“I Can’t Decide What Type I Am!” – Part 1
The TYPE Reporter, Excerpt from Vol. 5, No. 2, written by Susan Scanlon
According to the manual on the MBTI®, around 25% of the people who take the MBTI® score close to the middle on one or more of the dimensions. Although some of those people are able to identify their preferences in spite of their slight scores, other people aren’t able to identify their preferences in spite of their clear scores. So let’s say it evens out, and for around 25% of the people who take the MBTI®, their type is still an open question even after they’ve received their report forms.
If you believe that making a person familiar with their natural gifts and course of development is a worthwhile pursuit, then it probably bothers you when that’s not easy, and sometimes nearly impossible, to do. You’d probably like to know more about why people sometimes can’t decide what type they are, and what can be done about it.
To get closer to some answers on these questions, we’re going to use as an example a man named Bob. He’s a real person who has not been able to decide on his type in 13 years! Bob first took the MBTI® in 1977 and came out ISFP, but he didn’t feel that the profile fit him entirely. Since then he’s taken it 12 times, each time coming out a different type, each time feeling the profile didn’t entirely fit him.
You may be wondering why he doesn’t just drop the search for his type if the theory doesn’t seem to be working for him. “I’ve tried,” he says, “but it’s like one of those birthday candles that won’t go out when you blow it. I put it aside but I keep coming back to it.”
Bob is looking to the MBTI® to give him guidance in making a mid-life career change. He’s been a successful lawyer, but he hasn’t been happy as a lawyer. “I had to work so hard just to keep up that it wasn’t fun. I saw other lawyers around me going great guns and still enjoying themselves. I want to find a career where I can do the same. I feel that if I knew my true type, I could start laying out a plan consistent with that type.”
We talked to some of the MBTI® experts who have had experience with people who have a hard time deciding on their type. We’re going to tell you what they recommend, and how it worked for Bob. In this issue we’ll look at what the experts recommend you do in a workshop setting to help people decide on their type, and how Bob reacted to these experiences. He is a good example of how frustrating, fascinating, and eventually satisfying it can be to help people find their true type.
- IN A WORKSHOP -
WHAT CAN YOU DO FOR PEOPLE WHO CAN’T DECIDE ON THEIR TYPE?
Tell them it’s normal and give them some time.
For most of the people who are uncertain on one or more of the dimensions of the MBTI®, time usually takes care of the problem. After they’ve had some time to absorb the definitions of the functions and observe their own behavior, their type usually becomes clear to them.
If you’re giving a workshop on type, it’s probably a good idea to tell people up front that they may not be able to decide their type in the course of your workshop. Tell them that initial uncertainty about your type is normal. You don’t want to cause them any stress because they don’t fit into the theory right away. Be as general, positive, neutral, and non-suggestive as you can be about this issue.
And you might mention that some people may never be certain about what type they are. Some people are just more distinctly a type than others. You can see this even in small children. Some have a clear sense of who they are when they’re very young, some don’t have a clear sense of who they are until 30 or 40, and some are never sure. The important thing is, for most of these “untypical” people, it’s not a problem. It’s no big deal.
Time and observing his own behavior did not help Bob decide on a type. In fact, the more time went by, the more uncertain he became. But Bob continued to pursue his type because of his own feeling that he had to know, not because poor training had made him feel that something was wrong with him.
Give them a variety of experiences in a workshop.
We talked to Janet Thuesen and Otto Kroeger, a team that has trained at least 10,000 people in type theory in the last 10 years and recently co-authored the book Type Talk (Delacorte, 1988). They said that a good way to help people decide what type they are is to offer them a variety of experiences in a workshop, especially the experience of being put into groups with others who are supposed to be the same type as they are, and seeing if they experience agreement and similarity.
In one of the first workshops on the MBTI® that I attended, the trainers asked all the Introverts to get into a group and all the Extraverts to get into a group. In the group of Introverts we were asked to answer the questions:
Then we reported back to the group on what we had talked about and heard the Extraverts answer the same questions. We did the same thing on all four of the dimensions. I remember how powerful an experience that was for me. I still remember a woman saying “When I hear Extraverts talking about what they’re going to do today, it makes me tired. I couldn’t possibly do all that in one day?” We all laughed and nodded our heads in agreement. That kind of clicking with other people strengthened my certainty that type worked, and that I was an Introvert.
I’ve also been present in several “type-alike” groups since then where it became clear that one of us did not belong in that group. It’s an excellent method for helping people get clarity on their type. But it didn’t work for Bob. He attended one workshop where people were asked to go into groups with their like types and answer questions such as “How are you in a team?” and “How are you as a leader?” It didn’t settle anything for him. “I went around and listened to different groups, and read the things they put up on the wall, but none of the groups rang out loud and clear to me,” he said.
Ask them to read several profiles and mark the parts they agree with.
Another thing Otto Kroeger recommends for people who can’t decide what type they are is that they do some homework. Their assignment is to read profiles on all the types that they might be, and mark the lines they agree strongly with, then add them up at the end. I did this with my husband when he was uncertain if he was an INTP or an ENTP. He had a terrible time deciding if he was an Extravert or an Introvert in the abstract, but he agreed with every line of the ENTP profile and not a single line of the INTP profile.
But Bob has been doing this kind of thing for 17 years. He has every book of profiles that has been published, and they’re all underlined and checked and X’d. However, none of the profiles really fits him completely, and over time.
Most of the profiles have some things that sound true for Bob, and some things that don’t. And on some days he feels like one type but the next day it might change. And sometimes it doesn’t even take a day. Before breakfast, he may be reading the profiles of the INFP and identifying with them, but later in the day, the ESFP and ISFP may sound better to him. For several days he may write in his journal about how he’s an SJ, but today write that he must be an SP because he feels so impulsive, playful, and physical.
Ask them to discuss it with people who know them.
The third thing Otto Kroeger suggests is that you ask people who know you well what they think. When I asked Bob to tell me the name of someone who knows him fairly well, and also knows type, he mentioned Katherine Myers, an INFP who has been familiar with type for most of her life.
Kathy Myers told me: “His endless searching for self, and his insistence that he know what is at the core of him before he can make any decisions, reminds me of an INFP. It’s a weakness of the INFP, in fact. Like other NFs, INFPs need to operate out of their core, to be true to themselves. But without the E or the J to pull them out into the world, INFPs can really get stuck trying to figure themselves out.
“In more specific ways he also reminds me of an INFP. He’s very much in tune with other people, and responds to them so that they feel good about themselves. He speaks quietly, about things he’s enthusiastic about. He entertains beautifully, but he’s not a hail-fellow-well-met. He does it quietly and graciously. I’ve been trying to get him off this obsession with knowing what type he is. He feels he can’t move or decide on a career until he does. I tell him that he’s fortunate to be able to use each of the functions when it’s appropriate.”
I told Kathy Myers that I had two doubts about Bob being an INFP. One was that when he was young, he became a leader at just about every opportunity. He rattled off a dizzying list of leadership positions. He was president of his junior class in high school, and then of the whole student body in his senior year. A high school teacher told his parents he had never seen a better leader come through the system. In college, he was captain of his football team, president of his college fraternity, president of the leadership fraternity, and voted the best leader in his senior class. And all through his legal career, people were trying to persuade him to go into politics.
Why, I asked Kathy, would an Introvert place himself so often in front of, and in the middle of, groups? I cold see an Introvert being the leader of a group if they all shared a passionate interest, but Bob seemed to be the leader of a variety of groups, with no particular shared interests. “Introverts can often be leaders,” Kathy said. “I’m an Introvert and among other things I was the editor of the school paper, and voted most likely to succeed.”
And then I told her that in many hours of listening to Bob talk, I had never heard him make a large generalization, which Intuitives seem to need to do as much as they need to breathe. And when asked a question about his preferences, he referred to something he had done recently, instead of looking at his behavior over a lifetime and observing patterns. I’m usually hungry for specifics when I’m listening to Intuitives. When I’m listening to Bob, I’m hungry for a generalization.
Kathy said he seemed to be comfortable talking about the type theory, which was fairly abstract. She also said that she doubted an S would spend this much time trying to find out who they were. And I had to agree. If Bob was unlike any Intuitive I’d ever listened to, he was also unlike any Sensing type I’d ever listened to.
It’s hard for some people to put a type on themselves because on one or more of the dimensions, they really do have attributes from both sides. When you ask them to choose a type, you’re asking them to deny something about themselves that is important, but not “typical.”
To be continued...
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