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Typing as Self-discovery vs. Typing as Telling

Saturday November 19, 2016

“Behavior is the most outward and most pliable aspect of personality.” —Dario Nardi

I recently explained my personality type to someone who is very interested in personality and who has created her own personality tests. She read what I wrote and responded, “I see you are very much a [different personality type]”.

I was pretty surprised to read that. During my own certification process, it was emphasized again and again that no matter what a test says, type is a self-discovery process. Telling people “what they are” is completely against the grain of the type-as-journey process.

It was also emphasized again and again that even the best test will not be 100% accurate. The Majors PTi hits around 92% accuracy, but even at that point, around 1 in 10 people will probably experience some uncertainty.

And yet, I think it’s OK and normal to tell people what you think they might be. I’ve casually typed people before. I’ve had others casually type me before. My personal rules for doing so would look like this:

  • Pay attention to what people say about themselves. They’ll tell you what they are. Otherwise it’s extremely easy to be fooled by the contextual self and build up a lot of confidence in a completely incorrect type.
  • When someone disagrees with you, it’s a good idea to be graceful and allowing. Pushing the issue further can not only harm your reputation, but it could potentially cause the person psychological harm. If you tell an ISTJ she’s an ENFP, and recommend that she stick to a bunch of practices that bring out her inferior function, the resulting anxiety levels would be your own fault.
  • Build your own estimation of the person’s acceptance of the concept of type, beforehand. Understand that type is grounded in preference for a reason. Some people absolutely cannot stand the idea of only 16 types giving any kind of explanation of the unique nature of every individual. For example, I once explained how type worked to an INFJ who said, “wow, that’s neat, amazing” and gave me lots of smiles and laughs as we discussed the similarities between people. Weeks later, as I spoke with her over the phone, she tearfully admitted that she hated the idea of type, felt that everyone was special, and felt it a harmful subject. I learned something new: Not everyone can appreciate type. And if I had really pressed the issue, it would have been even worse.
  • Pay attention to responses and use them as a cue for further research. Try to take a negative experience as a challenge for self-growth.

In casually typing people, we typically focus on their behavior. Behavior is, as Dario Nardi said, “the most pliable aspect of personality.” While some people may absolutely telegraph their own type, other perfectly healthy people have gone through a process of growth that leads them to downplay, at times, their most basic preferences. This can be a huge benefit for them and we are putting ourselves in a questionable position by refuting their self-discovered type.

From the other side, it’s amusing when you know you are an INTJ and someone thinks you are an INFJ, or an INTP, or an ESFJ, just based on a simple sentence or a preference for a type of music. And it’s even better if you’ve been practicing at those attributes intentionally. It reminds me of a bodybuilder saying: “You know you have arrived when people can’t be convinced that you don’t use steroids.”

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