When Isabel Briggs-Myers and Katherine Cook Briggs created the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) instrument, they purposely made sure that the assessment results would be easy to comprehend and share with others. With that said, if you’re hearing about MBTI type for the first time and are surrounded by people who are already familiar with it, the conversations can get pretty confusing, and perhaps even irritating. But don’t worry, we’ll help you quickly ramp up on the basics of the MBTI instrument in no time. Here’s our easy guide to understanding MBTI type, and how it all fits together (based on the booklet Introduction to Myers-Briggs® Type by Isabel Briggs Myers).
Preferences: the building blocks of four-letter type
When you take the MBTI assessment (the only place you can take the real MBTI assessment is mbtionline.com, btw), your results come in the form of a four-letter personality type (like ISTJ, or ENFP). Each of the four letters represents what is referred to as a “preference”. MBTI preferences are pretty much what they sound like: you naturally tend to do things a certain way. So for example, if your assessment results say “ESTJ”, the ‘E’ means that you have a preference for Extraversion.
We’ll discuss what Extraversion means shortly, but the important thing to take away is that it’s a preference: it means that you naturally prefer to think, act and communicate in ways that can be described as ‘Extraversion.’ It doesn’t mean that you’ll always think, act and communicate in an extraverted manner in every situation, or that you aren’t capable of acting in other ways–it simply means that you generally feel most comfortable with this way of doing things.
What’s a “Dichotomous Preference Pair”? Hint: Fancy talk for getting one of two letters
Sometimes you’ll hear about the MBTI assessment’s ‘dichotomous scoring’ (or the even more academic-sounding ‘binary scoring’). All this means is that for each letter in your four letter type, you received one out of two options (described as “Preference Pairs”). For example, an ESTJ type means that between either preferring Introversion (I) or Extraversion (E), you prefer Extraversion.
Each four-letter type is composed of some combination of preferences for each of the four following choices, or ‘Preference Pairs’:
Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I)
Sensing (S) or Intuition (N)
Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)
Your assessment results might come back as ‘INTJ’, for example, with each letter representing a preference for one of each of the four Preference Pair options listed above. Your personality type would never be ‘IETJ’, because I and E are part of the same Preference Pair–you prefer either I or E, but not both.
So what does each “preference” mean? There are volumes written on this, but don’t worry–you don’t have to sift through books to understand the basic meaning of the Preference Pairs:
Extraversion vs. Introversion
This describes where you focus your attention, and where you get your energy. If you prefer Extraversion, you focus on and get your energy from the outer world of people and activity. If you prefer Introversion, you like to focus on your own inner-world of ideas and experiences, and you get your energy from exploring that inner world.
Sensing vs. Intuition
This describes how you like to take in information. If you prefer Sensing you like to take in factual, concrete information based on what’s actually happening, and are usually focused on the present. If you like to focus on the big picture and identify the relationships and connections between the facts, that indicates a preference for Intuition (and you like to focus on the future).
Thinking vs. Feeling
This describes how you prefer to make decisions. If you prefer Thinking, you want to look at the logical consequences, and remove yourself from the situation to analyze the pros and cons. On the other hand, if you prefer Feeling, you mentally place yourself in the situation, and try make decisions based on how they’ll affect the individuals involved.
Judging vs. Perceiving
This is how you deal with the outer world. Those with a preference for Judging like to live in a planned, organized and scheduled manner. Not having a plan or schedule is often uncomfortable for them. Those with a preference for Perceiving, on the other hand, like to live in more of a flexible and spontaneous way, and being locked into a schedule without any wiggle room is often uncomfortable for them.
Your MBTI assessment results will show that you have a preference for one or the other of each of these four options (or Preference Pairs). So what does one make of it all? Stay tuned for a series of posts that will go in-depth into what each of these means!