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Learning About Your MBTI - It's More Than Just a Letter

How All the Letters Can Define Us and Bring Us Together

I discovered my letters when I was 24!

Many of us took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) or similar personality assessments either through work, school, or on our own. If you haven't yet taken a Myers-Briggs type assessment or can't recall your results, you can take a free one now here.

Credit: Mininyx Doodle/Shutterstock)

However, for many of us, it actually became a defining moment in our lives. Really! Over 30 years later, I remember staring at the results - INFJ! But, admittedly, my focus was clearly on the first letter and the other three just faded into the distance.

Oh, I knew I was an introvert. I'd enjoyed hobbies by myself as a kid, I struggled socially in school and I compared myself to the seemingly confident leaders during my first couple of years in corporate America.

But now, at work, I was formally advised I was an introvert. But what was more disconcerting was that once we all got our letters, the extroverts patted each other on the back and cheered each other on while the introverts slinked away. No one, including the HR facilitators, interpreted the results. No one shared the upsides of each personality or how the four letters interact to make the whole.

So self-conscious introverts like myself were left to analyze their results on their own. We tended to affix common stereotypes to ourselves - loner, anti-social, low self-esteem, wallflower, icicle! These are such negative and narrow definitions yet for me, they governed who I was for the next couple of decades until Susan Cain's book Quiet became the catalyst for me to reach out, to learn more about introversion, and to begin a journey that has changed my life.

Focusing on the Letters

Not only was I left hanging needing a more balanced and accurate definition of introversion, but I'd glossed over the other 3 letters, equally important in defining my personality. We often remark that no two introverts are alike. We span a wide continuum. Some of us feel quite sociable at times, some of us are more creative, and some of us avoid conflict at all costs. But these differences aren't based solely on introvert/extrovert differences but more on how that dynamic interacts with the other 3 letters.

In the last couple of months, I've joined some discussions with the Bay Area Association for Psychological Type, I read Barbara G. Cox's book Your Secret Self: Understand Yourself and Others Using the Myers Briggs Personality Test, and I've scanned the Personality Max website. All three have helped shed some light on my decades-old conundrum. So now I wanted to share the insight with you.

First, it's helpful to understand the 8 letters at play, albeit in an oversimplified manner:

Energy Preference

I: introverts gather their energy from within

E: extroverts gather their energy by being with others

Attention Preference

S: sensing individuals focus on what they see/feel/hear right now so they rely upon facts

N: intuitive individuals rely on their hunchs and the possibilities it presents for the future

Decision Preference

T: thinkers prefer to collect info in a logical way, organize it and then make decisions

F: feeling type people prefer harmony and helping others and can be indecisive

Attitude Preference

P: perceivers observe surroundings and respond with more flexibility and spontaneity

J: judging people are punctual, planners who like to be prepared without surprises

What is important to glean at this stage is that each set of letters reflects an aspect of your personality. They can certainly affect each other but none should be treated as stand-alone.

Together Forever

When combined, the letters sort into 16 different personality types. Together, those four letters describe your personality and your tendencies*:

INFJ: most reflective; introspective, quietly caring, creative, articulate, visionary

INFP: most idealistic; creative, non-directive, reserved, strong values, seeks harmony

INTJ: most independent; skeptical, often impatient, perfectionistic, values-driven

INTP: most conceptual; absent-minded; reflective, competitive, independent

ISFJ: most loyal; easy to work with, generous, dependable, sacrifices to help others

ISFP: most artistic; warm, gentle, sensitive, cooperates well with others; self-aware

ISTJ: most dependable; private, organized, reliable, practical, rule follower

ISTP: most observant; sees everything, says little, practical, ready for anything

ENFJ: most persuasive; charismatic, idealistic, avoids conflict; compassionate

ENFP: most optimistic; outgoing, creative, better at starting than finishing things

ENTJ: most commanding; outgoing, argumentative, impatient with incompetence

ENTP: most inventive; enthusiastic, innovative, likes to debate and takes risks

ESFJ: most harmonious; courteous, thoughtful, eager to please, model host

ESFP: most generous; outgoing, loves surprises, gets to the heart of the matter

ESTJ: most forceful; results-oriented, orderly, traditional, outgoing and sociable

ESTP: most entertaining; fun to be with, outgoing, good problem-solver

*Adapted from Barbara G. Cox's Your Secret Self

What are the most common personality types?

  • Over 50% of respondents are Introverts!

  • 54% of Introverts are male!

  • Half of all Introverts are ISFJ or ISTJ

  • Extroverts are better distributed

Moreso than the introvert/extrovert disparity, the population is more heavily weighted toward Sensing and Feeling than Intuition and Thinking.

  • Most common: ISFJ, ESFJ, ISTJ

  • Least common: INFJ, ENTJ, INTJ

The estimated frequency table was compiled from a variety of MBTI® results from 1972 through 2002, including data banks at the Center for Applications of Psychological Type; The Myers-Briggs Company; and Stanford Research Institute (SRI).

Next Steps: How can we apply these learnings?

  • Learn more about yourself, your strengths, and your own journey. Join over 2300 people who have taken Beyond Introversion's own free, confidential, and insightful Phases, Superpower, and Leadership assessments.

  • Consider sharing this post with your spouse/family members/co-workers and encouraging them to take the Test.

  • Share results. It's quite powerful to learn about others' personalities. The most important learnings include:

    • What do you have in common? We may be introverts or extroverts, but we may have many other personality traits in common than different.

    • How can you leverage differences? Doesn't it make sense for family/co-workers that enjoy planning to be the planners? Doesn't it make sense to send those that enjoy conflict and debate into battle? What about those who are most creative?

    • Use diversity to its fullest. Ensure that important work or family decisions are not made only by those with the same letters. Encourage broad involvement in problem-solving and decision-making. Not only will you get the best results, but everyone will buy into the process and forward plan!

  • If you don't know your letters, take the Personality Wizard Test today.

  • Use Barbara G. Cox's book or the websites above to learn more about each combination.

We are more than just our letters. We are more than just labels. But both give us a great starting point for learning more about ourselves and each other.

As an ISTJ, I strive to be organized and reliable. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by my drive for organization (read: calendar and task lists I reviewed throughout the day), but I find great comfort in these activities and am much more productive as a result. I can tell you that ENTJs and, to a lesser extent, ENTPs, can rub me a bit wrong. Knowing who might fit in those groups can help prepare me for our engagements. While I do find similarities with introverts of all types, I also enjoy being with sociable and results-oriented extroverts (ENFJ, ESFJ, ESFP, ESTJ, ESTPs). I discovered later in my career that having some of these types on my team helped balance off my introspective, structured personality. This approach helped boost my leadership experience and our team's successes.

Try it for yourself!


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The Questions Introverts Ponder


The Answers Extroverts Need to Hear

Introversion often feels so alone and many of us assume no one else could feel this way. This book contains many of the questions that have been asked, often by introverts trying to understand this personality trait that can at times govern our lives.

I also hear from many introverts struggling to share their introversion with family, friends, and co-workers, either out of fear or just not having the words. This booklet can serve to educate others to understand better the many strengths and talents we have to share.

I hope you will find this booklet an informative read and reference book with a splash of light-heartedness and inspiration as well. I invite you to start with the questions you are most curious about and share them from there.


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