In this five-part series, we’re tackling certain misinterpretations showcased by HBOMax’s documentary film, Persona. Specifically, we’re discussing why psychometric tools like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) are being misused–often to the extreme detriment of potential employees. Get access to each of the blogs on this topic HERE.
In the past two blogs I’ve discussed how personality assessments are both misunderstood and misused. Specifically, I explore HBOMax’s documentary, Persona, and its coverage of applying the results of these assessments to hiring practices.
While the film covers a bit about the “business” of personality assessments, I’d like to explore that aspect even deeper.
MBTI and Its Licensing Model
The Myers-Briggs Company licenses individuals to teach its Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to organizations and individuals. Licensing is a model that some people love and others hate.
There are good reasons to love it. It offers an opportunity for the licensees to build a business and a career. It offers the licensor the opportunity to spread their product far wider and faster than they could on their own. And, consumers benefit because of the availability of a product they might not have access to without licensees.
However, it does cause some problems–and this is where its opponents line up.
In the case of the MBTI, there is one main problem. This issue ultimately represents the root cause of most of the criticisms of the MBTI and other psychometric tools: quality.
Where’s the Quality Control?
The licensing process for the MBTI is to attend a class for a week and test afterwards. The program is excellent and informative about the MBTI. It also lays out the appropriate ways to use the MBTI and how to offer effective guidance to new users.
Problem is, quality control stops right there. Done. Finito. There is no continuing education requirement. There is no evaluation to check how well a licensee is teaching the MBTI. The license never expires. There is no oversight of the process!
That means there is no way to gauge or measure the quality of instruction for how to use a very powerful self-awareness tool. A tool that can very easily be misused. This–combined with the fact that Katherine Myers failed to trademark the MBTI “letters” that make up the preferences–has resulted in a host of bad teachers and poorly designed free versions of the MBTI… all promoting poor usage of the assessment.
This is the basis of the argument in Persona.
MBTI and Mental Health
Many of the interviewees featured in Persona embody this poor understanding of the assessment. Frank James, a “personality type YouTuber” (already questionable in terms of qualifications), is quoted in the film saying that the MBTI is a “theory that you are constructed in such a way that you are blind to certain things you do and ways that you cause problems for yourself. It is a tool that helps you see the things your mind is hiding from you.”
That statement is so fundamentally wrong it’s bewildering to know exactly where to begin. The ONLY thing the MBTI is to be used for is self-awareness of your preferences. This involves helping you understand how you gather energy, how you tend to interpret the world, and how you prefer to make and enact your decisions. It will NOT tell you what you are blind to. It will not help you see what your mind is “hiding.” If those things are happening, you’d be much better served by enlisting the help of an actual doctor.
This idea is something the documentary fails to address. Instead, it uses (one could say “abuses”) the mental health struggles of one individual to illustrate the purported damage assessments like MBTI have.
Let me be clear: Mental health and wellness are critical aspects of healthcare. But, the MBTI adamantly does nothing with mental health. It could potentially help if you are depressed, but that is only because you exclusively employ the tool for self-awareness and realize something about yourself that helps you address the depression.
It’s a similar approach psychologists implement with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Sometimes, aspects of CBT intertwine with meditation and self-revelation. That is the reason psychologists teach you ways to meditate and relax your stress triggers on your own. But remember, that is the therapy that can arise from self-awareness, not the MBTI itself. Better to see an actual psychologist than to self-medicate.
Personality Assessments Do Not Define You
Persona continues with its misinterpretation–and misrepresentation–about MBTI with another interviewee: Merve Erme, an English Professor from Oxford University. She recounts a story about her short-lived career as a management consultant.
In her onboarding process, Erme and her new peers were given the MBTI. She scored as an “ENTJ” (which represents Extraverted, Intuitive, Thinking, and Judging). The “consultant,” a term I use loosley, told her that as an ENTJ she was the “CEO Type” and that she “might be the head of this organization!”
This is a perfect example of a terrible licensee and exactly how the MBTI should not work.
It does not tell you what you can do as a career. Nor does it predict the future! It only tells you how you like to be perceived and spoken to. It defines how you prefer to think, decide, and manage your energy.
Anyone of any skill set or preference can do any job they put their mind to. People do tend to self-select into roles because of their preferences, so you will sometimes find more ENTJs in leadership roles at some organizations. But, those are not predictions of future outcomes; they are simply tendencies.
Self-Revelations and Self-Awareness Do Have Value
Good facilitators of psychometric tools understand this and work to make sure these errors are not enabled. This tool is great at helping people learn about themselves and see why they felt like they did or did not “fit in” at some point in their lives.
All the research the Myers-Briggs Company has done shows how prevalent the 16 types are, and knowing you are one of the less common types can help you understand why so many people struggle to hear you. This is very empowering and can facilitate better communication between people, as well as increase validation of individual uniqueness.
Unfortunately, even this understanding has been misused–namely via funny memes propagated on the internet. These memes have value, because they can provide a funny example to help people learn more about themselves (and about others) in a quick and humorous format. The problem is, without proper education about the MBTI, it leaves out too many important nuances and actively encourages false equivalency between a person’s preferences and their skills/abilities and applying those preferences.
Here’s a great example… In the documentary, Mr. James noted that people write to him and ask questions like, “What would a relationship look like between an ENFP and an INTJ?”
The only true answer to that question is, “It depends!!” The MBTI tells you nothing about whether they are honest in relationships. It tells you nothing about whether they are violent. It does not inform you if they are racist. There is no data on skills, ability, or intelligence. It only tells you how they prefer to speak and be spoken to, where they gather energy and how they come to a decision!
Progress Doesn’t Stop at the MBTI’s “Results”
The one constant in my message is that the MBTI has strictly limited use. It is a great tool to enable self-awareness and to help reduce conflict or misunderstanding. It cannot be used for anything else!
Yet, what we are seeing–and what Persona actually does a good job pointing out–is that too many businesses and individuals are using it for all other types of purposes.
If you want to use personality assessments properly, call us at EII Consulting and we will ensure that these tools are used to help you build a better culture of communication between you and your team. If you want to then go one step further and learn the tools necessary to measure aspects the MBTI cannot measure, we can help! We can teach you the tools to build an accountability process that is fair, empowering, and, most importantly, legal.
Those tools can, in fact, be used to predict future outcomes and the acceptability of an employee’s skill set to your organization.
Stay tuned… There is much more to say about personality assessments like MBTI and the Persona documentary. My next piece continues the conversation on using psychometric tools improperly.