Building Bridges

Can the Myers-Briggs Help You Achieve a Happy Medium?

Colleen and Stella both work at a medical device company and develop a catalog to market the products. Though they often complement each other well, recently they have reached a stalemate on this year’s catalog drop.

Colleen, a product manager, wants to make sure the catalog hits the printer well in advance of her conservative deadline, that each of her products gets equal billing and promotion, and that the branding and colors in the catalog look similar to last year’s catalog, since that version generated a lot of sales. Colleen has given Stella, the marketing director, specific, detailed notes on what she is looking for on the project, with interim targets ahead of the ultimate completion date.

However, Stella has an entirely different approach. She knows the company just launched a new medical device that is fairly unique and innovative, and has the potential to become a successful product. While she wants to please Colleen, she also wants to ensure the branding is tweaked to feature this new product, and doesn’t mind missing the deadline to allow for these changes. Stella runs the catalog by many colleagues, including several she doesn’t need to. Additionally, Colleen is irritated by Stella’s constantly finding improvements in the catalog and drafting several versions, delaying its completion.

Who is right…Colleen or Stella, and why? The answer is, neither one. Their personality characteristics influence what is most important to each of them, causing the stalemate.

This scenario shows that the most challenging part of each workday can lie in interacting with colleagues; how do we reach consensus with people whose viewpoints are so different from our own? To come to agreement with someone, it helps to understand his/her perspective and approach to the world. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), the subject of EnVision’s most recent team development day in June, provides tools to illuminate another’s perspectives.

The MBTI consists of four scales, each consisting of a pair of opposite behavioral tendencies. While everyone uses all of the behaviors from time to time, each person has preferences that are illustrated with the MBTI indicator. These show how an individual most commonly interacts with his/her environment.

The first scale shows how individuals get their energy; Extraverts (E) get their energy from the outer world, whereas Introverts (I) prefer inward reflection. The Myers-Briggs also captures preferences on information gathering; people who typically rely on Sensing (S) get their information in “real time,” from their senses, whereas those who rely on iNtuition (N) find patterns in information and make mental leaps to the future.

In the third scale describing decision-making style, people who tend toward Thinking (T) analyze a decision objectively and logically. Someone who exemplifies Feeling (F) makes decisions on how results impact other people, and strives to preserve harmony between others. Lastly, those who are commonly Judging (J) like to achieve closure and resolve decisions quickly, whereas people who favor Perceiving (P) prefer to gather more information and not rush a decision.

The indicator yields a four-letter “Type” that has its own description and way of viewing the world. There are 16 possible personality types with the Myers-Briggs.

If Colleen and Stella completed the Myers-Briggs, they would learn that they, unsurprisingly, have very different profiles. Colleen is a classic ISTJ (Introversion, Sensing, Thinking, Judging,). She decides logically what should be done and works toward her goal systematically. She is orderly and organized, sometimes to a fault, and takes pleasure in this.

Stella, on the other hand, interacts with the world as an ENFP (Extraversion, iNtuition, Feeling, Perceiving). She’s imaginative and connects ideas quickly – such as the promise of the new product and the potential to promote this in the catalog. Stella also wants approval from others. She doesn’t prioritize the deadline over continuing to work on the catalog; as a “P,” she is fairly relaxed about meeting her deadline.

Colleen and Stella then took the MBTI, which resulted in greater understanding of each other’s point of view. Colleen agreed to incorporate Stella’s valuable ideas, even though they produced a different catalog than last year. She also allowed more flexibility on her deadline, while Stella in turn cut down on the number of catalog iterations. They also specifically tailored their discussions in meetings, especially when hitting a communication roadblock, something Kathy Maloney, an EnVision consultant, advocates.

During EnVision’s team development day, Maloney and EnVision consultant Ginny Maglio kicked off the session by showing the attendees a photograph of a busy New York City intersection, asking them to state what the picture brought to their minds. Whether people remembered a specific item from the picture or took away a certain feeling from it, their observations reflected their MBTI type.

Moving into the core of the session, Maglio and Maloney led the group in real-world, job-applicable exercises that incorporated organization, problem solving, and decision making. They handed the attendees a scenario of starting a new L&D project, a program on diversity, and split the attendees into two groups. They then asked two groups how they would plan the project.

During this exercise, EnVision’s team learned which elements they prioritized, where they placed emphasis, and how this was reflected in their own MBTI type. For example, someone who has a preference for Sensing and Thinking would want to know why the client believes they have a need for diversity training, what data is available to support this, and which performance improvements the client is seeking in its employees, explains Maglio. These are all task-oriented focuses. An iNtuition/Perceiving type would focus not only on the content of the curriculum, but also on how each team member can have an impact on the learning solution and give members choices about what roles/responsibilities they want to assume, said Maloney.

In the second half of the exercise, each team determined how to complete the project. Maglio and Maloney chose these exercises to mimic real-life work with clients, and also encourage team members to be aware of their MBTI profile to best work with their colleagues. “[The MBTI] is an understanding of yourself and others to work more effectively together,” said Maglio.

In addition, the Myers-Briggs can be used to problem solve. If MBTI types are missing from a work team, members can adopt those preferences, using their past experience. This ensures the problem is approached from all perspectives, leading to a more comprehensive solution.

Most often, company leaders introduce the MBTI when there is a specific need, such as an interpersonal issue within a team, said Maloney, like the example with Colleen and Stella. “To me, there needs to be a business need, and an interpersonal need,” said Maloney. “It’s a great tool, but not the only tool.”

Using the MBTI to put a team together would be a misuse of the indicator, said Maloney. Because the Myers-Briggs does not test ability or knowledge, it should not be used to assess employees’ abilities or performance. Frequently, people may refer to the Myers-Briggs as a “test,” though it is not.

While limitations to the MBTI exist, its framework based on the personality theories of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung still endures today. The indicator remains one of the most widely used psychological tools worldwide. Add it to your arsenal of tools to have your employees understand each other better, like Colleen and Stella, and grow more productive.