A Response to the MBTI Controversy

Update on 14OCT15 – I’m happy to report that Rob from CAPT has responded to my blog post and has this to say:

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.  As I mentioned in my previous email, CAPT is working on a response to the article you mention. And of course we agree – proper use of the Indicator is crucial, and always emphasized in the certification program.

[Please note that] CAPT is a non-profit organization, and has been since 1975. CAPT is not the publisher of the MBTI assessment, nor is it the author of the MBTI Certification program. Both of those roles belong to CPP, Inc.
Given these facts I hope you will consider making the appropriate corrections to your blog post.
Thanks and best regards,

I am delighted that CAPT is on top of this. As I said in my blog post below, this is too valuable an instrument with too many decades of solid research and data to be tossed out because some people are not doing a great job of explaining how it works. I’m loving all the dialog here and on the original Digg Article.

~~~~~- Original Post ~~~~~~

Now that Wimp has also jumped in on top of the recent Digg Article bashing a tool I’ve found useful over the years, I cannot NOT respond. It’s frustrating to see such a great instrument used wrong and then tossed out for all the wrong reasons. This is a very long response. I hope a few of the detractors will take the time to read it.

What the attack pieces on the Myers Briggs Type Indicator tell me, more than anything, is that The Center for Applications of Psychological Type (CAPT) has jumped the shark in it’s training of the consultants.

Beth Terry, CactusWrangler.com
MBTI controversy

Since my earliest introduction to it in the late 60’s, I’ve appreciated the insights it can give to the workings of brains that are different from mine. I’ve always been a bit of an outlier, and the MBTI results showed me that I wasn’t alone – there were others who thought and operated the same as me. When one is 17 and finding their way in the world, that’s a huge relief.

The criticisms being lobbed at the MBTI go against everything I learned as I was becoming certified. My father was a pastor and counselor, and was involved in some of the earliest beta tests to gather data and help validate the results. It has changed over the years, both in good and bad ways.

I offer here a different way to look at the instrument and the results it produces, based upon 40+ years of teaching it and using it in my consulting practice:

It’s not a weapon and it’s not an excuse!

  • It’s not a weapon and it’s not an excuse. The results aren’t meant to be used against anyone, nor should they be the reason anyone gives for their behavior.
  • All of us are capable of working with our Type Preference to bring our strengths to the front and work on our weaknesses. The MBTI helps you identify those for yourself, *IF* you answered honestly and *IF* you know yourself well enough to answer honestly.
  • All the MBTI does is ask your current preferences. There are many ways to answer: if you think about how you are at work, it may differ from answers based on how you are at home. The MBTI compiles those preferences and values about your life in a way that helps explain why you do some of the things you do and why others don’t see things the way you do.
  • So, yes, sorry Barbara (the trainer in the Digg piece,) type results DO change. While it is possible they are immutable, and it is possible that some of this is just hardwired, we can and do grow up and learn to think and value different things. External forces impact how we view the world. That being said, the average person only varies on one or two of the letters at any time during their lifespan. This may be due to finally learning who you are and what you value as you grow.

You cannot answer the questions honestly if you don’t know yourself

  • You cannot answer the questions honestly if you don’t know yourself. While this is an incredibly “selfie-aware” generation, I find most twenty somethings are not self-aware at all. And there’s the problem with using it for any hiring/firing/promotion decision. If you answer in a way you hope will impress others, the results will be false and not helpful to anyone.
  • To reiterate the above point – the key benefit of the MBTI is that it helps you not only understand what makes you tick and what you value, it also helps you understand that not everyone else in the world agrees you. That goes a long way towards developing tolerance and compassion for other humans.
  • I am horrified that corporations are using this instrument to determine if someone should be hired. I counsel against that with all my clients. First of all, that assumes the person is answering honestly. You simply cannot base a hiring decision on the MBTI, nor should you base a promotion on it. That is sheer laziness on the part of HR departments and Managers. That being said, it would be helpful to know if a person values introversion to an extreme level if you were, say, going to put them in a position where they were always forced to interact with large numbers of people. That’s not good for you or for them. But the MBTI should help them make that decision, not you.

It’s not a parlor game.

  • It is not a parlor game. It should not be used lightly. It’s most valuable uses are: in counseling, conflict resolution, understanding communication styles, helping couples resolve differences, and coming to terms with your own strengths and weaknesses.
  • I don’t know why colleges and universities are pushing the MBTI so hard. My guess is that CAPT’s profit motive got the best of them and they did a great sales job on Academia that has now backfired. It has been my experience in the world of consulting and training that the people most cynical and the most obviously steered wrong about the MBTI were those who took it in college. CAPT needs to revisit their strategy.
  • I understand why students’ dislike it. My University Advisor gave me the MMTIC personality test and refused to sign off on my Masters Program because I had “too many interests”, even though I was halfway through the program and doing well. I was too young to realize I could appeal that decision and never finished my Masters. (I got it instead through TSOHD – the school of hard knocks.) That’s a gross misuse of a test instrument and proves Merve’s point that schools are using tests wrong. (Note to any student who has faced this – PLEASE appeal to another counselor or manager.)
  • Some of the accusations in the hit pieces are simply wrong. Yes, the earlier MBTI’s did have a noticeable bias towards wealthier white males. When I went in for further training about a decade ago, it was clear that had been addressed and CAPT was diligently collecting data across numerous cultural and gender populations. They wouldn’t be able to offer it in so many languages and countries without that data.
  • The value of the MBTI can be seen in many counseling situations. I did consulting work in Hawaii with a Veterans PTSD group using data compiled by the research team at CAPT. I saw firsthand how the results of the instrument helped these soldiers get their lives back. Understanding some of our subconscious and unconscious belief systems and values is the first step toward healing. The MBTI can help us do that. Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater because some universities and trainers were poorly trained.

I make no excuses for the racist political attitudes of the day when Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother created this. It was the water they were swimming in. They were wrong, all of them, about race and interracial marriage. They were wrong about abilities and potential of many different groups of people. Indeed, Eugenics was a conversation being widely held, not just by Hitler, but by many including Margaret Sanger. Just as the common conversation today seems to be that there is racism under every rock, these erroneous concepts about a person’s ancestry were commonplace. As Anatole France said during the French Revolution:

“If 50 Million people believe a foolish thing, it is still foolish…”

Anatole de France • 1844-1924

In some ways this is a case of “Physician heal thyself.”  Isabel had the democratizing proof right in front of her. People have different ways of approaching and making sense of the world: regardless of race, gender, religious beliefs and age. She proved this. Regardless of her biases of the day, Isabel gave us a window into the truth that our differences are more in personality than in any of the labels we give ourselves. She gave us a way to understand our inner workings. We are, after all, the ones answering the questions: Do you prefer this or that? Face it, YOU VOTED. You gave the answers that were compiled into a profile.

Regardless of her biases of the day, Isabel gave us a window into the truth that our differences are more in personality than in any of the labels we give ourselves

There is nothing nefarious or fraudulent about the Myers Briggs Type Indicator; there are many things wrong with the way it’s being taught today. As one of my favorite bumper stickers says, “God, save me from your followers.” It’s not the instrument itself that is bad. I have a library with thousands of research documents on this instrument that show it’s efficacy and usefulness. It was never meant to be used as a parlor game, a panacea for hiring and firing, or anything more than a way for people to look into themselves and discover valuable aspects they hadn’t seen. It was meant to validate you and your preferences and give you a guide into how and why you do what you do.

I have written to CAPT and asked them to respond to the attacks in social media. I hope they do. If they don’t, it doesn’t change my opinion that *WHEN USED CORRECTLY* this is one of the most valuable vehicles out there for helping people understand themselves and be more tolerant and respectful of others.

Thanks for listening,

Beth Terry, CSP

@ 2015 Beth Terry Seminars, All Rights Reserved

4 Replies to “A Response to the MBTI Controversy”

  1. Thanks Beth, this helps. I had the same thing happen to me in college. Too bad some people will just say TL;DR. This was worth the time. I think I’ll go find my test and revisit it.

    • wow. That’s a lot of information. Thanks for a differnt perspective. I thought the Digg and Wimp pieces went a little overboard. Good to know.

  2. Beth – you seem to have your own set of biases with this tool. I can see why since you say you have worked with it for 4 decades. You identify the problems along the same lines as Merv. So what do you propose we do about the proliferation of the abuse of the MBTI?

    • Vickie – you’re welcome. If this makes you revisit some things, that’s great!
      John – I don’t know if it’s bias, though we are all guilty of that to some extent. I’ve had great success using this tool in relationships, raising kids and in business. I’m saddened to see how poorly it’s being used out in the world. There’s so much promise for a self-report tool that allows people to see past their own smoke and mirrors.

      How do we solve it? I think Merve got us off on the right foot. We talk about it. We hold trainers and consultants to a better standard. We challenge the use of it by HR departments and in Academia. We make it clear that it is definitely not a good idea with anyone under the age of about 19 or 20… and even then it’s questionable. I don’t know about you but I wasn’t all that smart about my preferences at that age.

      I like this tool. I’m not a true believer. I think it has some great applications and I agree it has been misused. Let’s keep the conversation going. That’s the best thing we can do.
      Thanks for writing in,

Would love to hear your thoughts!

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