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One or two rather “hot under the collar” social media exchanges have been taking place again on the subject of Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).

In fact some people seem to become so offended by what is just a personal development tool that I fear at times for their well-being. The “controversy” has even made me reflect for a couple of weeks before deciding it’s safe to put pen to paper.

“It’s the best thing ever” and “it’s the root of all evil” appear to be the polarised views. An uncharitable person would categorise some of the debates as “all a bit silly”.

And yet I feel compelled to make a small contribution. So why is this? What can I possibly add to the subject?

I think I know myself pretty well. So I know that I have a penchant for concepts and ideas without feeling the need to have them backed up by significant evidence. If it works, it works. I will buy into something if it passes my sniff test. Personal experience is data for me. If it has worked for me I will try something again. I care little whether it doesn’t work in the majority of cases or for the majority of people. I will reflect upon it but my personal experience of how to achieve a positive impact for my clients will win each time.

For others…well  I’m very aware that some cannot function unless something has been proven beyond all doubt. The Prove It  brigade. I am really glad these people exist. Our buildings would fall down otherwise. I understand that. And it has often been of great value to me to partner with more data-focused colleagues.

(As an aside there are hefty volumes on MBTI validation and reliability if you’re that interested.)

But in this case one or two people risk tilting at windmills. It’s just a development tool! Again: it’s just a development tool! And I think there is, to use a hackneyed expression, a third way.

In my personal experience the MBTI tool can be a really positive enabler of a person’s or team’s development when used wisely and in the right way. It is particularly impactful at Step II. The opposite also applies and my strong opinion is that the problem with MBTI is its misuse not its existence.

Misuse can take many forms so here are some of them:

  • Seeing it (or using it) as a test
  • When it features in recruitment processes
  • People labelling or stereotyping themselves or others
  • Justification for negative personal behaviour
  • Any suggestion that it tells you about skill or ability when it merely offers insights into preference
  • Some “specialists” choosing to misunderstand it
  • Application by unqualified practitioners
  • When it’s used as a cure-all.

One comes across some or all of these with depressing frequency.

On the other hand, when used correctly it can:

  • release greater self-awareness
  • open leaders up to the possibility that they are experienced in ways that they do not intend
  • offer a common language to colleagues
  • support executive coaching
  • provide a framework for team understanding and breakthroughs
  • help people understand difference and open up more inclusive behaviours.

So my third way, and my contribution to the debate, is that when used as just one possible tool in a coach’s (or L&D practitioner’s) toolkit it can add real value and take people to places that may not otherwise be possible.

As long as ownership is left with the individual and they, with support and coaching, can reach their own conclusions about what it means for them, it can be of great benefit. It can actually be quite powerful in my personal experience.

But let’s not forget that, when misused, it is potentially damaging and misleading.

There. My third way.

I will now duck for cover.