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Why knowledge of the MBTI can improve individual confidence

I used the MBTI™ for over eight years as a trainer and introducing these ideas to literally thousands of people. During this period people (particularly women) would tell me that finding out about type had boosted their confidence. Why might this be the case?

1. Respect for difference/permission to be yourself

The  MBTI is based on the fundamental idea that  'it takes all types to make a world'.  There is no sense whatsoever that any of the preferences, or resultant types, are better than others. All have their potential strong points  and weaknesses. In this way the MBTI is truly a validating instrument. Some type preferences are more common in countries, families, institutions than others and so it is easy for people who have minority preferences to feel that their approach is less respected or valued. They may often try to behave or do things in ways which are contrary to their own preferences just to fit in.

According to research conducted by Oxford Psychologists Press (2008) the UK has a much higher percentage of the workforce claiming they have to adopt a false personality at work than the European average.  The OPP research found that 64% of the Brits surveyed said they had to change their personality to fit in as opposed to the European average of 50%.

As people are generally more confident when they are being natural and doing things in their own way (rather than someone else's) having to be a 'workplace chameleon' has important implications for confidence.

I have found that the MBTI is particularly validating for –

Introverts: They are commonly seen as lacking confidence or the traits deemed desirable for getting on in western culture. They appreciate that the MBTI sees introversion as equal in value, has distinct strengths and as normal as extraversion.

Feeling types:  Feeling is often seen as  irrational. However, Jung points out that it is as rational to use your feelings as the basis for decisions as it is to use thinking. Feeling may not be logical (ie based on a standardised form of reasoning) but it is often more appropriate to use personal values for decision making than objective logic.  This insight can be particularly confidence boosting for feelers who often feel they have to suppress their values and feelings in organisations dominated by thinking types.

Intuitive types: Intuition is based on quick processing and absorption of information. Often the intuitive is not aware of where their ideas come from but they often have a strong hunch or gut feeling. The MBTI can help them understand the way that intuition works and so give them more confidence in the process. However, it is always useful for intuitives to know that it is not always reliable.

Sensing types in strongly intuitive organisations or teams:  In workplaces or teams dominated by intuitives sensing types, particularly ISTJs and ISFJs can often be seen as overly conservative and not positive enough about change. However, exposure to the MBTI can help by giving them a place in the change process.

Perceiving types: These types are often acutely aware of their weaknesses such as being untidy or, to varying degrees, disorganised. They often give themselves a hard time for these shortcomings. However, the MBTI allows them to see that this is the downside of two important potential strengths: flexibility and information gathering.

Extraverts, thinkers and judging types: These preferences benefit from the MBTI but less so than the preferences outlined above. Quite simply western culture tends to privilege these preferences and so they often think their approach is right and natural. This can have a confidence boosting affect. The MBTI is useful as it validates their preferences while sensitising them to differences and how other preferences can approach matters in different, but equally valid, ways.

2. Improving personal effectiveness and relationships

Understanding preferences can help people become more  effective by encouraging them to adopt better strategies for decision-making (see, the Zig Zag, for example). It can also improve relationships. Either of these can have a pronounced impact on people's sense of themselves and hence their feeling of confidence.

3. Accepting your weaknesses and developing self-compassion

It is easy to see the MBTI as taking a strengths based approach. Though this is complicated by the fact that the Indicator cannot actually measure strengths as such (only preferences) and this is one of the reasons why it should not be used for job selection purposes. Intuitive types, for example, may have a preference for using their intuition and for ideas (rather than concrete facts) but this doesn't mean they are good at using ideas.

Elsewhere we have set out why we are not too keen on a full-blown strengths based approach and stress preference, motivation, passion and finding a sense of purpose instead.  We have also included more information on strengths and weakness and personal development in another section.

One of the men who co-authored Now, Discover Your Strengths and wanted to start a 'strengths revolution, Marcus Buckingham, ultimately went on to write The One Thing You Need to Know and it was 'discover what you don't like and stop doing it.' Later he talked about this as 'stopping your weaknesses'.

We have an entirely different perspective on this. One of the main reasons why exposure to the MBTI can be so confidence building for people is that it helps them to accept their weaknesses. Why should this be? Jung's concept of psychological type is based on the notion of opposing preferences. For example, thinking is a process of judging or deciding which requires us to stand back and try to make evaluations objectively. It requires us to try to take ourselves out of the decision making by being impersonal. Whereas feeling is a process where we consciously put ourselves at the heart of the decision and evaluate subjectively in relation to our own personal values. We can move from using thinking to using feeling judgement but we cannot use the two functions simultaneously. This means that someone who prefers objective thinking is likely, as a result of using this function, to develop the strengths associated with it, but inevitably it also means that he or she will have less time and energy to devote to developing the opposite side – in this case feeling. So logical thinking is cultivated at the expense of feeling judgement and vice versa. 

What Jung teaches us above all else is that being good at something means you are not good at something else. Time and attention put into one function means time and attention not devoted to another function. As Jung himself writes, humankind ‘always develops qualities at the expense of others, and wholeness is never attained.’ Certainly there are individuals who do not have a clear preference for either thinking or feeling and who move constantly between the two, but there is no great advantage in doing this. If we use handedness as an analogy we can see that it is better for an individual to have one really strong, skilful hand and one poor hand, than two hands of average ability. One-sided development is thus the route to excellence. However, it is also the case that a preference for any of the four mental functions can be so exaggerated that this strength becomes a liability.

Accepting our weaknesses can be a liberating experience. It helps us to accept ourselves as frail, human beings and to cultivate self-compassion. Self-compassion is an interesting development in psychology. It rightly takes a critical approach to the emphasis on self-esteem, pointing out how this has led people to be dissatisfied with being 'average' at anything and thus destined to feel bad about themselves since it is impossible for everyone to be above average all the time. Accepting ourselves as human beings with frailties and weaknesses is also likely to improve our relationships. It helps us to see that others are in a similar position and that we should be more tolerant of their failings. It also encourages us to look to others to accomplish or help us with our areas of underdevelopment.

Understanding, and accepting the inevitability of one-sided development and weaknesses can have a huge impact on people's development, healthy sense of themselves and confidence.


© 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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