By Patrick Kerwin, MBTI® Master Practitioner
How many times have you heard that statement? It’s not surprising, since for many people the MBTI model of looking at preferences is a new way of looking at themselves.
The first thing we can do for people is to clarify for them the difference between preferring and doing. People are so used to looking at what they do that sometimes they lose sight of what their preferences are. And since most people use all eight MBTI preferences to lead an effective life, looking at what they do isn’t always helpful! Try to encourage them to think about what they “reach for first” in each preference pair.
The second thing we can do is explain that when people seemingly don’t have a clear preference for either side of a preference pair, this doesn’t make the two preferences “balanced” or “equal,” which is what many people think! In fact, what can often happen is that the two preferences interfere with each other because neither one takes precedence. It’s like when two cars stop at a four-way stop, then neither one goes, and then they both go at the same time! Similarly, when people use two opposite preferences to approach the same task, it can cause a “collision,” which is a whole lot different from using their natural preference and then accessing the opposite preference in order to be effective.
We can also explain that a one-letter difference in a type code changes quite a bit about the whole personality type. For example, people might say something like, “I’m both J and P, so ENFP or ENFJ, it doesn’t really matter!” We can help them see that the difference in that last letter actually changes so much that goes beyond J and P. Here are some possible ways to do that:
- You could have them explore some two-letter combinations using the Introduction to Myers-Briggs® Type booklet by reading the EP vs. EJ descriptions and then the FP vs. FJ descriptions.
- If they still think they have a preference for both J and P, you could help them explore their dominant function using the Introduction to Type® Dynamics and Development Have them read the activities for “experiencing” extraverted Intuition (the Dominant function for ENFPs) and extraverted Feeling (the Dominant function for ENFJs)—those descriptions are quite different!
- If that doesn’t help, using the same booklet you could explore the inferior function, having them read the activities for experiencing introverted Sensing (the inferior function for ENFPs) and introverted Thinking (the inferior function for ENFJs). Again, those descriptions are dramatically different!
- If that doesn’t work, you could explore stress reactions using the In the Grip booklet, having them read the pages for ENFP and ENFJ. The stress triggers, reactions, and suggestions for returning to equilibrium are very distinct as well.
After you’ve gone through those techniques, people often start to get an idea of their true preferences, and also begin to see that having a preference for one doesn’t mean the exclusion of its opposite— we each need to use all parts of ourself!