I’ve been wanting to write about personality tests for quite some time but I’ve been a little hesitant in case people thought I was a bit flakey.

It all started with me doing a Myers Briggs personality test at work as part of a team development exercise. This test helps you decide if you are an introvert (I) or an extrovert (E), whether you are drawn to facts (S) or intuition (N), whether you are more concerned with thinking (T) or feeling (F), and whether you prefer structure (J) or like to go with the flow (P).

I have done this test quite a few times (actually they don’t like you to call it a test as there are no right or wrong answers, it’s really called a type indicator quiz) but this time around I was very unhappy with the results. Apparently I’m tactless and not a team player. Alternatively I could have interpreted the results as ‘honest to a fault’ and ‘makes a great leader’ but I chose to think the worst of myself. Why is that? Is that a personality thing?

Then my sister wrote to say that she was doing a course called ‘understanding yourself and others’ and that she was finding it helpful in explaining why she and her partner disagreed about a range of tiny (but important) issues. The course helped her to make sense of their differences and gave her some insight into understanding herself and her husband. It also gave her valuable tips on how to improve their communication which can’t be a bad thing. You can take the test here if you are interested.

Like many people, I secretly love personality tests. I love the moment when you read the “results” that tell you that you are just who you thought you were. The detailed profile that confirms that you are sensitive/creative/practical or whatever it is that you want to be. It very much appeals to our vanity by proclaiming that yes, we are capable of writing that great novel or making some kind of difference in the world.

But in her new book “Reading People”, Anne Bogel says that the trouble with doing personality quizzes is that we always answer the questions based on who we want to be, rather than answering them as who we really are. When we describe our traits we are aspirational, rather than realistic. This leads to us make wild claims about our capacity to be organised and efficient when in reality we spend a lot of time dithering about or worrying if people are going to be upset or hurt by our actions. (By the way, I don’t think of myself as cold and distant. In fact I’ve often think that I’m over-sensitive to other people’s moods.)

So is there value in knowing more about yourself and your significant others, and what makes them tick?

Yes, I think so. If you know that as an introvert you really need some time alone after a big day talking to people, then you can share this with your partner so that they are less likely to be offended when you go to your room to recover by reading 100 pages of your book in peaceful silence. Hopefully they’ll understand that it’s not that you don’t want to spend time with them, it’s just that you need time alone to rest and recover your good humour. More than anything else, introverts need some peace and quiet every day.

Your strategy might be walking or listening to music, but for me the ultimate respite from overstimulation (usually caused by too many people and too much noise) is swimming. I find it relieves stress and tension better than any other activity. It doesn’t stop me from thinking (quite the opposite) but there’s something about being in the water that just works for me.

What about you? Do you like doing personality quizzes and have they helped improve your relationships or have you got a tip for recovering your equanimity without offending people. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

2 thoughts on “Typecast

  1. I don’t suppose there is any really scientific way of finding out who we really are because our behaviours and attitudes are affected by so many variables, including who we are interacting with and how we are feeling on any given day. Having said that, I’m sure there are some attributes and preferences that stay fairly constant. I can’t imagine being anything other than an introvert, for example. I still feel anxious introducing myself in group situations.
    I’ve always had a soft spot for Ms Myers and Ms Briggs as they were among the very few women in their field in the 1960s and it must have been hard for them to be taken seriously. Also I think that if it helps people communicate more effectively with one another, that’s a positive thing.
    I’m still making my way through “Reading People”. It looks at different ways of exploring personality (right up my alley) so I’m enjoying it so far. Might write some more posts if I get inspired! Thanks so much for your feedback.

  2. I took Myers Briggs many years ago and it was a lot of fun. I enjoyed reading the results, I found it enlightening, but now I can see that perhaps it was more about my aspirations than the real me. What surprised me was that so few people in the population are what I am – that explained why often felt I didn’t fit in. I’ve also heard that the women who originally created the MB didn’t really do it in a “scientific” way. I believe they used Carl Jung’s categories of traits. Anyway, I haven’t taken a personality test in a while, and I don’t have an inclination to – however, I do think they can be beneficial. This is a good post, I enjoyed it. How did you like Reading People?

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