I’ve been asked a few times whether I think personality tests are a good idea or not. As with most things, my answer usually is: It depends.

It depends on what you expect to get out of it. I’ve heard quite a few horror stories of how MBTI is used, so I figured I’d try to jot down my thoughts on it.

Let’s dive straight into the first piece of criticism MBTI gets.

It’s not scientific!

True. It’s not scientific. That doesn’t mean it’s complete and utter humbug either.

We allow and accept a lot of non-scientific theories to dictate how we interpret the world and guide our actions. (The Bible, I’m looking at you. Various dietary supplements, I’m looking at you. Etcetera.) But that doesn’t stop us from finding elements of non-scientific worldviews to be both helpful and insightful.

Psychology as a whole is sometimes accused of not being a science or too hard to do scientifically, leaving psychology as a field open to cheap gibes. I think, and this is just a personal reflection, that a lot of psychologists object to MBTI as a defence mechanism for their field. They have to, as scientists, dismiss it as unscientific – because it is. And with the way MBTI is used, especially in America, I really can’t blame them.

I am pro-psychology and pro-science, and I’m not competent to make judgements either way.

In the case of MBTI there’s empirical evidence to suggest the theories hold truth. Does it hold the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you non-scientifically proven esoteric entity? No. No it doesn’t, and should thus not be treated as such. 

MBTI is a tool. Not the tool; a tool.

It’s a tool to understand yourself better, and by doing so understanding others better. It might not be the tool for you, but a lot of people find MBTI to have a profound impact on their understanding of themselves and others.

Science or not.

My own main criticism of MBTI is that the tests can be fairly unreliable because it’s a self-assessment test. The result can be influenced by the mood and daily form of the person taking the test. Or he/she answers out of wishful thinking, picking answers that feel more desirable rather than the ones closer to the truth.

I recommend taking different MBTI tests over a number of weeks to get a more reliable result. However if the resulting personality type description feels wrong, it probably is. 

Should MBTI testing employees be company policy?

Absolutely not! 

This can be very harmful to the group dynamics of a company. You need different personality types in order to get a healthy mixture. Management deciding who is hireable or promotable based on MBTI is – in my opinion – a sign of a broken company culture. 

As I see it, it’s used as a lazy way out of doing actual work on the group dynamics – blaming incompatible personality types rather than addressing actual problems.

It also shows a lack of respect for the employees.

I’ve heard terrible stories of employees having to take MBTI tests as a group workshop, then read the result out to the group. This is wrong on so many levels.

First off, you have the folks that think this is utter and complete nonsense. You risk losing their trust and respect by forcing them to do this exercise.

Second, because of the accuracy problems of the test, you run the risk of someone getting “the wrong type”. Not at all agreeing with the result, yet having to present the result to the group as “this is me in a nutshell”. 

Third, someone in the group might have a personal epiphany, realising things about themselves they haven’t realised before. To them, this information might feel deeply personal and sensitive. Don’t force them to parade that in front of people they might not know very well.

So when is it useful?

I use MBTI to understand myself, mainly. By understanding myself, my own strengths and weaknesses, I can easier relate to others. Find ways to communicate that is better suited for different individuals. 

There are other tools to do this, but I find MBTI the most accessible. I know it’s flawed, but it’s accurate enough for what I use it for.