Follow Friday + Nicki's Personal Updates: Why I'm Obsessed with Myers-Briggs (and Why You Might Want to be, Too)

My friend Boeui (left) and me this week.

My friend Boeui (left) and me this week. I have no idea what her Myers-Briggs type is, but I have my suspicions :)

Growing up, I always felt like I was a little weird. It could have been the fact that I was adopted and the only Asian girl in my largely Italian-American family (and one of only, like, three Asians at my 1800-person high school). It could have been that I was book-smart — certainly not very street-smart or precociously worldly, but somewhat ahead of the curve when it came to scholastic learning and, what’s worse, enjoying scholastic learning. (Are the cool girls in the audience cringing yet?!)

There are a plethora of reasons why I’ve always felt a little weird. And it’s not just that I felt weird, it was that I tended to ruminate on the feeling, study it. As anyone who is a fan of this blog knows, it’s not enough for me to know that something is. I almost always have to delve deeper: Why is something the way that it is? Is it always that way? If not, why the variation? Is there mathematical or statistical data to support the findings?

And feeling different was no exception. It became my preoccupation to figure out why I was the way that I was.

At 13, though a devout Catholic, I turned to astrology books. (If you didn’t cringe before, it’s OK to now, my dear scientific audience). I loved it at the time. Finally, I thought, a way to understand myself better and to possibly predict my future to boot. I got really into it — to this day, I remember the positions of all the planets when I was born — but I realized my astrological study was days of my life spent in vain when I encountered a girl who was born the same exact date and location, and more or less the same time, who could not have been less like me. As she told me her birthday, I remember staring at her scowling face and down at her Nike sneakers, a completely ironic juxtaposition to my own enthusiasm and kitten heels.  “Are you sure?” I gasped. In my head, I acknowledged: “Astrology, you have failed me!”

By 22, I had grown into myself more. Turns out I wasn’t really all that weird after all — I just hadn’t met many people with interests and personalities similar to mine before college and medical school. The astrology books had long grown dusty, deemed futile by my teenage self. But when a psychology professor mentioned the Myers-Briggs personality system, the analysis lover in me perked up once again. This — this could be something!

For those of you who don’t know, the Myers-Briggs personality assessment system is based on binary distribution of four characteristics:

  • Extroverted (E) or Introverted (I): Extraverts gain energy from being around people. Intraverts lose energy from social situations and prefer to socialize with 1-2 others at a time.
  • Intuitive (N) or Sensing (S): Perhaps the most important distinction for compatibility. Intuitives are interested in concepts, theory, and prefer to see the big picture. Sensors are more “in the moment” and tend to focus on details. Interestingly, intuitives are more often found in higher-level positions in the sciences, but sensors tend to make up the vast majority of politicians.
  • Thinking (T) or Feeling (F): Thinkers make decisions on the basis of logic and rational judgment. Feelers make decisions on the basis of people and how they are affected by a given decision.
  • Judging (J) or Perceiving (P): Judgers tend to make quick decisions. Perceivers tend to take in as much information as possible before making a decision. My parents are direct opposites on this – my mother buys the first sofa she sees, whereas my father would prefer to wait six months and see as many as possible before selecting one.

Since these traits are binary, most people fall somewhere between the far ends of the spectrum for each trait. Ties do exist, but the inclusion of more questions tends to determine which side you are truly on. As with most statistical analysis, the more questions you answer, the more precise your results become. A free test is available here; this particular test has 55 questions and takes about 10-15 minutes to answer. Far more elaborate tests are available, but typically these are paid and administered by licensed Myers-Briggs instructors.

Think our shared water cooler at work is awesome? So do we. I don't know what this says about our personality types, but it's pretty funny.

Think our shared water cooler at work is awesome? So do we. I don’t know what this says about our personality types, but it’s pretty funny.

At any rate, Myers-Briggs has helped me in numerous ways. Franklin Delano Roosevelt used to have his secretary research the interests, family, and background of key persons before a meeting; instead, I do a quick run-through in my head of whether I think this person is extroverted or introverted, intuitive or sensing, and so forth. Typically, I get this down to 1-3 likely personality types, and then I can research the best ways for my personality type to convey information to theirs. This may sound manipulative at first, but it is merely used to determine the best way to present the information to a given person, no more than a bar graph should be used to present a comparative list of categorized numbers. And I’ve found it is an effective way to find better methods to communicate.

Myers-Briggs has helped me immensely, giving me a way to be compassionate to the tendencies and preferences of others in an almost-quantitative way. In general, I’ve found that far more men than women are thinkers than feelers; more men will respond to a logical, rational, emotionless argument than women will. (Perhaps Thinkers, not men, are from Mars.) An intuitive, particularly a well-educated one, will be insulted or at least mildly annoyed if you present well-known factual information to them. Conversely, a sensor will actually prefer you to spell out the minutiae, feeling that this is a more complete argument. And it gets more complex: intuitive feelers have the best heart-to-heart chats with other intuitive feelers, but more intellectual stimulation with intuitive thinkers. There are books upon books of this type of research — I can get really into it.

Granted, there are always people with whom you are more comfortable and compatible with than others. That goes beyond improving communication and under the beachhead of person – the morals, values, ideals, thoughts, feelings, and experiences that make us whole. Certainly more than a simple cluster of personality traits. But Myers-Briggs does help, particularly in direct business communications. For romantic relationships, it’s a little more complex. Theoretically, any person can have a successful relationship with any other type, but some interactions are naturally easier and hence certain combinations are more commonly found in the population than others. With that said, Keirsey maintains people should be in romantic relationships with those who are the same on intuition or sensing, but opposite on everything else. Other psychologists theorize the best relationships are between those who are the same on intuition/sensing and thinking/feeling, but opposite on the others (extroversion/introversion and judging/perceiving). I, for one, am somehow always attracted to the same type (NT), which goes along with Keirsey’s theory. I find it odd – despite the fact that these persons are found in fields disparate from mine (computer science, physics, mathematics) and relatively rare in the population, that’s just what happens. I’ve even tried dating outside this type, but inevitably, I’m just not as attracted. Go figure – I guess my dream man is more Richard Feynman than George Clooney.

Yet, what Myers-Briggs has done for me is even more important than aiding in communication with others. Myers-Briggs study has helped me understand (and ultimately accept) myself more. After testing, I have learned that I was an ENFJ until late last year, and then somehow I became INFJ. (Maybe I was socializing too much and got tired?) I read on another INFJ’s blog that the INFJ designation felt more like a “diagnosis” than a “typing,” and in some ways, this is true. I often joke that I don’t know what I’m thinking until I write it out – I swear, my IQ is thirty points higher on paper than it is verbally. I thought this made me weird, but other INFJs muse on the same thing. I prefer to have one other person with me in a social situation, whether a significant other or a best friend, and I tend to have more depth than breadth when it comes to my friendships. Yet I care deeply about others, and I am sensitive to their opinions. I think mostly in terms of people, but love concepts and statistics and trivia and facts. Interestingly, Myers-Briggs has predicted all of these things about me. And then some.

Granted, this system will not work for everyone, at least not without the help of a Myers-Briggs licensed counselor who can help you navigate the waters. Some people will inevitably find themselves between types without one. Medical school training in psychiatry courses helped me immensely, but I am confident that anyone who wants to learn Myers-Briggs can, given the right books and tools. Anything by Keirsey is probably the most comprehensive, whereas overview guides are probably the simplest place to start. And you can always just dive in with a free quiz like this one and then search Google for information about your type.

Bottom line: Myers-Briggs is a fun exercise, particularly if you are interested in improving communication with others or understanding yourself a little better. For me, it’s been an almost transformative experience, as it has run alongside growing into myself as a woman in my late 20′s, ever-increasing in acceptance, respect, and understanding for myself and others. If you’re the kind of person who is committed to constant personal growth, I suggest you check the system out.

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by Nicki Zevola

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