MBTI: Busting Some Popular Myths


The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is the problem child of psychological tools used at the workplace. People and organizations that are believers often tend to look upon it as the panacea for all ills. The MBTI explains everything: About 1.5 million people take the MBTI annually and most Fortune 500 companies use the tool. Such strong positive sentiment very obviously leads to very strong negative sentiments as well, making criticizing the MBTI the next most popular thing to adoring it. Of late, the MBTI criticisms seem to have taken an uptrend. I remember reading a few on LinkedIn as well. And till recently, the Wikipedia entry on MBTI was a complete disaster – much improved and extremely detailed/ complex now.

I must confess, I am a huge believer in the power of the MBTI in furthering meaningful interpersonal relationships and personal development. Needless to say, I am a globally certified administrator of the tool and use the tool extensively for coaching and training both organizations’ and families.

It is perhaps precisely why I understand the general frustrations about the MBTI. The tool is often less understood and hardly fully utilized, allowing several myths about the tool and its uses to persist.

Very often, administrators themselves, consciously or unconsciously, tend to discuss the MBTI in flippant terms or strengthen myths further by calling the MBTI a “test” for example, or saying, “Well, I was an ENFP, but over time, I have matured into an ESTJ.” The only way to describe my feeling when I hear something like this from anyone around me, is a sense of sadness and disappointment. It is not surprising then, to find participants who have used the tool come out with similar notions.

Here are some myths about the MBTI that I have commonly found in organizations and in individuals:

Myth 1: MBTI explains everything

MBTI does not explain everything. It does not for example, explain how values people carry impacts their behavior. What the MBTI does do is help you identify your preferences on four scientific parameters – how you take in and give out energy, how you absorb stimuli around you, how you process that information to make a decision, and how you like to experience or structure life. What that does is help you understand yourself and how you might behave in certain situations. As an extrapolation, it helps you understand why you work with some people better (likely they have similar preferences) and why others annoy or frustrate you (likely they have opposite preferences)

Myth 2: MBTI boxes you into a type

It does not. One of the first things MBTI clearly states is that we all have both opposites (dichotomies as they are called) of all preferences. We are not 100% of any one preference. All it states is that we tend to use one preference more than its logical opposite which is why it is called a “preference”. All of us with two hands use both our hands. Yet we are left or right handed. We tend to use one more than the other. Preferences in psychological type work the same way

Myth 3: MBTI measures what you can do well and what you cannot

MBTI does not measure anything actually. Which is why it is not a “test” but an “inventory”. It does not give you a score on strengths and weaknesses. It does not even tell you what your strengths and weaknesses are. Which is one of the key reasons why it is not only inappropriate but also illegal to use the MBTI for recruitment, promotion or any kind of selection. The MBTI indicates a preference. It does not say how well developed it is. For example, you may be left-handed. That does not mean you have a great handwriting. Similarly, the MBTI may indicate you have a preference for “Extraversion”. It does not mean you are a great orator.

These three myths are really the tip of the iceberg when it comes to myth-busting about the MBTI. Watch this space for more on the tool and do write to me (contactme@radhikasubramanian.com) if you have any specific questions.

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