December 22, 2014

The INFJ Bartender

bloody maryThe MBTI is often used as a career counseling tool.  It can be an effective way to explore strengths and blind spots leading to increased clarity around career choice.   It is not meant to be limiting but often the findings are taken literally even if the individual is explicitly advised to see the exercise as explorative not prescriptive.

I know an INFJ who is a teacher by day and a bartender by night. It is true that her main occupation is in the field of education and that she is a very talented writer as well.  Still, she enjoys being a bartender and does not “hate it” as some psych type websites might suggest.   Steer clear of bartending!   Too many details! Remember, you’re an introvert!

When using MBTI to discuss career choices, it’s important to tap into an individual’s essential motivation.  For instance,many bartenders like the excitement of crowds and the party atmosphere. Some like the opportunity to create a new drink.  Some like the idea of serving.

In the case of this INFJ, she likes bartending because she works for a high end catering company so she gets to see new places and beautiful buildings.  She gets to practice the art of social chat, something that doesn’t necessarily come easily to many INFJ types, but she likes to work on it in this setting.  She also likes to create drinks and serve them in a new way.   Finally, she sees this as an opportunity to create balance in her life, and to step outside of intense, complex energy that comes with being an INFJ.

The take-away?  The MBTI is an instrument that helps you identify career options that are likely to be a good fit.   It can help you identify essential energizers in your cognitive make-up. I like to think of the career choices suggested for each type as the “favorite” in a horse race, not a storyline that will play-out exactly the same way for everyone of that type.  Always leave room for the dark horse. It’s critical to tap into motivation.   What makes you want to explore that job or career?  A conversation with a counselor or coach can help an individual identify those factors.

Always look at assessments as an opportunity to learn more about yourself.   They aren’t meant to tell you who you are but to help you find out what is true for you.  Even if a job or career seems like a mismatch, take a second look because maybe it isn’t.

What career have you wanted to try but convinced yourself that you were the wrong type to pursue it?

Can the MBTI Work With Brain Injured Clients?

brain-injury-high-definition-fiber-tracking-mapImagine contracting encephalitis (brain swelling) from a mosquito bite.  The brain swells resulting in significant  brain damage.  In my former profession as a speech pathologist, I encountered such a client.  She was in her 30’s and her memory was deeply affected by this virulent infection.  She could say hello to her daughter, turn around, then forget her daughter was even in the room.   She also forgot many other things like when to take her medication or complete some other important task.

One day, we decided to address the problem with some sort of a strategy.  I came in with the idea of using many bright post-it notes that she could place all over her house to remind her to do what she needed to do.  I reasoned that the colorful post-it notes would get her attention and she would follow through on the task.   She replied, “No, that will clutter up my house and I hate disorder.  I want a nice leather-bound book to write things down in.”   Secretly, I thought to myself, “HA!  You will lose that in an instant!”  Guess what?  She was right.  The strategy of a neat, organized book was better for her than a bunch of colorful post-it notes.  What’s more, she kept this book in a logical place so she didn’t misplace it.

In my current profession as a personal development coach and MBTI Master Practitioner,  people will inquire whether the MBTI is valid for people with mental illness, developmental syndromes like Aspergers, or brain injury.   For example, in the case above, could I have given the MBTI to this client to see what her type is.   Would that have been valid?  My answer would be probably not, however you would have to consider the big picture, the degree of recovery and other variables.  Still, the MBTI Assessment was designed for normal personalities, normal being defined as individuals who have no significant history of brain injury, developmental syndromes,  or mental illness.  That can’t fact can’t be ignored.

However, could I use the principles of psychological preferences to understand the client better?  Absolutely.

The client I mentioned above looks like she had an “SJ” temperament.   Clearly she liked order and my “brilliant” idea of using colorful post-it notes might have appealed more to someone like an ENFP, like myself.  Observing that difference,  I could then make some plausible guesses about how she might like the rest of her treatment to unfold: routine, predictable, and purposeful rather than colorful and playful which is my preference.

The bottom line here is that just because the full-blown MBTI probably isn’t appropriate for those individuals who don’t fall into the category of “normal”, some of the principles can be successfully applied to connect better and meet the needs of those individuals.  The key is to remain open-minded, always listening for more clues to help you determine what they may need.

Ann C. Holm

(Ann is a former speech pathologist who worked with brain injured clients for 25 years prior to starting a coaching practice in 2009.)

Identifying Type in Fictional Characters and Celebrities


ESTJ King Triton having a discussion with his ENFP mermaid daughter, Ariel.

On more than one occasion, I have been asked to identify the personality type of a fictional character or a celebrity.  It can be fascinating to speculate on what type an individual appears to be.  At the APTi 2011 conference, one of the evening activities was titled Type in the Movies. A panel of type experts, with input from the audience, debated the personality type of certain movie characters. While this was meant to be an entertaining exercise, it illustrated that one could potentially support multiple viewpoints when rendering a verdict on personality type.

Shortly after Steve Jobs died, a psychological type group on LinkedIn started a thread discussing Jobs’ type. The most frequently occurring response seemed to be INTP but there were other possibilities backed up by strong evidence. Some made the case for ENTP, INTJ, INFP as well as ISTJ. Unfortunately, his true type will remain a matter of conjecture in the absence of an assessment and the all-important type verification process.

I was further reminded at how important it is to verify type in one of my recent projects. Each participant in the project completed an MBTI® assessment. Of the 20 who participated, 5 individuals had a verified type that was different than the reported type. The most gratifying part of this exercise was to sense the resonance within the individual when the true type emerged.

Nevertheless, identifying psychological type in fictional characters and celebrities can be a useful exercise, if it helps to provide an archetype to illustrate general characteristics of a given personality type. Already, such archetypes exist in the psychological type literature:  the INTJ Mastermind or the ENFP Champion, for example. While this can create an oversimplification of the nuances present in each personality type, it can help to give an overall picture that can be easily grasped by a type novice.

That isn’t to say I haven’t struggled with a recent project in which a client has asked me to identify the psychological type of certain fictional characters. I can clearly see the value in using a general example to illustrate a certain personality type, be it a theoretical archetype such as The INTJ Mastermind or a fictional character such as Ariel the Mermaid being an ENFP. However, I find myself caught up in circular  thinking when trying to honor both the simple and the complex aspects of identifying psychological type.

Ariel the Mermaid wants to live on land and ignoring the “detail” of not having any legs is vintage ENFP-think. The ENFP tends to be long on both ideas and dreams, and yet a little short on details. Because she is out exploring, Ariel is never on time for singing practice with her mermaid sisters. That’s a pretty simple ENFP call.

However, there is rarely universal agreement on many other examples that are readily available and discussed on websites such as LinkedIn. Returning to the subject of Steve Jobs, there were hundreds of excellent arguments given by writers as to what type Jobs likely was. This is the conflicting perspectives that often bring me to a stalemate when someone asks me to type someone who either hasn’t revealed his/her MBTI verified results, or can’t because she lives under the sea in a mermaid kingdom.

So how do I tend to resolve this for a client?  I try to be clear about the distinction between the complexity of a verified personality type and the general characteristics that are observable and can be useful to illustrate a general archetype. Then I try to select examples that are pretty clear such as Ariel the Mermaid as an ENFP and to avoid characters where multiple perspectives are equally convincing.

I wonder what others think about this topic. Can fictional characters and celebrities serve as valid examples of type or should the practice of using them be avoided altogether?

Featured in The Bulletin for APTi , March 15, 2012 

Type theory states that psychological type doesn’t change, but my type changed when I took the MBTI again!

Psychological type theory (the basis for the MBTI assessment) states that your psychological type does not change, that it’s innate or wired into you.  Still a significant number of people can retake the assessment and come up with a different result.  There are many reasons why this happens:

1. An individual might think his job calls for a particular behavior so his responses favor that demand.

2. Cultural ideals might make an individual respond in a certain way.  An example would be “Men are thinkers.  Women are feelers.”

3. An individual might be working to develop a certain phase of his or her personality.

4. Severe stress known in psychological type parlance as “The Grip” might skew results.

5. An individual’s upbringing may not value a certain preference so it is denied.

6. An individual might falsify their responses attempting to “choose their type.”

Also note, that as individuals mature, they develop personality overlays known as facets enhance and add new dimensions to the personality.  Therefore while type can be thought of an individual’s inborn temperament, it is a dynamic model in which the personality takes on new dimensions.   Type is not a static.  It becomes richer and more individualized over time, given the right mindset and opportunity to learn and adapt.