The controversial Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator may not be perfect, but it’s fun. What’s your type?

You’ve seen the quizzes online. You may have even completed a personality assessment. I’ve taken this test many times since I was a teenager, and I’ve always received the same result. Consistency is just as good as accuracy, right?

This test is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), or one of many adaptations. It’s designed to provide some insight to your personality type — a definition of how you tend to react in certain situations and possibly how you view the world.

Why do we care?

The test results are an effective icebreaker. When you know your type, as indicated by four letters representing four dimensions of personality traits, you have a shortcut to providing people you meet with a quick understanding of yourself. When an “INFP” meets an “ENFJ,” they each know a little bit more about each other. A little.

But it there any scientific proof that people fall into on of sixteen categories? It’s sketchy.

Does it matter? As long as you’re not using the results to guide decisions that affect people’s lives, there’s nothing wrong with a little entertainment.

This is huge in the corporate world.

The full Myers-Briggs evaluation goes into significant detail, well beyond the four assigned letters.

My work group, while I was working at an insurance company, spent two days taking the full evaluation, including “Step II,” and meeting with expert consultants to review how our personality types related to our interactions with co-workers and affected our ability to be productive for the company.

The consultants proctor a test that is supposedly more complete than the free online quizzes. They offer results that go into much deeper detail, primed for discussion about how we can all get along better in the office. Step II goes on to show how far on each dimension’s spectrum you happen to fall. For example, while I classify as “introverted,” it’s not an extreme identifier. I fall very close to the border between extraversion and introversion.

This is a lucrative industry for the Myers-Briggs Foundation, named after the two researchers who saw Carl Jung’s ideas about psychology almost a hundred years ago and dived deep into the subject (without any training in psychology — which was not as widespread a field of study as it is today).

For me the tests have been reliable, providing the same result (INFP, if you’re keeping track) time and time again, but I may have “learned” how to answer the questions in the test in such a way to produce that particular result. It’s not that hard to figure out.

Psychology Today points out that many self-evaluations like this produce unpredictable results. Its popularity endures because people like insight about themselves and others, and the MBTI conveniently categorizes (and generalizes) everyone into what appear to be sixteen distinct buckets.

The sorting hat has spoken.

Reviewing the category descriptions is like reading a horoscope or going to a fortune-teller. You’re bound to connect and resonate with some comments within your evaluation and say, “Wow! This totally sounds like me!” Here’s what one popular quiz has to say about my personality type, INFP, also known as “The Mediator” sometimes and “The Idealist” other times. “The Healer” shows up for INFP, as well.

INFP personalities are true idealists, always looking for the hint of good in even the worst of people and events, searching for ways to make things better. While they may be perceived as calm, reserved, or even shy, INFPs have an inner flame and passion that can truly shine. Comprising just 4% of the population, the risk of feeling misunderstood is unfortunately high for the INFP personality type – but when they find like-minded people to spend their time with, the harmony they feel will be a fountain of joy and inspiration.

Wow! This totally sounds like me! I have passion! I’m often calm and reserved! I always look for the good in people! I’m special and part of a select group! There’s a good chance it sounds like you, too.

INFPs like me would probably be sorted into Hufflepuff.

Here’s another:

INFPs struggle with the issue of their own ethical perfection, e.g., performance of duty for the greater cause. An INFP friend describes the inner conflict as not good versus bad, but on a grand scale, Good vs. Evil. Luke Skywalker in Star Wars depicts this conflict in his struggle between the two sides of “The Force.” Although the dark side must be reckoned with, the INFP believes that good ultimately triumphs.

Wow! This totally sounds like me! I identify with Luke Skywalker!

Of course people are going to like and share the Myers-Briggs evaluation and results. Every single one of the 16 possible personality types focuses on positive traits and makes the tester feel good!

There is not one negative comment in any of the evaluations — and in real life, there are certainly negative personality traits that get in the way of collaboration and success.

The official MBTI experts call these definitions tendencies or preferences, not hard rules, so even if the descriptions don’t exactly represent one’s personality, they can still claim accuracy. If the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is armchair psychology or even junk science, asking about someone’s type is still slightly better than asking about someone’s astrological sign. And learning anything about someone’s personality allows you to relate better to them. This is beneficial at work and helpful in your personal life.

Let’s break it down.

What's Your Myers-Briggs Personality Type?

The first letter in the MBTI can be an I or E, and this represents extraversion. Like any of the dimensions in the evaluation, you can fall anywhere on the spectrum from “totally introverted,” through “something in the middle,” to “totally extraverted.” But these words don’t mean what you think they mean. To be extraverted means you draw your energy from socialization and being around and interacting with other people. Introverted people tend to be able to interact and socialize just as well, but need time alone afterwards to recharge.

The next dimension has “intuitive” on one side of the scale and “sensing” on the other side, represented by N or S. Those who tend towards sensing rely on information provided to them through their five senses to discover truth. Intuitive people go beyond sensory stimuli, finding patterns that reveal truth when interpreted.

In the third slot, the T stands for thinking and the F stands for feeling. You might as well ask someone if they’re “left-brained” or “right-brained,” because this is the same type of categorization. How do you make decisions? If you try to rely on logic most of the time, you’re a “thinker,” but if you go with your gut, you may be a “feeler.”

Finally, subjects are categorized into buckets that depend on whether they’re evaluated as “judging” or “perceiving” (J or P). Judging does not mean judgmental, but it does represent a preference for to-do lists, schedules, and closure. People with a perceiving preference are spontaneous and like having many possibilities open.

The result is sixteen unique combinations, and each has been given “names.”

16 Myers-Briggs Personality Types

Take the test.

Keeping the limitations in mind, you can still use a test to learn a little bit about your personality and get a morale boost if you’re feeling down. Understanding yourself is one of the keys to being a successful adult. Maybe it’ll be a good conversation starter. It probably won’t fully define you.

Try this test at Psych Central. It won’t take very long.

Return here and share your personality type!

You never know when you’ll connect with someone over their personality type.

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There’s pressure to always be on, to Work It, at 100% all the time. Introverts have a disadvantage, so here’s how we cope.

Society in the United States is set up to give more advantages to extroverts than introverts. Whether in school or at work, those setting the culture make it clear that socialization and cooperation in groups is much preferrable to a collection of isolated individuals.

Introversion, antisocial behavior, shyness, and social anxiety

For introverts including myself, spending a large portion of the day navigating interpersonal and group interactions can be physically and emotionally draining. But an introverted personality type is not the same thing as being antisocial. Introverts can excel at being social and might love the company of others; they just may need time to themselves to think alone, introspect, and recharge.

Being antisocial makes it hard to succeed in a traditional sense, but having an introverted tendency does not need to be a curse. To be antisocial generally means to be able to socialize with others but to do so in a way that is unexpected or differs from others.

Shyness is an additional potential trait among introverts, distinct from introversion. Shyness makes social interactions uncomfortable, especially with people and situations that are unfamiliar.

Social anxiety disorder can affect introverts and extroverts. It’s an intense fear of interaction that leads to avoidance of situations where someone might come into contact with other people. It could be a fear of being judged by others.

If you experience uncontrollable stress when you might be the center of attention, when you feel you might be criticized, or when you have to meet a very important person, you may be experiencing social anxiety disorder.

An introvert, if neither antisocial, shy, nor socially anxious, can be outgoing, friendly, and fully aware of social cues. It’s not uncommon for these introverts to be the bosses, the business leaders, the engaging teachers, and the prolific actors. You wouldn’t know who is an introvert because only those close to them would be aware of whether they thrive from their social efforts or they require recuperation from those efforts.

Introversion alone doesn’t justify the stigma. Why do people think introverts have a lower chance of being successful?

It’s because many introverts have the other traits that do make success difficult.

When You're an Introvert But You Have to Work It

Most introvert advice sucks.

Unfortunately, most of the advice available for introverts contains no insight. That’s because it tends to simply suggest that introverts be more like extroverts. In theory, copying extroverted behavior should be enough for an introvert to gain advantages of extroverts.

The typical advice of “just force yourself to be more outgoing” should suffice for pure introverts who can socialize for a fair amount of time in ways that culture deems appropriate. But because many of us introverts also have other traits mixed in, those suggestions fail.

What’s worse, is so much advice I’ve read encourages introverts to feel bad for being who they are, going so far as to use guilt to try to convince them to take on the attributes of extroverted, successful, outwardly confident people. Keep in mind that you can change aspects of your personality without sacrificing your identity, but you should only adjust the things you want to change.

Knowing that introverts can be just as successful as extroverts should allow you to be quite comfortable with your approach to life. But shyness, antisocial traits, and social anxiety can all be improved without changing your core personality.

You probably already fake being extroverted.

This is just the first step. Think, what would an extrovert do? Maybe it’s my theatrical background, but I like to suggest approaching social situations by playing the role of the extrovert. And I think that’s what many introverts feel they are doing when they do find themselves needing to participate in interaction.

This “faking it” approach doesn’t change the fact that introverts will need recovery time, but it might change your mindset and allow you to be more comfortable putting effort into socialization.

We are expected to “work it” in front of our friends and coworkers. Taking an extroverted approach helps in those situations, even if it doesn’t feel right at first.

If introversion isn’t your biggest social problem, other suggestions might help more.

When You're an Introvert But You Have to Work It

Build connections even when you’re antisocial.

If you’re antisocial, you feel like you don’t fit in with the culture around you. You might see all the people who seem extroverted, and it all looks fake to you. You want to stay genuine and authentic, and you don’t feel the need to fit in.

But sometimes we just have to fit in. Navigating social expectations is part of being an adult. You don’t have to change who you are; you should just be aware of the world around you and how other people behave and interact within it.

One of the most helpful ideas is to seek out your partner in crime. Even in the most conforming environments, there will be someone who’s ready to accept and enjoy your approach to friendship, camaraderie, or teamwork. Find the one person you’re comfortable with, and build on that relationship.

Shyness is generally a lack of confidence.

I’ve found that I behave differently in different groups. If I know my place in a group, and especially if I feel that I am already well-respected, my confidence builds and I can be the center of attention without being uncomfortable. I can introduce myself to new friends and colleagues, and I have an energy that infects others. In a good way, I think.

But when I’m unsure of my place in a group or I’m new myself, my shyness comes out. I’ll stay quiet and reserved, and I’ll wait for someone else with more confidence to be my social guide.

Building confidence is key. If you know a situation is coming up in which you might be shy or lack confidence, consider this approach. These will work for both social and business interactions, as well as combinations like the dreaded “networking.”

Plan for it. Take the introvert approach and preview the event. Find out who will be there and have some ideas about who you might want to talk to and what you might want to talk about.

Have a goal you can measure. Decide to have a target for the number of people you’d like to have conversations with.

Replace any negative thoughts with positive thoughts. Have a mantra for the event. Give yourself a mini pep talk. It sounds corny, but it works. Convince yourself that you are confident and you will meet your goals.

Get help for social anxiety.

If you are so disabled by fear of social situations, you need to go beyond help from articles about introverts and see professional psychologists or other therapists. They chan provide you with one-on-one coping mechanisms as well as medication to help with this disorder.

You are probably overestimating the visibility of your anxiety. It feels strong to you, but others may not notice that you’re uncomfortable. So if that is in turn making your anxiety worse, you may be able to keep this in mind and do a better job coping with anxiety when you are forced into these stressful social situations.

At Adulting, we have an entire podcast episode about being calm, and that comes in handy with dealing with certain anxiety. One calming technique that has worked well for me is the 4-7-8 technique, which I explained in this video.

You can be an introvert and still be outgoing and confident. Some of the most successful people in the world are introverts, and they need their alone time to recharge. You can address shyness, social anxiety, and any antisocial traits while still being you.

You don’t have to sacrifice who you are to do a better job with dealing with people. Work it.

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