“I Don’t Think It’s Right To Type People” – Part 2

The TYPE Reporter, Excerpts from Issue No. 37, written by Susan Scanlon

(The TYPE Reporter is a newsletter about your personality type, and how it influences you in all the stages of life.
You can subscribe by contacting Susan Scanlon, INFJ, Editor, 703-764-5370, or on the website.)

“I don’t think it’s right to type people because decisions might be made affecting people based on their type alone.”

“I can see the possibilities of type being used unfairly,” said 16-year-old Jesse. “For example, if I were applying for a job and they knew I was an INFP, they might conclude that I didn’t have the ability to think objectively and pass me over for the job. But I can think objectively when the circumstances call for it.” Mike is a neighbor of ours and manages a commercial center. He has not taken the MBTI® yet. “I think that any time you are making a judgment about people,” he said, “for example, in deciding if you are going to hire them, you need more specific information than just their type, like, are they going to get along in this environment, can they work well with the people here.”

Dan is the husband of a friend. He’s an INTP and a lawyer. “People were always telling me that I couldn’t do things,” he said. “They tried to tell me I couldn’t go to law school because I came from a working class background, but I did. They tried to tell me I couldn’t be a computer programmer because I was a history major, but I became one. I’ve made a career of doing things people told me I couldn’t do. That may be the basis of my emotional reaction to the type theory. Having been incorrectly categorized before, I resent anyone’s attempts to categorize me.”

“I think about the press picking up on something like type,” said my brother-in-law, Mark, “and using it to prove some point they are making about world leaders or political candidates. They may be totally stereotyping the people involved, but they’d still be influencing a lot of people.”

The mistakes listed here are along the same lines as trying to oversimplify people because you have a unseasoned understanding of type. But where I may have annoyed my friends after I first learned about type, I didn’t eliminate them from the running for a job that they desired, or hurt their chances to get elected. Jesse, Mike, Dan and Mark are expressing the concern that as type comes into widespread use, it will be used incorrectly by people with power, to do damage to others.

What do you say when people express those concerns? I asked Mary McCaulley, the president of the Center for Applications of Psychological Type, and the author of the 1985 revision of the manual on the MBTI®, for some help with this question. She told me that she would never hire or vote for people based on their type alone. She could not be sure that people were honestly reporting their type in an employment or political situation for one thing. But most important, she could not be sure from their type that they were among the best, or the most well-developed, in their type, which is what an employer or voter is really looking for. The MBTI® can predict how people will go toward a goal, but it cannot predict if they will ever reach it, and therefore should not be used where predicitions of success are sought.

McCaulley did not think the MBTI® was useful to employers in such a specific way as hiring based on type alone, but she did think the concepts behind the MBTI® can be very helpful for employers in a general way. She herself uses them to help her define and structure jobs so that they don’t require equal ability with totally opposite preferences.

When McCaulley told me this, it reminded me of one of my first jobs, in a bookstore. There were two employees there, Wrexie and Andy, who were probably E-Ps, and who were very good at the cash register. They knew almost every customer by name and would talk and joke with them. They could carry on a conversation simultaneously with a customer at the register, one on the phone, and a delivery person entering the front door. The customers would buy stacks of books on their recommendations alone. But Wrexie and Andy would consistently make mistakes when taking weekly inventories and preparing financial records, and when customers asked for specific titles, Wrexie and Andy would go, “Uhhhhh, let’s see…”

Then there were Nancy and I, two I-Js. We arranged the shelves beautifully. We were constantly improving the inventory system. And if someone asked for a certain title we could walk right to it and pick it up, or say immediately “It will be in on Tuesday at 2.” But a customer had to do some work to get our attention off our papers and books, and then they’d have to pretend they didn’t see the brief looks of annoyance that passed over our faces. And for some reason, we just weren’t very good at getting people to buy things based on our recommendations.

The problem was that everyone’s job was defined the same way. You spent half of your time at the register, and half maintaining the stock. The manager was constantly getting angry at Wrexie and Andy and threatening to fire them because failures on paper show up more glaringly than the failure to enthuse customers. I always had the feeling that there were really two separate jobs here, and that although it may have taken some thought for it to work, it would have worked better if Nancy and I could have spent most of our time organizing that place to a state of perfection, and were consulted when people wanted specific titles, and if Wrexie and Andy spent most of their time carrying on the most spectacular demonstration of selling and public relationships I’ve ever seen. I think that if our manager had had type in mind while defining the jobs people were to do, he could have eliminated a lot of his frustrations and increased the overall productivity of his staff.

McCaulley also has type in mind while interviewing people for jobs, but once again in a general sense, to help her frame her questions and interpret the replies. She asks type-based questions like “Do you find that interruptions more often interest you or tire you?” She asks people what kind of jobs they’ve had in the past and matches that with her knowledge of the types. She listens for the kinds of things that really make their eyes light up. But using type to define the job and structure the interview questions, McCaulley is able to improve the fit between people and jobs without ever asking people about their type, or asking them to take the MBTI®, or in any way intruding upon their privacy or constitutional rights.

If you are interviewing for a job, and someone asks you your type, or asks you to take the MBTI®, instead of complying or refusing, you might say “Oh, you understand type. Can we talk about this job in terms of the MBTI® and what preferences you think it draws mainly upon?” Turn their attention toward job definition. Then, if they do not describe it as fitting your type, but you still think you could do the job, you might say, “Well, I’ve shown in my past that I can carry out those responsibilities, but I can also bring this additional element to our organization.”

If you find yourself interested in a job that, according to the research, does not attract many people of your type, take it as a yellow light rather than a red light. Slow down and look carefully. That job may have features that you have not considered. But then again, you may have special needs or positive qualities that distinguish you from most of the people of your type.

“I don’t think it’s right to type people because I’m worried about it being misused by others.”

It seems that all of the people I interviewed were concerned with the way other people might use a theory of types. They seemed to be missing the main point, that the type theory is for your own use, to ease some of the confusion in your life, to help you make better decisions, increase your versatility, and forgive others.

As I listened to all of them speak, I’d hear them describe problems they had, and I’d be thinking that type could help them sort that out. Judy, for example, who was labeled “stuck up” when she was young, might benefit from understanding herself in terms of an Introverted, Thinking female when the norm is more Extraverted and Feeling.

Dan, who was told he couldn’t go to law school because he came from a working-class background, might find it interesting to learn that according to the research on the types of law school students, his Thinking and Intuition served him very well in law school, more so than the most wealthy class background would have.

Mike, who does a lot of hiring in his work as a manager, might benefit from knowing that while he’s looking for people who “fit in and get along” he may be staffing his office with people who all have types similar to his own, and who all have similar blind spots. He may need to hire people who don’t fit in quite so well, or simply be more aware of what’s being overlooked in his organization.

Jesse, the 16-year-old who is concerned that his INFP type might keep him out of jobs that need objective thinkers, would probably benefit from learning that he is most likely to do objective thinking well in the service of his Feeling, and that before he explores the world of work, he should explore his own values.

Mark, who is concerned that type might be used by journalists to influence people’s votes or political stands, might benefit from understanding that whether journalists quote type or not, their own type is going to affect the things they say, and that he should read their opinions with that in mind. It will give him a broader perspective from which to analyze the endless debate around politics.

My strategy in the future when I hear people say “I don’t think it’s right to type people,” will be first, to ask them why they say that. While they’re speaking, I’ll be listening not only for their concerns about type theories, but for their concerns about their own self-understanding and relationships as well. That way, first I can address their concern about the type theory, and explain that type comes with its own list of safety precautions, as does any useful tool that is dangerous in inexperienced hands.

But after I’ve told them how it should not be used by others. I can also bring up the personal concern that they mentioned, and give them a small demonstration of how type can be used by themselves, to better understand what is happening in their lives.

“If you had made it clear up front that this was a tool for self-understanding and self-improvement,” said Dan, “and should never be used to predict, select or limit people, I wouldn’t have had any objections to it at all.”

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is a trademark or registered trademark of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Trust in the United States and other countries.