Myers-Briggs Type IndicatorFor years now, I have asserted that the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) are one of the most useful tools I've encountered for understanding people. In case you're wondering, I am an INTJ.
The Myers-Briggs applies a label to people based on:
- Where you focus your attention
I - on your inner world of thoughts or
E - on the external world of things and people
- How you take in information
S - through your five senses, often in the present moment or
N - through intuition focused on the large picture, patterns, and possibilities
- How you make decisions
T - with objective thinking and cause-and-effect analysis or
F - with guiding values and subjective, person-centered concerns
- How you deal with the outside world
J - judging; preferring a planned and organized approach to life or
P - perceiving; preferring a spontaneous approach to life with open options
The MBTI, in my opinion, has been highly useful in describing people's general tendencies and way of being. When I first discovered the test and read my profile, I immediately said, "Wow, it's like they've been watching my every move!"
It is helpful, in my opinion, for an employer to have people post their MBTI letters on the entrance to their office so that when you want to maximize your effectiveness in working with another person, you will know what kinds of information they would want, and how they would want to receive it.
The down side of the MBTI is that it is descriptive but not prescriptive. I find it less useful for personal growth. I was an INTJ in my 20s and I'll likely still be one in my 40s. It's simply how I am. While this information can help another person to interact with me, it provides me with few insights on how I can grow.
Recently, I have continued exploring other well-established tools for assessing individuals and groups. I would readily tip my hat to the Grip-Birkman Assessment. It provides insights into what motivates you, the ways in which you generally function, and also helpful warnings about your stress behaviors that creep in when you are not keeping yourself healthy in terms of what you deeply need. I was part of a group that received this assessment, and got to do some exercises with each other in imagining ideal ways of working together. It was good.
I found the Grip-Birkman interesting, but I have found deeper insights in the Enneagram for how I can grow as a person. I have been hearing some of my peers talk obsessively about the Enneagram for a few years. Other than taking a couple of free online assessments to see what my number is (1-9) My first real venture into the method was in the Cron & Stabile book The Road Back To You. What the Enneagram does better than a Myers-Briggs assessment is that in addition to describing how you are and what motivates you, it provides a path for personal growth.
Let me try to describe briefly how the Enneagram functions. There are nine numbers. Much of the analysis of the Enneagram comes from exploring how some numbers connect to other numbers. For example, each Enneagram number has two "wings"; a number on each side of it. You could be a 1 with some notable 2 leanings, for example. There are also a variety of other triads and groupings people use to show connections between the numbers, such as the head (5, 6, 7), heart (2, 3, 4), and gut (1, 8, 9) triads.
I find the Enneagram appealing in part because there are a lot of historical connections made between Enneagram numbers and spirituality. There is for each type a particular kind of sin or negative tendency that can often be a struggle. Here are the 9 number identities and associated negative tendencies.
- Number - Identity - Sin
- One - The Perfectionist/Reformer - Anger
- Two - The Helper - Pride
- Three - The Performer/Achiever - Deceit
- Four - The Romantic/Individualist - Envy
- Five - The Investigator - Avarice / Mindset of Scarcity
- Six - The Loyalist - Fear
- Seven - The Enthusiast - Gluttony / Avoiding Any and All Pain
- Eight - The Challenger - Lust (For Intensity)
- Nine - The Peacemaker - Sloth
There are arrows used in some models of the Enneagram. The arrow pointing away from your number shows how under stress, you may take on negative characteristics of another number. The arrow pointing toward your type shows how when you are healthy, you may take on positive characteristics of another number.
To use myself as an example:
I am a Five. I absolutely love learning and information and I never stop being hungry for more. In general, this can make me resourceful person to those who want to learn from me. The things I know, I generally know well. As my emotions are generally in check, I can make a good counselor/helper for someone who needs an objective ear to listen. When I am in a mode of high stress, I can take on the negative tendencies of a Seven, which would be that I shut down and start avoiding anything that's uncomfortable for me. Interestingly, when I'm healthy, I can take on the positive characteristics of an Eight, who are typically blunt and boisterous--quite a jump! It is not uncommon for Fives like me to be perceived as very quiet or serious until we get comfortable enough to joke and laugh with people. I have had many people in my life experience this transition for me and say, "Where did you come from? I didn't know you had this side!"
Something profoundly helpful to me that I learned from Cron and Stabile's book is that my never-ending quest for knowledge, if I'm not careful, is actually driven by fear. I don't want the world to be able to hurt me, and the way I attempt to protect myself is to accumulate knowledge and skills obsessively. It is common for Fives to be high achievers in education (Dr. Adams here, guilty as charged). A danger for me is that I could be so busy trying to shield myself against what the world might hand me that I fail to engage the actual world at all. Fives like me need fun, spontaneous people to help us learn to take a break and have more fun. I knew how much I loved learning and fine-tuning skill sets, but it was a real "Ah-ha!" moment for me to confront myself that part of why I do this is out of a mindset of scarcity ("I must protect myself") rather than faith ("God will take care of me").
Another mode of assessment I am just beginning to learn about is called Spiral Dynamics, based on the foundational work of Clare Graves, whose untimely death likely prevented his work from gaining as much prominence as it would have otherwise. Spiral Dynamics are more effective for analyzing groups of people than some other assessments. Whereas the MBTI leans toward describing people as they are with great specificity, Spiral Dynamics place little emphasis on individual personalities, but are entirely focussed on levels of growth and function. The first reading I've done related to this theory was in a book called Tribal Leadership, which is applied methods approach that only loosely references Spiral Dynamics.
Generally, people start off as low-functioning survivalists. The idea is that as we grow, we move from survivalism, to individualist achievement-seeking, to group appreciation, to a higher value system that moves towards what is good without a need to feel competitive or antagonistically tribal. Spiral Dynamics uses colors to describe the differing levels of human functioning.
Interestingly, there is a back-and-forth movement in how people develop between times of self-examination and learning and times of group valuing. Some of the higher levels exist only in imaginative conception, and seldom if ever in reality. Of all the assessments, Spiral Dynamics is the one of which I presently have the smallest amount of understanding.
Moving Forward From Here
As a minister, I have found myself increasingly interested both in how to grow as a person and in how to help others to do the same. This necessarily involves some accurate assessment of how people are and imaginative descriptions of what people can become. I have tried to chart out here what I see as general leanings of these three tools for assessment that have caught my interest.
I intend to do quite a bit more reading on the Enneagram especially for now, hoping that it might be a tool I could use in a class or group setting to help people learn more about themselves and set goals for growth. I have done a fair amount of research into the process of receiving certification in these tools, and may seek this out in the future as well, depending on my perception of their usefulness for helping others.
Two other topics that have been fruitful for me in similar areas:
1. Positive Psychology - How do we go beyond fixing problems to promoting genuine human flourishing?
2. Appreciative Inquiry - How do we discover what's best about us in order to move forward into the future in ways that are innovative while being true to our group's personality? (I have led two congregations to significant periods of renewal using this method.)
Do you have experience with any of these?
What other assessments have been helpful to you?