OK, enough with the complaining!
I do occasionally find things to read in my various newspapers and magazines that I actually enjoy. And while I find myself clicking through the stories on NPR One rather quickly and impatiently these days, I occasionally run into something I can dig there as well.
I was flipping through the aforementioned NPR app while walking, and found something fun. Longtime readers know about my interest in the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator. I’ve written about it often enough. And of course, I know a lot of smart expert types look down on it. But I like it, possibly for some of the reasons they hate it. More about that in a moment.
Anyway, I ran across this three-part podcast about how the MBTI came to be, and I was immediately hooked. Really. Go listen to the first few minutes, and see if you don’t find it intriguing, even if you thought it was an excruciatingly stupid topic before.
One of the first things you learn about the test is that it wasn’t whipped up in a psych lab by a couple of nerdy colleagues in white coats named Myers and Briggs. No, it’s named for the eccentric, uncredentialed woman who developed the test, over the protests of experts, based on the theories of her own equally-if-not-more eccentric mother, Katharine Cook Briggs. The mom, born in 1875, was unusually well-educated and only had one child who survived infancy — and then dedicated herself to discovering innovative ways to raised the perfect child. The daughter was named Isabel, and she married a man named Myers. She developed the personality-type inventory — based on her mother’s ideas about types — as a way of figuring out why she and her husband were so wildly different and incompatible. It saved her marriage, and gave rise to possibly the most widely-used personality test in the world — which she named for her mom and herself.
Why is the test so popular? Well, one thing you learn is that the system tells everybody, from INTPs like me to our irritating opposites, the ESFJs, that we’re all fine. None of our personality quirks are problematic. We just all have different strengths. The test offers us ways to understand each other and work together better, with an appreciation of the differences that helps us not throw lethal objects at each other. Everybody feels affirmed by what they learn. (I suspect this is sort of related to why LGBTQ people like to go to “Pride parades.” Everyone feels affirmed, and we all like that, right?)
That’s how it was offered to all of us editors at The State in the early 90s. We had a newsroom managers’ retreat — and back then, there were more editors with managerial responsibility than there are employees today at the whole newspaper. Anyway, an HR person out of Knight Ridder headquarters in Miami tested us all, and then released the results about everybody to the whole group.
People who look down on the MBTI tend to think it runs on the Barnum effect. Sort of like fortune cookies in a Chinese restaurant. It tells you something vague and nonjudgmental that is allegedly about you, and no matter what it says, you tend to nod and cry, “So true! How did they know?”
Well, I did feel the test pegged me, particularly on the first two categories, because I am about as introverted and as intuitive as people get. (On the other two, I’m closer to the middle.) But personally, I feel like I learned a great deal about my co-workers as well, and while it didn’t revolutionize the way we worked together, it helped explain some things. For instance, there were certain people who I knew I tended to irritate, sometimes a lot. And I wondered about it. It turns out they were all S types, who tended to think we intuitive types were, for instance, just making stuff up and trying to foist it on them without justification. I couldn’t change the way they were or the way I was, but at least I could better understand the cause of the friction. And maybe I could explain my conclusions more patiently — show more respect, for instance, for steps 2, 3, and 4 in making my wild leaps from 1 to 5. That is, if wanted to. (We extreme introverts are known for not caring very much about other people’s opinions of us, yet another irritating thing about us — especially when combined with the intuition thing.)
Oops — just realized I posted this at some point when I meant to save it as a draft. Oh, well. I was almost done. I wrote all of the above yesterday when I had only heard the first two installments, and today I heard the third. Anyway, I recommend it. It’s a good listen. Give it a try…