That all may be one: Using the Myers-Briggs type indicator

by Judy Principe


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One of the greatest blessings of my life and professional career was my education and certification as a Myers-Briggs Master Practitioner. Through understanding and use of the Myers-Briggs, I felt God placed me in a position to grow in self-knowledge while working to develop healthy, constructive relationships in so many corporate applications. For over 10 years, I found my niche within this business environment and felt called to minister in many ways to people using this assessment.

Two dynamic women, Catherine Cook Briggs, and her daughter, Isabelle Briggs Myers, studied human behavior based on Carl Jung's psychology, and devised a validated, reliable personality assessment (NOT a test), the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Though the MBTI has gained world renown, the title of the book, Gifts Differing, written by Myers, takes its name from Romans 12:4-8: "Just as each of us has one body with many members, and not all the members have the same function, so too we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the favor bestowed on each of us. "

Despite my ministerial approach to using the MBTI, one of my greatest disappointments was the fact that I could not mention its Christian basis in the work place. As an Associate of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania, I am called and committed to living the charism and mission of unity and reconciliation. By using the MBTI in its fullest Christian context, I have found it to be a graced and effective means of helping people understand that God has bestowed powerful and wonderful gifts upon them through their basic personality preferences  — their "gifts differing." By owning one's MBTI personality type, and using its God-given gifts, we are invited to build the body of Christ in everyday circumstances.

Several years ago, I became a Sisters of St. Joseph Associate through formal completion of the orientation program. During my orientation, I realized I had been living their charism and mission throughout my entire professional career in human resources, human services, training and organizational development, and especially in using the MBTI.

By focusing on innate preferences regarding our attitudes and behaviors, the MBTI helps us to better understand ourselves and others in four areas:

Energy source: This refers to how one is energized psychically, by either an attitude of extraversion or introversion. If you find that the outer world of people, activities and interaction increases your psychological energy and relieves your stress, then you may prefer extraversion, designated in the types by the letter "E." Contrarily, if you find that the inner world of thoughts and ideas relieves your stress and renews you psychically, then you prefer introversion, specified by an "I."

So if you have a stressful day, or need to work through a problem, what is your approach? "Extraverts" usually need to talk things over in order to literally hear themselves think out loud, while "Introverts" may prefer a quiet space in which to process their thoughts interiorly. Notice that in the MBTI, the word "extraversion" is spelled with an "a" to differentiate it from the word, "extrovert," which is associated with friendliness and sociability. Both E's and I's can be very social and friendly!

Gathering Information: We all take in information continually and do it by a preference for either the function of sensing or the function of intuition. If you prefer "Sensing" (S), you rely on your five senses to inform you: what you see, taste, touch, feel, smell is your reality. You prefer fact-based reality and like such sayings as, "It is what it is," or "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," or "just the facts." You see the "trees" not the forest. Ultimately, the eyes tell the mind what is real and actual. However, "intuition," (N) takes in information by an inner sense, or "gut" feeling which leaps to reality by using the facts as a springboard. It is an inner, conceptual knowing which is sometimes difficult to substantiate with facts. Intuition sees the forest, not individual facts, and tends to look at the big picture allowing the mind to tell the eyes what is real.

Let's say you want directions to the copy machine in a large office. The S (Sensate) will offer you specifics: Take the first right off the main corridor, pass a maintenance closet, go 3 feet, make the next left, pass the cafeteria on the right, and about 2 feet across from the cafeteria you'll find the copier. The N (Intuitor) may suggest you follow the signs for the cafeteria and when you get there, look for the copier which is in close proximity of the cafeteria.

Decision-making: As we gather information using a sensing or intuiting preference, we are also making decisions based on that information. If you prefer a logical, orderly, systematic, structured process by which to make decisions, you probably prefer the "thinking" preference (T). If you base your decisions primarily on values, you may prefer "feeling" (F). These words often are misunderstood or misinterpreted. Those who prefer T (Thinkers) feel, and those who prefer F (Feelers) think! Carl Jung used these words to differentiate and they tend to cause misunderstanding.

If someone violates a rule or policy, the T may tend to enforce the consequences based on strict interpretation of that rule or policy, and the F may want to focus on the extenuating circumstances of the person or people involved. "Thinkers" may often be blunt or direct in their communication, while Feelers may be tenuous and concerned about the impact of their communication.

Outer-world orientation: We usually deal with our environments by preferring an orientation toward order, procedure, planning and organizing it — or — we prefer to go with the flow, takes things as they come, and live spontaneously. "Judgers" (J) like to make lists, use time well, and they get a "high" by crossing off items on their lists. Time is a commodity, not to be wasted, but to be planned and preserved. "Perceivers" (P) rather go with the flow, work in spurts of energy, like to keep options open, and face tasks with spontaneity.

When a J and a P are working on a project, the J will want to formulate a step-by-step plan, with deadlines interjected to ensure that they accomplish the end goal before the designated deadline. The P, who works better under pressure, may not even want to think about the project until the deadline approaches or the urge to work on it emerges.

In choosing your preference in each of these four dichotomies, you will determine your MBTI type. For me, I prefer Extraversion, Intuition, Feeling and Judging, so my type preference is ENFJ. There are 16 possible personality types, and each manifests in a unique personality dynamic and offers its own specific gifts.

Working with so many groups and individuals confirmed my understanding of how this tool can be a powerful force to promote unity and reconciliation. During workshop discussions, opposite types would begin to negotiate toward a balanced and effective use of preferences. Extraverts would agree to solicit input from Introverts, who, in turn, would agree to be more forthcoming in sharing their thoughts and ideas. Rather than label N's as "out there" and S's as "stuck in the mud," Intuitors and Sensates realized that vision and foresight needed to be rooted in factual reality and historical data. And how refreshing to see T's and F's apply mercy and justice to bring about efficiency while affirming relationship! Of course, J's and P's needed to compromise on how to work toward goals, but achieving a balanced approach became more beneficial than rigidity or procrastination. I witnessed teams begin to grow in mutual respect, openness, collaboration and goal achievement. Though the Gospel imperative that "all may be one" was never mentioned, it was happening slowly and imperceptibly!

If you are fortunate enough to know your MBTI preferences and type, I would urge you to revisit it and look at it with a new perspective and in alignment with the Gospel, and with your mission and charism. How are you being called to use your divinely bestowed gifts of personality to build the Body of Christ and work toward the unity and reconciliation so desperately needed in our world?

[Judy Principe is an Associate of the Sisters of St. Joseph, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her professional career was spent in training and development, organizational development and human resources. She holds a master's degree in management and supervision and a certificate in organizational development.]