Few people know that Jung provided the basis for many of the personality profiling tools that virtually all organisations use in selection assessments and use in team and organisational development. Drawing on Jungian theory, the Myers Briggs Type Indicator allows us to understand our basic personal preferences and understand better how others in our team can come from a slightly different standpoint. If we understand this, we can understand better both conflicts at work and our own potential for personal growth.
Personality and behaviour or trait profiles hold a constant fascination (and sometimes dread) for us and none is as well known as the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Many may not realise that MBTI is based on Jung’s work. Drawing on the idea of binary preferences referred to in the introduction to these articles, Jung conceived of people as having preferences along three primary scales (while Myers and Briggs added a fourth):
- Where one’s stimulus primarily comes from – from within or from outside oneself, leading to the commonly referred to types of introversion (I) and extroversion (E)
- How people primarily like to receive information about the world – through their senses (sensing (S)) or by using their intuition (N)
- How people process information which they’ve received, whether in a more rational or thinking way (T) or in a more emotional or feeling way (F)
- How people like to live their outer lives – what are the behaviours that others tend to see: a more structured and decided lifestyle (Judging, or J) or a more flexible and adaptable lifestyle (Perceiving, P)?
Our natural preferences can be assessed using the MBTI questionnaires, indicating towards which ends of each of these four poles we tend. In this way, sixteen broad personality types can be discerned (i.e. 42). While these types are not immutable they do tend not to change much over our lives, once our basic preferences have been established.
Thinking back to our previous piece on the unconscious, Jung felt that a person who tends towards introversion, for example, can also be seen as someone with underdeveloped extroversion attributes, attributes which are not yet, in other words, developed or, critically, conscious. Thus, the theory permits the possibility that with greater maturity, some of these less conscious attributes can be gathered by the introvert to provide him or her with more options in situations that may previously have been very challenging.
One of the beauties of this approach is that it does not judge a person on the basis who they are; rather it helps to describe them. In this way, it helps them understand some of their own patterns; it helps others understand where they may be ‘coming from’ in a range of situations; and it also can help them confront some of the areas they may find difficult, be that on an individual or group basis.
The value of tools such as MBTI to assess groups of people in work organisations can hardly be underestimated. It’s almost unusual these days for managers and leaders not to have been exposed to the MBTI. The non-judgmental terms it uses to describe traits or tendencies can be comforting and provide a language to help, for example, work teams, develop their relationships, get more from each other and develop future careers. The success of this approach can also be evidenced by the vast array of other tools which have been inspired by MBTI for the work context, many of which are the stock-in-trade of organisational development consultants working with teams and whole organisational systems.
I have worked with MBTI and with other simpler tools designed to achieve similar ends. One such is four colours, which reduces the preferences types to four: red, yellow, blue and green. Founded on the same theory base as MBTI, such a tool quickly enables teams to understand a little more about the typical concerns and styles of their work mates, encouraging them to adapt their own style to ‘meet them half-way’ and thus enable smoother communication and more effective team working. And such tools can be a fun way of engaging a team in understanding one another better without the anxiety of taking what can sometimes appear like a ‘test’.
- If you have experience of MBTI or similar, what are its pros and cons for you and your team?
- What is your preferred tool for opening up understandings of how people tend to be with each other that can be used to develop working relationships in the workplace?