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What is Best-Fit Type (and Did Stephen Colbert Find His!)?

Best Fit Type

“Interpretation of MBTI results should be a joint process between the professional giving the interpretation and the respondent reacting. The interpreter should never say flatly, ‘You are such and such a type’…. MBTI results are, of course, not always right.”

MBTI Manual, page 116

The MBTI® assessment appears in the news quite often; most of the time in an article bashing its efficacy, but this time it was more fun – Stephen Colbert received an MBTI® interpretive session on late-night TV as part of his segment, “Who is Stephen Colbert?”

The segment prompted chatter with my fellow Type practitioners on Facebook: “Could Colbert really have INFP preferences?”, “Why didn’t we get that gig?” And of course, “What did the facilitator do wrong that we could have done better?”!

Type expert and Executive Coach Vicky Jo Varner wrote a balanced account of the segment: I respect Vicky Jo’s statement that we may be taking a cheap shot by analyzing the show in hindsight; and I agree with Type Practitioner and media guru Jill Chivers who said that we will never know what really occurred due to the possibility of clips being omitted from the actual aired segment.

However, an important element was missing from the aired segment that may not be obvious to the untrained eye – the “Best-Fit Type” Process.  Vicky Jo states,

“Along with the declarative language about Colbert’s type pattern [you are a ___Type], it looks as though [the practitioner] simply handed him his result.  They did not televise (nor imply) a Best-Fit moment where Colbert himself was given an opportunity to validate his best-fit type pattern.  Instead, it was blatantly handed to him in the form of a printed report (with very very big letters!).  Yet all facilitators have been trained that the type pattern is ultimately determined by the client, and they are required to reconcile a reported result with the client’s personal inclinations.  A client’s own choice always takes precedence over the assessment result.”

Although most lay people don’t know that this process is integral to the feedback session, CPP, the publisher of the instrument, requires practitioners to provide the opportunity for people to select their Type prior to handing out reported results. The MBTI® was created to be one hypothesis of what someone’s Type may be.  In MBTI® Certification programs, practitioners are taught this ethical standard, and the particular order for delivering Reported Results after self-selection, for good reasons:

  • If you are handed a computerized report prior to self-selecting your Type, you may be boxed into a Type that does not fit for you because…
  • the MBTI® is not a test, it’s a self-report questionnaire that forces you to choose between opposites. Your mindset (e.g. what you were thinking about or the frame of mind you were in when you filled out the assessment) can affect what you select – it’s a snapshot in time, therefore…
  • you may not select the answer(s) that is(are) reflective of who you truly are – you may even split your votes between opposite ways of behaving because you act differently in different situations, so…
  • with a second opportunity to select again, in a facilitated session, you might see things differently.

It’s a check, and a double-check.

In fact, research shows that environmental influences including work or home pressures, culture, parental pressure or other relationship pressures, misunderstanding words or questions, social pressures, life crises or where you may be in your growth and development can affect your reported results. This does not invalidate the psychometric validity and reliability of the instrument, which has been tested for over 60 years; but it does caution us as practitioners not to label or box people in, and as consumers, to question results and think about what your mindset was when you took the instrument. No self-report questionnaire can be 100% accurate all of the time.

It is not surprising that Colbert did not get to select his own Type and then compare it to his Reported Type to get his Best-Fit; it’s comedy after all.  But what is disheartening for those of use in the biz is that this is a commonplace occurrence for most people who take the Indicator.

And why does it matter?  Well, if the MBTI is a tool that we are going to use to help us become better team members, leaders, change agents, communicators, problem solvers, learners, teachers and collaborators, then we need to work from a place of self-awareness – we need to work from an understanding of who we truly are, so we can grow in ways that help us meet all of our goals, both individual and collective.

If people are boxed into a Type that is not their true fit, MBTI results are dismissed, and Type becomes what Jung and Myers feared most – nothing more than a parlor game.

So, for those of you who have taken the Indicator without the opportunity to validate your Type or to put Type to work to resolve real-world issues, consider that you may have missed out on what Type has to offer; you may benefit from introducing the instrument again, but the right way.

And if you are looking for a practitioner to facilitate an MBTI session for your group, ask if they conduct Best-Fit Type interpretations. If they don’t, you may want to reconsider your selection; an instrument is only as effective as the person who delivers it.

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