The majority of us understand our MBTI® Type (the 16 types that Myers created) in terms of what our 4-letters stand for; fewer of us take ourselves, and our clients, to the deeper levels of human understanding that type has to offer. The four- letters of our type are in fact “code” for what lies beneath, the type hierarchy. An understanding of each of the types’ hierarchies leads us to a theoretical model for how we use and develop the functions.
Our Type Hierarchy shows us our Dominant Function, the “Function-Attitude” that we like best, and tend to use the most. It also shows us our least preferred functions; those we need to strengthen; those responsible for our blind spots. We can all work on strengthening our less preferred functions, and related skills, by engaging different mental muscles, just as we can strengthen the physical muscles we don’t normally use through targeted physical exercise.
So how does someone go about this process? Is it worth the effort it takes to: (1) understand how we naturally see situations; (2) decipher when the situation calls for a different perspective and; (3) put that different perspective into action by altering our behavior? And then repeat the process? We think it is, but it isn’t necessarily easy, and you need to have some fundamental knowledge of your Type before putting change into action.
1. Understand Type as the way in which we see the world rather than as an “instrument” that measures behavior
Our patterns of behavior and the level of skill we have for something develop because of our repeated and comfortable use of a particular “Function.” Skills and behaviors manifest as a result of our repetitive use of a particular mental habit. Thus, someone with a Dominant Sensing Function will, “…become expert at noticing and remembering all the observable facts”. Just like developing a physical muscle through weight training, Type Development requires accessing our minds in a particular way through practice. Theoretically, typology gives us a basis for real skill development as well as behavioral change. If we change our perspective, and consciously practice different Functions, the associated skills and behaviors will follow.
2. Learn about your Dominant and Auxiliary Functions
Myers believed that gaining awareness of our two most “conscious” functions is the beginning of consciously developing in your type. We need to become aware of the ways in which we mentally operate, because this is our starting point – it is the direction of our compass; it (theoretically) provides us with a development path according to our Type Hierarchy. This requires (1) recognizing your preferences for Perceiving and Judging over their opposites (2) knowing the definitions of the Functions and their associated skills and behaviors and (3)maintaining an appropriate balance between Perceiving and Judging.
Here is an example: Someone with ISTJ preferences must first know that they take in information through their Dominant Sensing Function (rather than Intuition), in the inner world and that they evaluate that information through their auxiliary Thinking Function (rather than Feeling), which is used in the outer world. They need to know the definitions of Introverted Sensing and Extraverted Thinking, and how they work together to balance each other. They need to know how to balance internal fact gathering (Si) with structuring those facts to make decisions (Te).
Let’s look at an ISTJ leader that I worked with. She had been concentrating so hard on gathering clear, accurate data and organizing it in a way that made sense (Introverted Sensing – her dominant function), that she was having trouble coming out from behind closed doors to implement the data she worked so hard to collect (Extraverted Thinking, her auxiliary function). She isolated herself by not speaking up and keeping her good ideas to herself, which made it difficult for her to delegate. No one knew her for the brilliant leader that she was because her Dominant and Auxiliary Functions were not balanced – she was using too much Sensing Perception and not enough Thinking Judgment. All she needed to do was to recognize her Type issue, and start to pay more attention to the outer world by communicating the rich data she had collected, walking around more, speaking up a little bit more.
3. Be aware of situations that call for using Functions other than our Dominant and Auxiliary
For example, it might be wise for our ISTJ to suspend her Sensing Function and instead call on her fourth Function, Intuition, in a brainstorming session. Rather than determining something won’t work based on past experience, it might be more appropriate for her to open her mind to the possibility that there are other ways to see things. In this instance, it would take a concerted and conscious effort, and a ton of energy, to stop focusing on facts and just listen to the options being put forth without calling on previous experience; it would call for a different perspective – the opposite.
Using our non-preferred functions takes effort because they are opposite to our natural way of being, and less conscious. You can’t simultaneously gather facts with your senses (Sensing) while imagining possibilities (Intuition). Just as you can’t simultaneously be objective (Thinking) while considering other peoples’ feelings (Feeling). What you can do is learn to suspend your natural functions and then adopt the perspective of the opposites when appropriate. Developing balance between the dominant and auxiliary, and using the other functions as appropriate, constitutes good Type Development.
This is how Myers categorized appropriate use of the Functions:
“An appropriate use of Sensing is for seeing and facing the facts, and Intuition is appropriately used for seeing a possibility and bringing it to pass. Thinking is the process best suited for analyzing the probable consequences of a proposed action and deciding accordingly, and Feeling is best for considering what matters most to oneself and others.”
The more you become an active observer of your own thought processes (your Dominant and Auxiliary functions) and engage the opposite when it seems appropriate to do so, the more you will be consciously growing and developing in your type.
The rewards of good Type Development are great. The power of observation, applied to ourselves and the compass of our own Typology, can provide “…a wide range and profound influence on effectiveness, success, happiness, and mental health.” In fact, “the ability to use perception and judgment appropriately is a skill that can be acquired by practice, and life supplies much to practice on.” (Myers, Gifts Differing)
If you want to learn about your Dominant and Auxiliary Functions, our Image Metaphor Cards can help