Thursday, May 19, 2011


Last week I got to attend a Myers-Briggs workshop through my employer and take the well-known Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. This personality assessment is meant to become aware of my personal preferences in how I make decisions, how I interact with the world, and how I take in information.

The most compelling part of the experience for me was also one of the least surprising. I doubt anyone who knows me, even purely through online interaction, would be surprised to learn that I am an introvert. But what I was surprised to learn is that "that word doesn't mean what you think it means." 'Introversion' and 'extraversion' have been kind of repurposed by pop psychology and the modern connotations of these words are quite different from what was originally intended when Carl Jung coined them in 1923. When we think introvert, we think shy, quiet, timid. When we think extravert, we think friendly, bold, centre of attention. These connotations may be accurate for some people, but they're sort of beside the point.

As the workshop facilitator explained, the introversion/extraversion spectrum is really all about how we are energized. Some people are energized by being with other people: by spending time with friends, by group meetings, by brainstorming sessions. Those are extraverts. Some people are energized by being alone: by taking time to reflect and process and spending time in solo pursuits. Those are introverts, and that description fits me to a T.

So many times over my life I have bumped into my very real need for what I call 'downtime', which is time in which I am functionally alone. I don't necessarily need to be physically alone, but I need the other people present (generally, husband and daughter) to treat me as if I am. That is how I re-energize: by reading, writing, watching a movie, puttering with one of my hobbies, etc. Through this workshop, I came to realize that many other people - namely, extraverts - would have different requirements for their downtime/re-energizing time. I can't totally put myself in their shoes to understand what that would be, but I do know people who love to have other people around all the time, and I guess that's how they get their energy.

What I also realized in the workshop is that many of the things I thought were just my particular quirks, are actually functional traits of my introverted nature. My printed report contains so many stock phrases that I would have sworn were just me. For example, "Prefer to be alone when you do have to make phone calls, especially social calls." Who knew that was a thing?! I thought I just had a bizarre phobia. After many years, I can actually talk on the phone while Chris is in the room, but I do prefer not to. And I HATE overhearing other people's conversations. I've had to work really hard on this at my current job, since our office offers no privacy, and making phone calls is a big part of what I do. A common scenario is that I receive a request from a co-worker that involves making a phone call, and then I make the phone call with the knowledge that the same co-worker can hear the entire exchange. This makes me REALLY uncomfortable for some reason, and the less time between request and fulfillment of request, the more uncomfortable I am. I will do whatever I can to avoid it, such as waiting until my co-workers are on the phone themselves so they don't overhear my conversation. Yeah, I'm QUIRKY.

There are other phrases that sum me up really well, also. "Keep your feelings and interests to yourself; feel capable of solving problems on your own and prefer doing so." At least in my work life, I would very much prefer if other people solved their own problems as well, and kept their personal lives to themselves. Anyone who's ever read my numerous journal posts about a certain former co-worker will be nodding knowingly right about now.

But enough about introversion. What about the other three measurements? Well, the second scale determines how I take in information. Sensors work with known facts, focusing on what can be perceived by the five senses; Intuiters look for possibilities and relationships, perceiving patterns to reach conclusions. My results indicate that I am a Sensor. I "value efficiency, practicality, and cost-effectiveness; favour practical utility over intellectual curiosity; concentrate on what is happening now rather than thinking about meanings and theories". Yup, that sounds like me.

Next is the decision-making measure. Thinkers are logical, reasonable, questioning, critical, and tough; Feelers are empathetic, compassionate, accomodating, accepting, and tender. I'm a Thinker: I "believe that logical analysis is best for decision making; live my life logically, with premises leading to conclusions; are results-oriented and comfortable focusing on the bottom line". (Don't you love that phrase: 'live your life logically'? As if such a thing is possible.)

The final measure came up with the clearest results, meaning that when I did the test I was highly consistent with choosing my answers on this particular scale: the method by which I organize my external world. Judgers prefere a planned, decided, orderly way of life. Perceivers prefer a flexible, spontaneous way of life. Do you even have to ask? Let's see if these sound like me: "Dislike any kind of diversion; do not like surprises; work within a superstructure of efficiency; work on multiple tasks comfortably by starting ahead of time and working on each task for short, concentrated periods of time; arrange your world so you don't have to deal with last-minute rushes; are comfortable with routines and do not like them upset; prefer to control how you spend your time". Note to those who have criticized me for being a planner: TURNS OUT I WAS BORN THIS WAY.

I have kind of a hard time with this particular scale. Perceivers, at the other end, are casual, open-ended, pressure-prompted (think: all night writing session the night before the paper is due), spontaneous, and emergent (letting procedures and plans evolve throughout). It really seems to me like that kind of strategy is doomed to failure. I know I am very set in my Judging ways, but I honestly do not see how the two approaches could possibly be equally effective. It reminds me of the fights my ex and I used to have about housework. Neither of us liked doing it, but I recognized the necessity of doing it anyway. His take was, being disorganized is just as good as being organized. I just don't buy it. It's bad for your health to live in a filthy house. It's bad for your life to never be able to find anything you need. It's bad for your reputation to be seen as a slob. It's bad for your job if you don't have any clean clothes to wear. Similarly: you kind of need to be organized and planful in order to be a success. Don't you? The workshop facilitator made it very clear that on all scales, there was no one side that was better or worse than another. But I really have a hard time believing that panicking at the last minute is just as good a strategy as planning ahead.

Ever since taking this workshop, I have been examining my actions and decisions in a slightly different light, and even looking back at former experiences and preferences (especially those situations that made me uncomfortable) and reflecting on how my ISTJ personality colours my reactions. The Introversion and Judging measures are the ones that interest me the most, as you can see. I've even become a little bit defensive, about my Introversion measure specifically.

There does seem to be an expectation by the extraverts that everyone wants to engage in conversation with them. That woman sitting there reading a book? Probably just waiting for a better option. Why don't you go tell her about your pet's diarrhea? I know people who really seem to believe that "everyone wants to hear what I have to say, so I’d better say it! All the time!" I've concluded that introversion is not only about my own habit of remaining quiet, it is about my very real need for other people to be quiet sometimes too. Now that I know this need is valid, it is getting harder to ignore it and I get more annoyed when my need is not met, especially by people who know that the need exists (i.e. those who know I am an introvert).

Who else has done this test, and what were your results? Do you feel they are accurate?


yagowe said...

I come up as either INFP or INFJ. The first three don't really vary from test to test, but I fall right on the border of P and J.

I disagree somewhat with the I, even though it is usually my clearest result. I'm a shy extravert, and a lot of the questions relating to that category focus on the 'shy' part.

I totally agree with you about the phone thing, though.

Sally said...

The reason you and I get along so well is because I am INFJ. And I am also driven mad by the people who say to me "You can't be an introvert - you're such a people person" as though the two things mean the opposite.

Finally, I find extraverts exhausting. Sometimes I can feel them harvesting my energy. I wish they could take lessons on energy-robbing sensitivity.

Anonymous said...

Oh Sally, that's exactly it! Harvesting.

I have taken the test, but there must be something about it that doesn't resonate for me, because I always forget the results beyond "introvert". I heard that though a person's born results were not terribly likely to change over time, the point was to eventually come to some kind of balance, if not in practice, at least in understanding.

I find your fascination with the ones (darn, I forgot their names already!!!) regarding planning styles similar to my own. We'll have to chat about our findings one day.



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