As I’ve said in a previous post, I’m a great fan of MBTI and have used it extensively with individuals, teams and in development programmes. One of the challenges I have most frequently heard from sceptics is along the lines of: “understanding personality types is all very well but unless someone tells you what theirs is, or we all wear a badge with ours on, what practical use is it?”
Part of my stock answer is that you don’t need to know someone else’s ‘type’ to use MBTI to influence more effectively or build better relationships. If what you’re doing isn’t working, make some assumptions about how their type might differ from yours and try another approach. If you’ve been giving lots of detail and they seem to glaze over, see if starting with the ‘big picture’ headlines gets them more interested. If you’ve bombarded them with a host of brilliant, logical reasons why your solution is best, and they still don’t get it, ask how they feel about it and try to find out about, and connect with, their values. You don’t need to know whether they’re Sensing (S) or Intuitive (N), Thinking (T) or Feeling (F), just that you need to try a different approach (after all, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got“).
But you can also pick up clues if you observe and listen carefully. In fact with some people (mostly Extroverts of course) you don’t even have to listen that carefully. As well as being a great fan of MBTI, I’m a great fan of Doctor Who. Not a nerdy, techie, go to conventions dressed as Colin Baker type of fan, I hasten to add (with due apologies to any nerdy, techie convention-goers), I just think it’s brilliant television. So I’ll use his current incarnation, as played by Matt Smith, to illustrate the point.
Whether the Doctor is an Extrovert (E) or Introvert (I) is easy enough. He tends to speak or act first then (maybe) reflect, he thinks out loud all the time and clearly draws energy from those around him (although not in the literal way some of his adversaries might). Take this exchange from episode 5 (‘Flesh and Stone’):
Father Octavian: “Doctor, we’re too exposed here. We have to move on.”
Doctor: “We’re too exposed everywhere and Amy can’t move and anyway that’s not the plan.”
River Song: “There’s a plan?”
Doctor: “I don’t know yet, I haven’t finished talking”.
Of course, the Doctor doesn’t really do plans. Flexibility, spontaneity and adaptability are more his things. He does his best work to tight deadlines and under last minute pressure. Undoubtedly Perceiving (P) not Judging (J) then - and only a ‘P’ could have such an elastic grasp of the concept of time.
What about Sensing or Intuitive? I would say he’s very much a ‘big picture’ person (ok, Time Lord). Great at making connections and seeing possibilities but not always entirely practical, down to earth and grounded in reality (let’s face it, he is fictional). Definitely bored by detail, too. So we have E, N and P but what about Thinking or Feeling?
The Doctor can certainly do reason, logic and analysis - but MBTI is about preference not capability. What is his preferred basis for making decisions? Does the Doctor prefer to decide with the head or the heart? Well, his sentimental devotion to a small, insignificant planet and, for all their flaws, to the ‘human race’ that lives there, gives me a clue. I would also say that his decisions are often ‘values driven’ - and if you offend those values you’re in trouble. In episode 6 (‘the Virgins of Venice’) he tells Rosanna Calvierri, Queen of the Saturnyrians (or ‘big fish from space’), ‘I’m going to tear down the house of Calvierri stone by stone’. The specific reason for his anger? She didn’t know the name of the girl she had just executed. Anyway, he’s a Time Lord. One head, two hearts. I rest my case. So I have the Doctor down as ENFP. Now, what about the Daleks?
Not everyone gives as many clues as the Doctor – and complex though his character is, real people are rather more complex than a fictional Time Lord, no matter how well scripted and acted the series may be. But if you’re not quite connecting with someone, and you’re armed with good listening skills and a reasonable understanding of MBTI, you should be able to pick up clues about how their type might differ from yours. You can then test these assumptions by adapting your style a little to see if that makes a big difference to how you connect with them.