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MBTI the Debate that Won’t Die – The Practitioner’s Answer to Type’s Critics

Part One in a Series of Five

Are you troubled by the continual waves of criticism aimed at the MBTI® assessment? I know I am.

The most recent round of criticism was ignited by the recently published book, The Personality Brokers. What followed were unflattering and often inaccurate articles in high profile publications and the popular press. Despite the responses and counter-arguments from educated psychologists, Psychological Type experts and practitioners, it appears to be the debate that just won’t die.

The often incorrect, and sometimes even nasty, rhetoric about the MBTI (it’s worthless, it’s like a horoscope) is perplexing, uncomfortable and forces me, and my colleagues, to continually play defense. Here is an example of what I am talking about: I was recently introducing Type to a rather large group, when a participant stopped me in my tracks by saying:

           “I am sure this will be fun, but we all know that the MBTI is junk science!”

Despite my years of experience, it caught me off guard (I politely disagreed and offered to bring in the technical manual the following day). Where did this statement come from if not Type’s critics in the popular press? And as the debate continues, I hear more and more about companies and consultants who are turning away from Type simply because of the “noise” surrounding the instrument, even when they believe in Type’s power to change lives!

Is the Jung/Myers model becoming irrelevant? How much is this hurting our coaching and consulting practices?

It’s hard to understand why people disparage an assessment that has been researched for over 70 years, and has provided invaluable insight to so many. I, like the practitioners in my circle, have spent decades witnessing the power of Type benefiting people with everything from self-awareness and saving relationships, to solving conflict and transforming teams and organizational cultures.

Misunderstanding goes hand-in-hand with the lack of professional interpretation. Since people are used to looking at personality in terms of individual characteristics; “he is really talkative”, “she is very conscientious” “he is warm”, this is what Type looks like without interpretation. You can’t “see” Jungian theory from simply getting a 4-letter Type on the internet.

Without professional interpretation, people get wrong ideas about what Type is, what it is not, and how it was meant to be applied. Incorrect notions about Type lead to critical comments about the assessment, such as it being an inaccurate predictor of behavior, skill, team compatibility, leadership acumen or success. (Yet, as practitioners we know the MBTI was never meant to predict any of those things.)

Arguments against the MBTI reveal a knowledge gapa lack of understanding of Psychological Types, the theory on which the MBTI was created. This knowledge gap leads to the superficial stereotypes that give the assessment a black eye.

Critics miss these four central points about Type theory:

  1. Psychological Type is a holistic theory – much more than individual preferences added together
  2. Psychological Type addresses the different ways in which we use our minds –  our psychological makeup; it’s a cognitive model
  3. Psychological Type is dynamic – each of the 16 Types are psychological systems of energy
  4. Psychological Type is a development model and provides a starting point for individual, leader and team growth

The same misunderstandings are evident during feedback sessions. Participants go into sessions thinking that Type is only about what we do. You know what I am talking about, that frustration that arises when you hear things like, “I can’t choose because I do both”, “or I am on the cusp between X and Y”.

Herein lies the good news – as a practitioner you can mind the gap – become more aware of the disconnect between assessment and theory. You can help close that gap by more directly orienting your clients and workshop participants to the MBTI’s Jungian roots – the four aspects of Type that the critics miss, while you are facilitating and coaching.

Next up…Tips on teaching Type as a holistic theory

The People Skills Group can help you add life, depth and practical application to your already existing MBTI facilitation and coaching. We work one:one and offer train-the-trainer workshops for coaches and consultants to help you integrate Jungian concepts and practical application into organizational culture. We’ll help you to link Type to other assessments such as Emotional Intelligence, and team models such as the Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

Contact us for your train-the-trainer solutions at : cindy@thepeopleskillsgroup.com

Comments (1)

  1. Very helpful article. Cindy has deep knowledge about the MBTI’s Jungian roots and explains why misunderstandings about this assessment occur and how to respond to them.