Introduction to the MBTI

So, I wanted to share some writing advice, but it’s long and complex so I’ve broken it up into two posts. In the first I wanted to talk about the MBTI, and in the second, discuss how it can help writers. So, here’s part 1:

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a personality test that divides personalities into four large categories and 16 subcategories. Each of these is based on where you fall in four different scales. So, I think the best way to do this is to explain each scale first. I’ll do it in the order the results normally appear. Please understand, that these are scales, so you might land right in the middle of something and not show a strong preference for either end of the scale. That’s okay; it’s one of the strengths of this personality profile. The capped letter shows how that characteristic is represented in the results.

Extrovert vs. Introvert

As I mentioned before, this isn’t whether or not you like people, it’s about where you get your energy. Interacting with other people energizes extroverts. They tend to be great at cocktail parties: they move from person to person, chatting with them and getting to everyone. Extroverts like to get things moving and are outwardly focused.

Introverts on the other hand, find energy in themselves. They like working in their own thoughts. If they go to a party, they tend to sit in a corner and have deep conversations with one or two people. Ironically, introverts can feel lonely in a large crowd of people. Introverts are prone to more reflection than action.

iNtuition vs. Sensing

Notice the capital “N” in intuitive? That’s because we all ready used the “I” for Introvert.

Where you fall on this scale makes for the biggest difference in personality.

The easiest way to explain this difference is that sensing people look at what is, and intuition people look at what could be. Sensing people make up 75 percent of the population. A friend once told me that this was good: you have one person to come up with new ideas, and three people to respond.

Sensing people trust information they bring in through their senses. They tend to be grounded in the here and now, and look for practical uses in things they’re learning.

Intuitive people like to look at the big picture. They tend to be drawn to metaphorical language, and think about what the world could be like.

To illustrate, my wife (S) and I (N) were driving down the road one day. We were talking about all the challenges our children face: Internet predators, pornography, moral relativism, etc. I said, “Wouldn’t be great if we could use a time machine to go back 150 years and raise our kids there, when things were simpler?”

My wife looked at me and said, “But that’s impossible, so we need to work on raising them in the world they’re in.”

Thinking vs. Feeling

This is about how you make your decisions. Do you tend to use logic, or do you lean toward gut feelings and how others will feel about your decision? Like I said, It’s a scale, so it’s not like you have to choose between Spock and McCoy here. This division is the most likely to fall along gender lines, so 60 percent of men are T and 60 percent of women are F. I’m just sharing information here, I didn’t make that up.

It’s good to know how your boss makes decisions when asking for a raise. If he’s a T, then you’ll need to present how much more productive you are than co-workers, how your salary stacks up against the median in your industry, and how the company can justify the raise. If you’re an F, you might talk about the benefits of this raise to morale (both yours and the company’s), and maybe explain why you need the raise.

Judging vs. Perceiving

Let me start off by saying that this last category has nothing to do with either how perceptive you are or how judgmental you can be. Essentially this is about how you do things. The Myers-Briggs Foundation clarifies that this is about your outward-facing behavior, since internally you might be different.

So, Judging people seem to prefer a more orderly life. They put work before fun, they plan out projects to avoid a deadline-induced flurry of activity. They tend to make lists. They also tend to obey rules more, and have more respect for tradition, and like to plan things out.

Perceiving people on the other hand, like to keep their options open. They work to deadlines, tend to work in bursts of energy, and like to mix work and play. They also tend to question rules more. Never tell a P that we’re doing something because that’s how it’s always been done. They might just do it differently to see what happens (which may or may not be an autobiographical truth).

I’ve also heard this attribute explained as how you feel about decisions. Are you more comfortable before or after the decision is made? J’s like decisions already made. P’s like to have their options open.

I’m a P. I had a four-hour layover in Paris once. I turned it into a 28-hour layover and spent the day wandering the city without any clear plans. I walked 22 miles, eating, smelling, seeing, and shopping my way through the city of lights. About 11 p.m. I realized I hadn’t considered where to sleep. I went back to the airport and slept on a bench. Serendipity is often my guiding principle when I travel. I figure I’ll find something really cool, like a night in New York when I wandered into a small Italian restaurant off Times Square where a live jazz trio was playing. These moments are more precious to me because I feel like I found something really special.

I have a very good J friend who planned out a vacation with our family. She emailed us a detailed itinerary saying where we were going and when. It was a busy trip. There’s nothing wrong with that. We had a good time and pretty much knew what we would see before we left the house.

Wow, given the length of this post, I think I’ll stop here. Next time I’ll talk about the four major types, and then we’ll talk about how to use this in writing.


One thought on “Introduction to the MBTI

  1. Pingback: Giving your characters a personality – thehaversack

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