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Observational Type

Wednesday June 3, 2020

We need a new framework for “typing people”, i.e. getting to know a person, and then sharing one’s best guess of that person’s personality type. In this article I’ll discuss the why and the how and then provide a simple example outcome.


  • “Typing and telling” is super frowned upon in some areas of the academic and professional personality type world. (I’m not part of the former, but I am part of the latter). “Typing and telling” is when you basically tell someone what their own type is. Like walking up to someone and saying “HEY. YOU ARE AN ENFP,” for example. It happens! Especially online, where this can happen a lot in personality type communities.
  • It’s true that telling someone what type they are can be a pretty lame move. For one thing, what if you’re wrong? (Reminder: “I’m never wrong” is not an OK answer). Also, it can create the wrong impression of how personality type works, or lead to hurt feelings.
  • At the same time, sometimes people are absolutely begging for it. “Please tell me what you think,” they’ll say. “I’ve read so much and taken so many tests and it’s been frustrating. I want input, even just a wild guess.”
  • For a lot of those people, it’s more of a broad, open, perceptive journey anyway. The chance of a wild guess or even a good seemingly-challenging guess hurting their feelings is pretty low, for example.
  • There is no current model that allows for this kind of feedback in a way that opens the door to a better understanding of type and also gets at the fact that “typing people” is only one method of typing among many, and should be treated as such.

A Solution: Observational Type

The new model of Observational Type, or Observational Typing, involves:

  • Offering one’s observational input as to another person’s personality type characteristics.
  • Emphasizing the observational, outside-in perspective. “Maybe there’s some other factor I don’t know, but…” or “My limited subjective experiences with you are going to affect my perceptions, so…” are examples of phrases that could express this facet of the model.
  • Treating the observation lightly, in the sense that it’s not the final answer, and needn’t be the final answer.
  • Understanding that not everyone will accept, or needs to accept, a third-party observation as their own final answer.
  • Understanding that it is not any single third-party’s role to behave as if their subjective observation should be treated as the “final answer” on someone else’s personality type.

This is a simple model, but I think it could really help. It holds to a broadly ethical standpoint while also opening the door to what could be a helpful discussion about personality type.

Example Outcome

Ideally the old, didactic, “diagnosis” type-and-tell moment, such as:

“Oh you’re absolutely an ENTJ. No question at all,”

…could turn into something more like this:

“Observationally I’d guess at ENTJ, because…”

Certainly this is less like playing with relational fire, and better aligns with best practices for helping others discover their personality type.

The Academic and Professional Side of Personality Type

By the way, be sure to join us at APTi if you’re interested in being a part of the community. It’s a very welcoming organization and I’ve personally learned some amazing things from fascinating people.

Speaking of professionals, here is INTJ Richard Owen discussing Introverted Intuition in a fascinating presentation for BAPT, the British Association for Personality Type.

Filed in: Publications /44/ | Intuition /59/ | Essays /52/ | Ni /41/ | Relationships /77/ | People /71/

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