dictate over.” This hurt.
I took the result to heart. Did this mean I was always going to be doomed? That this is me, and I just have to accept its the way I am?
The problem is that when we are ‘diagnosed’ as something, we can take it on as part of our identity and attach meaning to it. Especially if its something we were previously unaware of which sparks an emotional response in us. And with something like Myers Briggs we start to take on or reinforce identity level beliefs like ‘I am feeling which means I’m soft’ or ‘I am judging which means I’m critical and harsh’.
Now, our unconscious minds like to make sure we are always right…. We will unconsciously take action and look for evidence to prove our identity belief is true. Here’s a silly example: I often used to say ‘I’m so clumsy’… all the time… walking into chairs, dropping things and once famously falling off a dance floor fracturing my wrist! The thing is I believed I was clumsy so much that to make that true my unconscious mind would be casual about my movements. When an inch to the left would save me from a bump, it wouldn’t bother, giving me every chance of being the ‘clumsy’ I believed I was. I caught myself one day… realised how silly it was and let it go. Guess what? I barely seem to have mishaps anymore!
Our identity level beliefs are based on our sense of self, values and beliefs about the wider world. The trouble with beliefs is we treat them like facts, when really they’re just our theories often based on dodgy data. Beliefs can be debunked, shifted, changed.
So back to my latest Myers Briggs result.
I now lean toward Feeling over Thinking. This makes a lot of sense as I’ve grown to connect with my own feelings through personal work. Further developed through 5 years of exploring and training as a coach. My underlying beliefs and values have expanded. I highly value other peoples uniqueness and contribution in a way I didn’t recognise 10 years ago. I belief everyone has it within themselves to be and do whatever they can conceive.
Judging has given way to Perceiving. I can still execute judgment when needed; at work when things need to move fast. But my default has shifted to take a bit more time, observe, consider what’s going on under the surface and the wider picture, seek more information and sometimes passing the final decision to the person who’s closest to the consequences.
I’m curious to see I still come out as a strong extrovert; even though I relish my solace to recharge.
The message is…. These profilers just give a position based on the values and beliefs you have at that point in time. Values and beliefs can change…. Way more easily than you might imagine. Neuroscience recognises our neural patterns are not fixed and our brains are way more plastic and capable of change than previously thought.
My values and beliefs have changed using the same methodologies and techniques which are now the foundation of how I coach. Change your values and beliefs to better serve you, shift the rigid beliefs you may have about who you are and your results in the world will change….. Not to mention how you may answer future personality questionnaires and the conclusion it will give.