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Understanding type dynamics

The following sets out the theory behind 'type dynamics'. This is, however, the most contentious aspect of the MBTI™ with some claiming it has little empirical foundation. It can be a useful starting point for discussion to get people to think about how they use preferences and what they observe in others. Those with a preference for introversion often find it useful to think about whether they introvert their dominant function and the implications. 

The four mental functions

Sensing, intuition, thinking and feeling are called 'the four mental functions'. Nowadays we would talk about cognitive processes as they are about how we use our brain. In the course of daily life everyone switches between these functions so they can effectively perform the task in hand. For example, when we  observe or tune into personal experience we are using our sensing. When we envisage possibilities or theorise about what is going on, we are using our intuition . When we make decisions we either use thinking or feeling.

Summary of the four mental functions

For all types one of the following functions is dominant and one is a helping or auxiliary function. If the dominant is a perceiving function, the auxiliary must be a judging function and vice versa.

Perceiving Functions
Sensing -   gaining information from the 5 senses, focusing on facts and concrete experience
Intuition -  looking at patterns, associations, hunches, focusing on meaning, theories, possibilities
Judging Functions
Thinking – logically analysing information (S or N), focus on evaluating objectively
Feeling  - drawing conclusions on personal values  from information (S or N). Focus on evaluating with empathy and to promote harmony.

Why we need a dominant function

While we all use the four functions to some extent, Isabel Briggs Myers hypothesized that one of the four is our dominant, or preferred, mental process. Think of the dominant as the “default” setting. The mental function we are most likely to use unless it seems inappropriate and we switch into another mental mode. If we didn’t have a dominant function life would be overly complicated as we would have to decide all the time which function to use.

Isabel Briggs Myers described the dominant function as the "captain of the ship" as it’s the driving force of the personality. The dominant function is the one we are most comfortable using and rely on most. It is also the function which is most under out control. When we are at our best we are usually using our dominant function.

According to Isabel Briggs Myers these are the dominant functions for each of the 16 types:
Sensing:    ISTJ, ISFJ, ESTP,  ESFP
Intuition:   INTJ, INFJ, ENTP, ENFP
Feeling:     ISFP, INFP, ESFJ, ENFJ

The transparent extravert

All extraverts use their dominant mental function in the world they prefer – i.e. the extravert world. This means that extraverts are geared up to interact with people in their preferred function. ENTPs and ENFPs, for example, extravert their intuition. They go round interpreting the world, generating ideas for change and communicating these theories and ideas to others. By contrast, ESFJs and ENFJs interact with the world mainly through their feeling function. They automatically pay attention to other people and their needs and communicate their personal values and judgements to others.

As extraverts use their dominant function to engage with people and interact with the world it means they are fairly easy to get to know. Like it or not, you’ll quickly know what makes an extravert tick because they will tell you. As we’ll see later this is not true of introverts.

As the dominant function is the most developed function for all the types, and a source of skills and strengths, it means when we interact with an extravert we can see what he or she is good at. Of course, everyone has latent ability and untapped potential but there is still a sense for extraverts that they are displaying their best features to the world.

Extraverts' inner process

This does not mean to say that extraverts do not introvert. All but the most outlandish extraverts do introvert a reasonable amount of the time. But generally when an extravert introverts he or she no longer uses the dominant function and moves into the auxiliary, or second favourite, function. If we look at the list opposite we see that an ESFP’s dominant is sensing. The second favourite function is always the other letter in the middle of the profile. In the case of an ESFP it is feeling. If we take ENTJ we see that their dominant is thinking so their auxiliary must be intuition. 

It is helpful for extraverts to become aware that their outer and inner lives tend to be governed by different types of processes. Extraverts with J at the end of their profile engage with the world in a judging process. They like order and control. But when they retreat into their inner world it tends to be governed by a perceiving process – either intuition or sensing. As these two functions are fairly irrational and chaotic with a meandering feel to them, a major paradox for Js is that while their outer life tends to be controlled and orderly, their inner life is much more free-flowing.

And the opposite is true for extraverts with a P at the end of their type profile. ENTPs, for example, are often aware that their outer lives may be somewhat unstructured and uncontrolled but when they retreat into their inner world and use their auxiliary thinking, they are in a space which they find easy to order. So while they might not have a tidy desk, they can claim to have a tidy mind.

How introverts use their dominant function

Like extraverts, introverts prefer to use their dominant in their favourite world but this has huge implications for how introverts function and is, I believe, the key to understanding the difference between Es and Is. 

Introverts’ favourite world is the inner world and so this is where they prefer to use their dominant function. Remember that the dominant is the “captain of the ship” – the function which most motivates us and makes us tick – so this means an introvert’s captain, though in charge,  is “below deck” or invisible to others’ much of the time.

The introvert's 'lieutenant'

Isabel Briggs Myers had a personal preference for introversion. She explained that when you are dealing with an extravert, you talk and interact with the captain but with an introvert you deal with the lieutenant. What this means is that introverts tend to deal with the outer world using their second favourite function, leaving their dominant to govern their inner life. Take INTPs for example. Their dominant is thinking but they interact with the world mainly with their intuition. This can cause some confusion for others as INTPs come across as fairly laid back types who like tossing ideas around and discussing theories but in fact there is a very logical thinker in there operating as ship’s captain

Catching sight of the introvert's captain

An introvert’s captain does make himself known to others from time to time. Introverts will use their dominant function in the external world when they:

  • Have had quality time to reflect on the issue and have perfected what they want to say.
  • Are talking to someone they trust or feel close to.
  • Have the opportunity to communicate their reflections in writing.
  • Have consumed alcohol. (“vino veritas”)
  • Are angry or under stress.
  • It is often anger which brings the captain on deck, very often to tell you off or challenge you on something you didn’t know was an issue for the introvert in question. This is particularly an issue for those types who introvert a judging process (i.e. either thinking or feeling): ISTP, ISFP, INTP and INFP.

The inscrutable introvert

There is a transparency about extraverts as they will tell you what is important to them and there is an inscrutable quality to introverts as they are much more difficult to fathom. It is not just extraverts who find introverts difficult to read. Introverts can find other Is equally mysterious.

Underestimating introverts

As the dominant function is the most developed for an individual and a major source of strength and skill, it means that is very easy to underestimate the capability or insight of introverts. In other words, others often don’t realise just how experienced, insightful, creative or passionate an introvert is.

Sometimes it is important for introverts themselves to realise that they have to make more of an effort to communicate their inner deliberations. But equally managers also need to be aware that getting the best from staff with a preference for I often means ensuring that the operating climate encourages and supports introverts. For example, don’t run unstructured meetings and expect everyone to talk off the top of their heads and do make it easy for people to contribute thoughts in writing.

Similar issues are at stake for parents, partners and friends of people with a preference for introversion.


© Carol Craig

MBTI, Myers-Briggs, and Myers-Briggs Type Indicator are registered trademarks or trademarks of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Trust in the United States and other countries; OPP Ltd. has exclusive rights to these trademarks in the U.K.

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