Personality type – what even is that?  Are you an extrovert, an introvert?  Are you kind and passive, or aggressive, driven and ambitious?  The answer is yes, no, and a whole lot more.

I’ve always considered myself an introvert…or am I?  You may think of yourself as an introvert, but you might actually be an ambivert with introverted tendencies; or, an extroverted introvert.  How many of us are like that, and maybe didn’t realize it?  As “semi-outgoing introverts”, we can actually be quite hospitable.  When our battery’s got a full charge, we enjoy socializing.  Not necessarily in a big group, but a few people at a time is definitely doable.  However, unlike true extroverts who gain energy from being in the thick of it, socializing still drains an introvert’s battery.  I’m not super-outgoing or talkative, but I do enjoy other’s company, say, in a game of euchre.  Family gatherings are great, and I can talk with people to a point, as long as there are occasional distractions – a TV show or card game – to break it up.

It can be hard to know just by looking

Research shows that extroversion and introversion are a spectrum, and the majority of people fall within the main part of the curve, with true extros and intros as “outliers” on the edges of the curve.  I was sure my oldest son was a dyed-in-the-wool extrovert.  From when he was a kid, he was always bold and outgoing.  He could get others to follow him; he can sell you swampland in Florida.  But when I had him take a personality assessment, his extrovert/introvert numbers were extremely close, 6/4 Extro to Intro.  Clearly not the raging extrovert I took him to be.  When we talked about it, he said that he enjoyed being in a group of friends and having fun, but it drained him to be “on” for a long time in a crowd.  A true example of an ambivert who leans toward extroversion.

By the way…there is a big difference between shyness and being an introvert.  An introvert enjoys time alone and gets emotionally drained after spending a lot of time with others. A shy person doesn’t necessarily want to be alone but is afraid to interact with others.  I used to be shy when I was a kid.  I’m also an introvert, so my childhood was rough as far as making friends.  I’m not shy anymore.  I love to engage with people, depending on who they are and the setting, but I won’t be there long.  I definitely enjoy being home, chilling out and recharging the battery.  There’s no confusion with my Extro/Intro numbers; 2/8, definitely an introvert.  As my friend Dave once said, “I’m perfectly comfortable with my own thoughts.”

Which one fits you best, or are you a mix?

I’ve covered these two main personality factors heavily because they are the origin of personality study by psychiatrist Carl Jung.  Jung developed his personality theories based on the core of extraversion and introversion in the early 1900s.  But again, there’s a lot more to personality type than whether you’re outgoing or introspective.  We’ll take a look at a popular model, the one that’s probably been around the longest and has been researched, fleshed out, and used in mainstream psychology the most.  I’m referring to the Myers-Briggs personality types, and the MBTI, or Myers-Briggs Temperament Indicator.

The origins of this model come Jung’s work, but were developed and made popular by Katharine Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers.  Jung had developed some solid and advanced theories on personality types.  Briggs and her daughter started researching Jung’s work and found it fascinating.  So much so, that they wanted to clarify and elaborate on his theories in order to put them into practice.  They added two more personality factors onto Jung’s original six, and came up with sixteen different main personality types.

They saw great value in helping people reach their potential by knowing more about what made them tick, so to speak.  This can have a positive effect on careers and work decisions, as well as personal relationships.  In fact, Isabel took her mother’s work and developed the MBTI as a practical “people sorter” to help people decide what vocations fit them best – not just do what you love, but work at what fits you best.  Katharine and Isabel worked through the 1940s and 50s to develop the personality indicator into a practical tool for later use by universities and companies.

Around this same time, through the 1940s and 50s, Dr. David Keirsey researched Myers Briggs’ work and developed his own take on their sixteen personality types, adding names to the different types (Artisans, Guardians, Idealists and Rationals), and characterizing them by language and tool usage – concrete, or abstract.  Dr. Keirsey was a psychologist who specialized in corrective counseling in the public schools, working with both kids and adults.  His take on the Myers Briggs system is refreshing and quite user-friendly.  I’ve read extensively on both Keirsey and Myers Briggs, and draw this math analogy: where Jung’s theories were the calculus of psychiatric personality study, Myers Briggs brought the idea to the world in the form of applied trigonometry.  Keirsey made personality typing more accessible, creating a basic algebra form.

Both Myers Briggs and Keirsey use these eight factors in determining personality types:

  1. Extraverted / Introverted: as we’ve already seen, this is how someone interacts with the world around them; where they draw their energy from.
  2. Sensing / Intuition: how someone takes in information.  Sensory types are observant of things in their surrounding environment.  Intuitive types are introspective, using a “sixth sense” or the mind’s eye to draw conclusions.
  3. Thinking / Feeling: Thinkers are “tough-minded”, being more objective and impersonal.  Feelers are more friendly, sympathetic and personable with others.
  4. Judging / Perceiving: Those who have a Judging side are organized and scheduled.  They like things decided.  Perceivers are more ambivalent, open to alternatives and other opportunities, willing to probe and explore a while before making a decision.

As you’ve read through the list of eight factors above, consider their meanings. Then consider yourself, and you can get a rough idea of where you fall.  Myers Briggs and Keirsey both then provide sixteen combinations of these eight factors, shown below:

Myers Briggs 16 types, as named by Dr. Keirsey

To give the unfamiliar an idea of how these types work, I’ll use myself as an example.  I’m an Idealist, an INFJ, sometimes floating toward INFP.  I for Introverted, N for iNtuitive, F for Feeling, and J for Judging.  Idealists have a strong sense of right and wrong in general, and base most of their decisions and experiences on the principle behind something.  This has always been true with me since I was a kid.  Another strong factor that comes through regularly is my intuition.  The ability to see the big picture without hashing over all the details.  It’s the ability to draw conclusions quickly based on gut instinct; the “sixth sense” mentioned above.  My Feeling part has to do with making value judgments.  I tend to be kind and unassuming with people; not cold and calculating.  And then the Judging comes in with my To Do lists, schedules and such.  It’s hard for me to be spur-of-the-moment.  I need the organization to function throughout the day and week.

I’ll leave it there for the detail.  There are a number of books written by both experts on these sixteen types and the factors that make them.  If you’re not familiar with either Myers Briggs or Keirsey’s work, I encourage you to dive into it.  Keirsey’s resources are more accessible, free to browse on his website.  On the other hand, Myers Briggs were very protective of their intellectual property, and have copyrighted their work.  They do offer workshops you can pay for and attend to become a certified MBTI administrator.  This grants you access rights to most of the material.  Isabel Briggs Myers’ book, “Gifts Differing”, is an excellent resource you can pick up on Amazon for under $20.

Dr. Keirsey’s website has plenty of clear, easy-to-follow resources for understanding these personality types.  His books, “Please Understand Me” and “Please Understand Me II” document the work he’s done in this field.  I recommend the second edition, as it’s more up to date and improves on the material in the first edition.

The main argument against personality typing as with the MBTI and Keirsey’s Temperament Sorter is that the studies are unscientific and inaccurate.  Technically there may be some merit to these arguments, but consider how personality types were developed, going back to Jung: the observation of people over time, and the hypotheses made.  If you compare Jung’s, Myers Briggs and Keirsey’s work to the scientific method, it may be argued that they did not necessarily follow through with testing the hypotheses. However, they have all certainly made many observations, created their hypotheses, analyzed their data and drawn some very similar conclusions about these main personality types.

As far as accuracy, it’s true that very few, if any, people remain entirely the same from childhood to late adulthood.  Different life experiences act on us, for better or worse, to shape who we are.  Family dynamics, education and work, even involuntary factors such as disabilities can affect who we are between childhood and adulthood.  We sometimes act, think and feel one way at work or school, while we might be quite different at home.  The best way to most accurately type your personality is to do your best to clear your mind of the “white noise” of the outside world.  When you consider the questions, try to answer them from the point of view of who you are, period.  Not who you are at work, or who you are because of earlier trauma or dysfunction.  Dig deep and think about how you would most naturally handle the scenario presented in the question.

So, which one are you?  Are you an ESFP, an Artisan-Performer like my wife?  This result, by the way, surprised both of us.  My wife has not typically been an outgoing person.  She still gets nervous speaking in front of a group.  Maybe you’re an ENTJ, a Rational-Field Marshal like my son?  Three of his four factors are as close to their counterpart factors as they can be without being a tie.  For fun, I extrapolated the other type possibilities that he might be at a given time.  There were six more options.  I could see shades of each in him.  This goes to show the truth that we aren’t always one certain way. 

Find out what type you are, clarify your strengths (and weaknesses) and how to best capitalize on those at work and in your personal relationships.  It will reduce stress, and make for more satisfying interactions.