Published on June 26, 2017, at 11:20 a.m.
by Katie Willem.
Have you ever wondered why you think differently than those around you? Why you grasp concepts and ways of thinking at a different rate, or in alternative terms than your classmates and peers seem to understand topics? There’s a very simple answer to this question, whether you’ve pondered it before or not. In fact, the answer comes down to four letters: MBTI.
MBTI stands for Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, but the four letters I mentioned before go hand in hand with the four letters that determine the way that you think.
Myers-Briggs works as a dichotomy — as in, you’re either this or that:
You’re either Introverted or Extroverted.
You’re either iNtuitive or Sensing.
You’re either Feeling or Thinking.
You’re either Judging or Perceiving.
This “either/or” option is really helpful when it comes to simplicity’s sake, but nothing in this world is truly simple. Myers-Briggs is based off Carl Jung’s cognitive function theory, which at its root says that a person instinctively chooses to approach a problem they face from a certain perspective. James Hillman in “The Feeling Function” explains the functions further.
“A function is something that performs, operates, acts,” Hillman said. “It is a process going on through a certain period of time … Functions are a part of the intentionality of consciousness, showing how it operates in regard to itself and others, how it imposes its intentions and meanings and expresses its character.”
I will take my Myers-Briggs Type as an example of how Myers-Briggs and its functions look.
According to MBTI, I am an ENFP. That means I prefer extroversion, intuition, feeling and perceiving according to Myers-Briggs. Looking at this personality type face value of what those words mean, one would say that someone of the ENFP Myers-Briggs type is an energetic and loud individual who can see into the future, but is also someone who cannot work on a schedule and thinks with their heart, not their head. I will admit that I am known to do all of these things on occasion, but those who know me know that that’s not truly who I am. This is because Myers-Briggs wasn’t created to tell you who you are. Instead, it tries to answer the “how” of your personality.
Myers-Briggs, in the recent trends, functions as a personality test; it tries to tell you who you are, based on 16 different “types,” rather than give you insight into the cognitive processes by which you think — which, using Carl Jung’s original theory, is how it was intended to be used. It was created for the professional world to help ideas flow better between two people who think differently, which is why it should be very important to PR practitioners, as we are lovers of ideas and communication. So understanding how yourself, your classmates, your fellow practitioners, your clients, and all those around you, and how they think will build faster, more efficient, and understanding possibilities for you — wherever you may be in this walk of life.
Dr. Tasha Smith-Tyus works with students in the communication field as the manager of the C&IS Career Center at The University of Alabama. In her position she helps students explore, develop and connect with different career opportunities and organizations that recruit at The University of Alabama.
When asked about people’s personality types in the field of communications, she said, “I would not say personality is the determining factor for a successful career in communication. It is more about the skill set they develop through classroom experiences and hands-on tangible experiences they have through internships and practicums. Regardless of their personality types or majors, a student must demonstrate to an employer that they are competent to perform the job well.”
Smith-Tyus reinforced this point with an example of students “who are ‘anxious’ about public speaking or feel as if they make struggle in their chosen major or career path — thinking, “Am I creative enough, do I write well enough, and so on.”
“That is OK,” Smith-Tyus explained. “Such anxiety should actually encourage the student to finetune their craft through internships, talking to faculty, getting involved. Such steps can help ease the uncertainty about their chosen career path. More than a personality has to be considered in a future career. Passion, determination to learn and, like I always ask students, regardless of their majors —what have you done and what do you know?”
Jennifer Selby is the CEO of Selby Group, which is an executive coaching firm. She’s worked with Myers-Briggs with around 3,000 people in the professional world. She agreed with the notion that personality type shouldn’t affect one’s choice in career by sharing an anecdote about an accounting firm she worked with.
She said two professional fields come to mind that have an overwhelming amount of personality preference: accounting and structural engineering. Eighty to ninety percent of these fields are covered with ESTJs or ISTJs, even today.
Selby worked with an accounting firm and saw these personality traits represented well within the firm, but noticed that a female ENFJ was overwhelmingly successful with both interior and exterior work for the firm, despite being outside of what could be considered her “comfort zone.” Selby explained that because of how different this ENFJ thought compared to her ISTJ co-workers, she brought a different light to the problems they were facing.
Jennifer Selby has 25 years of experience with Myers-Briggs and its place professionally. She said that while it is beneficial to know how you think in order to interact with those around you more efficiently, she noted it is not what you really need to be successful in the job you choose. What brings success is the skill that you bring to the job and acquire through it.
Dr. Tasha Smith-Tyus agrees, saying, “Do not rely solely on one’s ‘type’ to determine the course of your life. Sure you can use the instrument as a tool of direction to learn your preference, but it should not be the only determinate. Nothing takes away from actual experience and interpersonal interactions with others.”