This was one of the questions that came up during a recent Team workshop I facilitated. If you've taken the MBTI(r) questionnaire before, and find that your four-letter result comes up differently, it may be due to a number of reasons. {C} If your Type result has changed since you last took the questionnaire, think back to the conditions under which you answered it.

Your State of Mind Matters

The questionnaire was designed to be accessible to the general public. This is why the items seem to be describing random, simple, every-day life situations. It's true, answering seemingly simplistic questions is most effective when trying to pinpoint someone's preference. After all, the MBTI(r) indicator is not measuring skill or intelligence or emotional capability - it is trying to help you pinpoint which personality type preferences you were born with. Finding out how you would act in an emergency situation would tell us something about your stress response, not your innate preference.

Therefore, when you receive access to the MBTI(r) questionnaire, make sure you carve out some time for yourself. To ensure the most natural result, it is recommended to answer to the items without interruptions, and at a relatively stress-free time. Step I contains 93 items, resulting in a four-letter code out of a possible 16 combinations. Step II contains 144 items, resulting in a four-letter code out of a possible 16 combinations, plus detailed feedback on five facets further describing the four letters in greater detail. While there is no limit, responding to all items usually takes between 15 and 30 minutes.

Your Expectation Matters

Depending on who asked you to take the questionnaire and what your motivation is, you may find yourself consciously or subconsciously sabotaging the result. I repeat, the MBTI(r) indicator does not measure skill or intelligence or emotional capability. Although some colleges and universities offer it to help students pick a major, your Type preference will not predict your success in any given profession.

It's true, certain Type preferences show up more frequently in certain jobs, and our Type preferences will make some tasks easier for us than others. However, Type does not predict skill, which is why it makes a poor recruitment tool. People of all Type preferences, for example, can be found in the profession of Psychology, or Engineering. The difference lies in their approach to the work, and deriving energy and satisfaction from different aspects of it.

If you answer the questionnaire thinking about what you think your boss or college advisor or parent or best friend would want you to say, you probably won't get to your best-fit Type. If you answer the questionnaire thinking how you would like to be after more training and studying, that won't get your most natural result either. If you've taken it before and have some knowledge about what the letter-code stands for, you might be drawn to see what a particular combination looks like instead of what really fits you. Once you realize that the MBTI(r) questionnaire tries to pinpoint your starting point in terms of which side of the pole you like better, which you prefer, which simply comes more naturally to you, you're on the right track.

Your Cultural Background Matters

The MBTI(r) indicator offers non-judgmental language to bring order to seemingly random behaviors. There is no better or worse Type - all Types are equal. This is just one of the reasons why MBTI(r) is an outstanding tool to use for diversity appreciation.

We are all influenced by the culture we were raised in, the country we grew up in, the values our parents, teachers, and peers instilled in us. All of them come out consciously or subconsciously in many different ways, and therefore they influence our responses to the questionnaire, too. In the USA, there is a cultural bias towards ESTJ. It is assumed, and somewhat proven by country representative samples, that the majority of Americans displays Extraversion, Sensing, Thinking, and Judging preferences. In other words, even if you are an Introvert, you will learn how to behave as an Extravert, because that provides the better social feedback.

Being conscious of your own personal and cultural bias will allow you to step back and answer the questionnaire from your most natural self. Don't answer the questionnaire trying to please anyone or fit in with the norm. Myers and Briggs described this as "your shoes-off self," how you would be on a desert island. Well, Extraverts would probably have a hard time being stranded alone, so try and think about your ideal world scenario. Sometimes it also helps to think back how you would have behaved when you were much younger, before your parents, teachers, etc, told and influenced you how not to be.

Something to keep in mind

Every human being is far too complex to fit into four letters or one side of a cultural preference. Especially given our global civilization, mobility, and technologies that allow us access to travel and experience different cultures, it might muddle the scene. The MBTI(r) tool is not trying to put you in a box. It is trying to help you pinpoint your starting point. Personality Type is innate, you are born with it. You simply prefer using your brain in one specific way, just like you may be right-handed, or not like brussels sprouts. (Tangent: Tasting sprouts as bitter or not depends on a gene influencing your taste buds, if I remember my 10th grade Biology teacher correctly, just like it's genetic whether you can roll your tongue, have rounded ear lobes, and grow hair on your last knuckle. I'm not saying Type is genetic per se; it's not passed on like your blood type, and parents have children with different Type preferences. Research into how genes affect brain development are ongoing.)

All of us use all eight preferences all the time. While we learn how to use our brain in many other ways as we grow up and evolve, there is only ever going to be one starting point. Once you figure that starting point out with the help of the MBTI(r) questionnaire, that's when Type theory, Temperament theory, Interaction Styles, and Integral Type methods offer a wide range of opportunities to apply your strengths most effectively.

Image by Vincent Crown, Flickr, Creative Commons License.