If you’ve been subject to any sort of testing as a part of your job or similar chances are that you’ll have come across the work of Katherine Briggs and Isabel Myers which assesses people according to four dimensions. The end result of the assessment is a personality type, there are 16 such types, which is said to provide insight into the way in which you behave, are motivated and relate to people. My type is INTJ. I’ve been assessed twice and the two results have been pretty consistent.
According to Myers–Briggs the INTJ represents ‘The Mastermind’. Their stats indicate that INTJs are one of the rarest of the 16 psychological types and account for just 2%—3% of the population. That makes me pretty smug. But what does it mean?
The four letters in the type description correspond to each of the four dimensions and the first is the one with which most of us would be familiar, extrovert-introvert. I’m an introvert and it’s the only dimension in which my assessment changed, between 1994 and 2007. I moved from being quite introvert to being marginally so.
At the time of my second assessment there were about 30 of us attending a government leadership academy and I remember that we were split pretty evenly between extroverts and introverts. We were given an exercise and split into two groups: extroverts in one and introverts in the other. After about 10 minutes we were asked to observe their behaviour. The introverts all had their heads down reading the material related to the exercise. The extroverts were all noisily engaging. Such is the difference.
The experts say that extroverts draw energy from a group and that leadership sits naturally with them. By contrast if you put an introvert into such a position he or she becomes physically drained. In my business and political life I have frequently been called on to chair meetings. They exhaust me.
Conventionally introverts have difficulty breaking into social gatherings whereas extroverts simply march in and engage. I can empathise with this and in such a new environment although I can push myself I do so with all my defences in place. Introverts share a fear of looking foolish and would often forego an opportunity because the risk of it not turning out right is too much to countenance.
Whereas I’m borderline introvert I’m right up against the buffers when it comes to the other three dimensions and the N is for intuitive and describes a person who thinks in a strongly conceptual way as distinct to one who is more concerned with data and practicalities. It suggests that I’m a ‘big picture’ person, with ‘helicopter vision’ and an inclination not to get bogged down with detail.
To some extent I struggle with this rating. Although I reckon I am strongly intuitive I’m also quite willing to get down dirty with the data. The dangerous people I reckon are those who faff around in the middle being neither big picture people nor detail people.
Dimension number three is about the manner in which people take decisions. Are they logic driven or do they allow their feelings to have a role. People with the former inclination are described as ‘thinking’ as opposed to ‘feeling’ and might be regarded as cold or dispassionate. They would regard themselves as ‘fair’ and ‘objective’ and their language would often reflect this.
I can identify with this. When I’ve been involved in a discussions around the evolving patterns of demand for adult social care I’ve referred to it as a change of product mix. It’s not that I don’t have empathy. It’s just the way that I think.
Finally the fourth dimension relates to the extent to which people like their lives to be structured. Do they prefer them to be well planned or are they more willing to act spontaneously. For some reason Myers Briggs refers to these alternatives as being ’judging’ and ‘perceiving’. No matter that the names don’t make much sense I am 100% a judging person. I like my life to be ordered and planned. Uncertainty makes me anxious.
Back to the Leadership Academy and one of our lecturers confessed to also being a J. As a result she like to plan her holidays in advance and in detail. As I do. Unfortunately one year she was unable to do that for some reason so would have to make quick decisions when the time came. So what did she do? She went on-line to find out how she would go about making such spontaneous decisions so that when the time came she’d be ready and know what to expect.
I am 100% judging and I’m getting worse. Members of my writing group may remember that one week I advised that I would be a few minutes late because I had a dental appointment. Little did they know how much detail I had planned that morning in order to minimise my lateness. I needed to get breakfast between dentist and writing class so I worked out where to do that, where to park my car and which direction it should face to minimise walking time afterwards.
Being a J is why I like guided tours. I like someone else to map out my days for me when I’m on holiday so that I can concentrate on, well, relaxing. And making the big decisions about where to eat and which wine to drink. But woe betide any tour leader who doesn’t understand how best to use our time. You can be sure that I will advise him or her how he or she can do better because there’s a limit to my ability to tolerate the under-performance of others. But that’s a behavioural trait and you’d have thought that I’d have sorted that out by now.
These psychometric models are of course just that. Models. They really don’t give you anything absolute in terms of how you should behave or be managed. But I do find them a useful guide to understanding why I am what I am and what I should perhaps do or be more or less of in order to be more effective and, and perhaps more importantly, enjoy a better life.