Birds of a Feather: Similar But Not the Same

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) I is an instrument that describes the broad strokes of an individual personality.  Do you tend to be “warm and sympathetic”, like an ESFJ or “logical and detached” like an INTP?  One of the goals of this questionnaire is to group  people who have similar general tendencies, “birds of a feather”, so to speak.  However, it is also clear that even thoughBirds of a Feather_8x6 people have like-minded characteristics with those of their ilk, they also exhibit a vast array of individual differences.  Parrots  mimic; eagles eat fish; and owls like to hang out at night.  However, within their type, each bird is distinctly different from another.  The MTBI II serves to capture these differences in people who have the same personality type.  Now there is the MBTI III, a questionnaire that gauges type development.  How well does an individual use his/her dominant and auxiliary functions characteristic of that type? Can that person effectively shift to the non-preferred third and fourth functions when necessary?

My interest in the MBTI system was piqued as a result of my work with patients and families in a functional rehabilitation setting and later, in my training and experience as a life coach. Truth be told, raising 3 children and getting to know their friends was also helpful.  There is no doubt that how an individual takes in information and uses it, has a great impact on what strategies will be used to attack a problem, communicate with others, and provide energy or motivation.  One example that stands out in my mind is when I served a patient who suffered a  memory loss after encephalitis caused by a mosquito bite.  I  recommended placing colorful post-it notes all over her house to stimulate her memory.  To my surprise, she rejected my idea by explaining all of that clutter would drive her crazy and she preferred a nice leather planner instead.  I was certain she would lose it because in my own mind, I would misplace something like that.   However, she always knew where it was. More than likely, her MBTI type code contained an “SJ” possibly ESTJ or ESFJ.  These types prefer order in their living space and my “brilliant” idea of eye-catching color all over her house fell flat.

Continuing with the ESFJ personality type, one  characteristic often associated with this personality type is a preference for practical rather than theoretical constructs, pragmatic versus scholarly pursuits.  However, in the case of one ESFJ that I evaluated, the MBTI Step II did reveal some opposite choices than would be expected for her type.  That is to say, while her profile showed many of the characteristics associated with a preference for sensing versus intuition (concrete, realistic, and traditional),  she did show some out of preference variation, specifically a taste for concepts and theories.   So while stepping too far out of the box doesn’t  appeal to her (one of her famous quotes is,”I happen to be a fan of the box.”), she does like the world of ideas as evidenced by her college major choice, English Literature.  The Level I MBTI showed that she had the most in common with ESFJ personality types but the Level II revealed how she differed from those in that group.  A career counselor might wish to be aware of that nuance as she guides this individual into a career choice.

In October of 2009,  I will receive formal training in the MBTI Level III.  I  recently completed the preference questionnaire myself and have read most of the manual in preparation for this class.  From what I gather thus far, the inventory will compare an individual’s capacity to develop the characteristics associated with their inborn personality type with the actual achievement of those characteristics.  What kind of environmental factors such as family en-or discouragement were present to assist or hinder type development?  What role did an individual’s formal education play in how they are able to use natural strengths and be able to manage potential blind spots?  What areas still need more work?   What is holding an individual back from achieving everything that he/she has the potential to do?  What can be done now to facilitate type development? This is apparently a rather revealing instrument that can serve as a powerful tool for self-discovery and self-improvement. It will be a compelling 3 days!

To conclude, understanding and appreciating individual differences among people is critical to effective therapy, coaching or parenting.  One way to understand these differences is through the use of the MBTI instruments.  One word of caution though: the MBTI results are not a diagnosis nor the only  way to understand individuals.  No MBTI practitioner should “pin” the results on an individual and call them gospel truth.  Proper and effective use of the conclusions generated by the questionnaire should be used to promote dialogue between the coach/counselor and the client.  The client can accept or reject the findings.  As in all MBTI measures, practical suggestions are given to guide an individual toward personal growth and satisfaction.  Meanwhile, the coach/counselor can use knowledge of personality type to tailor his/her approach to providing services in terms that are likely to resonate with a particular client.

The MBTI questions can be thought provoking and challenging.  For instance, when I was completing the Level III Indicator,  I got stuck on question #150.  I really wanted to say I was one way (my goal) but I knew deep inside that I was still working on that aspect of my personality. Reluctantly, I indicated  “the truth”, finished the rest of the questionnaire then put it in the sealed envelope.  However, I had a powerful desire to pry the envelope open and change my answer.  I suspect my answer will trigger a statement that I don’t want to hear.I talked myself out of it though and instead decided to see what kind of feedback I would get when I attend the seminar next month.  After all, the  information I receive will only be as valuable as my willingness to be forthright.  I’m really looking forward to sharing the Level III MBTI with my clients so they can soar to new heights too!

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. I like that you stress that while the test is effective, the human element completes the picture: the role of the coach, therapist, etc. is key and in combination,a more whole picture is revealed. The human psyche cannot be pigeonholed, as you say. Certainly this and a skilled practitioner like yurself will help unlock and actually speed up understanding of self.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *