TEST... BUT VERIFY — Julie Linn
Have you ever taken a personality test that gives a four letter code? It might have looked something like this: INFP, ESTJ, etc. And if you had taken one of those tests, like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (aka the MBTI) or the Keirsey Temperament Sorter II (aka the KTS-II) or a shorter version, did you receive a brief description of your type afterward that seemed fairly accurate in some ways, but was perhaps too general? Maybe you took your test results home and soon forgot about them. Or, if the results piqued your interest a little, maybe you tried to obtain more information. But sooner or later, did you feel confused about what percent of each ‘letter’ you were — 51% Thinking — 49% Feeling, for example, and then you just gave up?
Often the end result of the above scenario is that many people miss out on the wonderful benefits available from discovering their correct type. Learning how this system of personality type works is a valuable tool which can be applied to so many areas of life. But there are undoubtedly millions of people who have embarked on the first leg of their journey of personality type by taking the test without ever arriving at their destination: a better understanding of themselves and others. Recently, this unfortunate situation of inaccurate typing has become even more widespread with the advent of social networking applications, such as those found on Facebook. These mini-tests give a quick four letter result not only to the test taker but to your circle of contacts. Many similar tests are available all over the web, but each time I see a student or friend's result on Facebook, I cringe, because most of the time I find their result to be incorrect. Let me explain exactly what I mean.
My field is personality typology. As a Personality Type Consultant, one of the best examples I can cite of mistyping is that of a former student. Megan is a very warm, sincere, imaginative, empathetic and artistic young woman. After Megan took the MBTI, (the Myers Briggs Type Indicator), she proudly announced, “I’m an ISFP!” Her enthusiasm about discovering something that might help her to better understand herself and find the right career path for her type was so endearing, I just didn’t have the heart to unload my doubts on her about her ISFP status. But without some tweaking of her results, I worried she would labor under a false premise which could potentially lead her down a less-than-desirable career path for her type.
I’d like to touch a little on the background of personality typology to better understand why I believed Megan's result to be incorrect. Psychological ‘typing’ began with the discoveries of Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung and was later taken to new levels by the work of Isabel Myers, an American researcher who developed the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test and the 16 Types system, based on Jung’s discoveries. Jung and Myers’ work was further revamped by Dr. David Keirsey, who tied Myers’ 16 types to the ancient theory of Four Temperaments. There are simply countless benefits that we can derive from understanding their discoveries. But specific to our task here of finding correct type, as in the case of my former student Megan, I believe the work of Dr. Keirsey to be invaluable in helping to eliminate what is a very common practice of ’toggling’ back and forth between individual letters, as in the 51% ‘T’ - 49% ‘F’ kind of dilemma, which can render the four letter result useless for many who get caught in that trap.
Dr. Keirsey greatly respected the incredible work of Isabel Myers. Of particular interest to him were Myers’ attempts to consolidate and simplify her 16 types into four large main types with many common traits. Myers placed her 16 types into four large groups, two of which which Keirsey later changed. By applying his lifelong study of the theories of four temperaments, dating back to ancient times, he aligned Myers’ large groups, the NF (Intuiting & Feeling) and NT (Intuiting & Thinking), with two of the classic temperaments. He then redefined Myers' two remaining groups as the SP and the SJ, or Sensing-Perception and Sensing-Judging types. His accurate reordering of these four great types, which he calls the Four Temperaments, has become the standard for aligning Myers' 16 subtypes under four great types. Keirsey calls these four Temperaments the SP, SJ, NF and the NT. In his book “Please Understand Me II”, David Keirsey maps out in great detail the amazing similarities found in the underlying motivations and traits of the people in the four Temperaments and what it is that nourishes the self-esteem of each group.
Although Megan’s mistying is what we’re about to look at, I’ve seen literally dozens like her over the years. Megan’s MBTI result, I-S-F-P, was actually correct on three of the four letters. The first letter ‘I’, wasn’t in question. She was clearly a reticent, contained ‘I’, standing for Introversion. Megan also clearly exhibited the traits of Myers’ F (Feeling) and P (Perception) letters. However, were it not for understanding the hierarchy of importance among the four letters and how their meanings are somewhat dependent on context within the four great types, or "Temperaments", Megan would have not had the benefit she now enjoys of understanding what truly makes her tick.
By applying the understanding of David Keirsey’s Four “Temperaments” to her four letter test result, we can observe that Megan’s letters (ISFP) had placed her into Keirsey's SP category. However, I had not personally seen any evidence in Megan of the traits of the SP Temperament. Instead, having worked with Megan over several months as her private teacher, I had pegged her as closely resembling the general traits of the NF, which meant that, if her other three letters were correct, which they seemed to be, she had only mis-typed her 2nd letter. One of Keirsey’s most important findings was that the 2nd letters, the S and N, are by far the most important in the four-letter type combo. S and N (short for Sensing vs. Intuition) have to do with how we process the world around us, whether by primarily using our five senses (S: Sensation) or our intuition/introspection (N: iNtuition). The reason that ‘N’ stands for iNtuition is because the letter ‘I’ was already used for the word “Introversion”.
As her teacher, I had observed Megan’s imaginative, broad, metaphoric language and dreamy, idealistic nature for many months. Those are fairly common traits found in the marriage of the letters N and F, iNtuition and Feelings, which is Keirsey’s NF Temperament. However, they are not particularly common traits of the SP type into which her ISFP result had placed her. But rather than tell her what I suspected her type to be, I gave her Keirsey’s book “Please Understand Me II” to read, which she devoured. Her very attitude about reading it was another clue to her temperament. NFs are known to be the people most drawn to subjects related to self-understanding.
After reading, Megan came back and proudly announced to me that she was definitely NOT an SP, but an NF: an iNFp. She verified that three letters, the ‘I’, ‘F’ and ‘P’, had been right. But having been ‘off’ on the 2nd letter had incorrectly placed her in the SP rather than an NF broad Temperament category, making for a dramatically different outcome. According to Keirsey, in their underlying motives, the SP and NF temperaments couldn’t be more different, which I have found to be true in my experience. That reality alone both proves and underscores the critical importance of cross checking one’s four letter result against the basic traits of Keirsey’s Four Temperaments in order to obtain the correct result.
Feeling confident that she had arrived at her correct type, Megan went on to choose a career which matched her love of music and the arts with her NF passion for helping those in need. She is now a practicing music therapist, a decision that’s proven to be a fulfilling choice for her type and no doubt a great blessing to the children with Cerebral Palsy whom she so graciously serves. Typical among NFs, known as the self-actualizing temperament, Megan desperately needed to know her correct type in order to find fulfillment in her life’s work. But NFs are certainly not the only ones who can benefit by obtaining the right result. Proper verification is essential for everyone who wishes to effectively apply this system. It is my belief that personality tests in general are best used as a jumping-off point in ascertaining type. But it is by verifying the four letter type against the underlying traits of the Four Temperaments that we can accurately arrive at the ‘right fit’. Finding the correct result will ultimately make all the difference in whether this system is tossed aside as merely another amusing, though irrelevant, parlor game, or the life changing godsend that it truly can become when understood and used correctly.
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