Living Beyond First Person: How to Really Benefit from Personality Inventories

We were the fun department:  Human Resources. We all had cute accessories and big hair. (Hey, it was the 80’s.)  After the whole department took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test, we gathered after work to discuss the results. Our facilitator began by dividing us into two seemingly random groups tasked with the answer to this question:  “What do you do with time?” What we did not know was that she had divided us on the cusp of the final pair of the MBTI’s psychological preferences, the Judging vs. the Perceiving types.  When we came back together to report, we were stunned by the difference, for while the J’s used words like “invest” and “schedule,” the P’s happily listed activities like “watch my soaps” or “do my nails.”

That ten minute exercise opened my eyes to the importance of Reading People well — of understanding what makes me and the important people in my life tick, because we are different in so many different ways.  As a “J,” it would be easy for me to imagine that everyone thinks of time as a vanishing natural resource that must be rationed, apportioned, maximized, guarded, and measured.  In her most helpful book, Anne Bogel reminds me that I would be incorrect.

Using personality inventories to understand her own unique take on the world changed Anne Bogel’s life, so she has shared her five favorite — not in a manner that shouts “Classroom!” or “Laboratory!” but in a tone that says, “Hey, friend, here’s something that has helped me a lot.  Let me fill you in.”  She shares her own story with the goal of making her readers’ experience of self-discovery go more smoothly than her own.

Defining “Personality”

When we look at people through the lens of personality, we’re looking at a person’s foundational character which includes “patterns of thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that make that person unique.  We’re all inclined to think, feel, and act in particular ways.  Our personalities capture what we’re likely to find relaxing or exciting or pleasurable or tough.”  (LOC 117) While character is malleable and arises out of core beliefs, personality is fairly fixed.  Given this, the five frameworks presented in Reading People are comparable to a good map, for, as we learn the lay of the land, we can begin to live more confidently in a world that goes beyond first person.

The Five Personality Frameworks

  1.  The Five Love Languages

The BEST gift I ever received was a load of bark mulch from my four boys.  They bought it, delivered it, and spread it on all my flower beds.  Can you detect from this that my love language is acts of service?  It turns out that not everyone would be as over-the-moon at the memory of that (perfect) gift, because “we all have a vehicle that needs a certain kind of fuel.” (LOC 979) For others, that fuel is love expressed in quality time, words of affirmation, physical touch, or by gifts given and received.  The point of knowing someone’s love language is to bridge the communication gap so that we are expressing love in a way that our favorite people can actually receive.

2.  Keirsey’s Temperaments

In the 1950’s, clinical psychologist David Keirsey developed an outline of four basic temperaments.  Some of us still remember Tim LaHaye’s treatment of this concept from the 70’s (sanguine, melancholy, phlegmatic, and choleric).  Under Keirsey’s framework, our temperament is determined and described in terms of how we use words and how we use tools.  The identification of Artisans, Guardians, Idealists, and Rationals puts on glorious display the truth of C.S. Lewis’s famous quote:

“There are no ordinary people.”

We honor one another’s differences by appreciating and attempting to understand each other — without trying to shoehorn others into our favorite cookie cutter image.

3.  The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

Some mother/daughter teams write books together, make quilts, or start family businesses.  Katharine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers developed a personality inventory together.  Based on the work of Carl Jung, and overlapping in fascinating ways with Keirsey’s temperaments, the MBTI assessment is based on eight psychological preferences that come in pairs:

Introversion (I)/Extroversion (E)
Intuition (N)/Sensing (S)
Thinking (T)/Feeling (F)
Judging (J)/Perceiving (P)

Because the focus is on personal growth, this is a favorite test for colleges and in the workplace. Online assessments are available, and may be a good place to begin,  but looking in further detail at cognitive functions associated with Myers Briggs added depth to my understanding and can also be helpful in clarifying one’s type.

4.  The Clifton StrengthsFinder

In 1998, a group of scientists led by Donald Clifton developed a personality framework based on human strengths.  The tool is available in a book that was published in 2007 (StrenthsFinder 2.0).  Assuming that we are NOT well-rounded, the StrengthsFinder is built around thirty-four “talent themes” which are broken down into four categories:  executing, influencing, relationship building, and strategic thinking.  Once we find our strengths, the crucially formative question is:  Are we using them?

5.  The Enneagram

Based on the name for a nine-sided polygon, the Enneagram has been around for centuries and focuses on motivations.  I found that focusing on negative qualities of each of the nine types helped me to identify myself, so brace yourself for a personality framework that is neither warm nor fuzzy.  In fact, a good indication that you’ve nailed your Enneagram type is if you feel vaguely exposed and uncomfortable about it.  There are a number of online assessments, and these will get you started on the basics, but there are wings and arrows and subtypes and enough other details to keep the devoted Ennegram seeker engaged and analyzing for a long time.  However, even a rudimentary understanding of our type can help us in becoming a better version of ourselves.

Making the Most of Your Investigation

One of the main strengths of Reading People is Anne’s practical application of self-knowledge.  We don’t take personality assessments simply for raw data about ourselves, and there are a number of very helpful thoughts about the use of assessments that bubbled to the surface as I read Anne’s thoughts on personality:

  1.  Be honest.  “Aspirational answers won’t do you any good; only true ones will.”  So when taking a personality assessment, don’t waste time giving the response that you “know is right” or that you wish you were.  Report on who you are today.
  2. There is no “best type.”  Remember that we are hard-wired for personality.  Therefore, by God’s design there are delightful qualities to introverts who think deeply and respond to beauty as well as to extroverts who get the party going and are the last to leave. Those who feel loved when they receive gifts are no less worthy of love than those who prefer acts of service or meaningful words.
  3. Your temperament or type is not the boss of you.  Identification of one’s type is not an excuse for living cramped and small.  It does not come with a free pass to say, “This is just how I am. You’ll have to put up with me.”  Instead, self-knowledge is an invitation to develop what Ann calls “an arsenal of coping strategies” (Loc 560) for dealing with situations outside your comfort zone.
  4. Understanding your personality and the tendencies of your loved ones will not eliminate conflict.  However, it will grease the skids in traveling through conflict and make the inevitable friction that comes with life together more manageable and less damaging.

In these days of middle age (on the home front) and angry, opinionated words (in the news), I am drawn to the beautiful humility that comes as a fringe benefit with self-knowledge.  Every day, it is my privilege to choose between a “fixed mindset” and a “growth mindset.” (LOC 2666)  I can keep plowing my rut deeper and lonelier, or I can beat my plowshare back into a sword of Truth and use it as a pointer toward forgiveness and integral living.

Knowing that God has spoken words of blessing over all the types and temperaments is an invitation to declare a truce in the war against myself and to receive with open hands the gift that is me, and then to turn that gratitude outward in thanksgiving for and acceptance of all the different expressions of God’s creativity.

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This book was provided by Baker Books in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

And . . .

. . . come back Thursday to take a look at the reading schedule for Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. We’ll begin the discussion here on the following Thursday — September 7.  I’ll be sharing my insights on Chapters 1-3 and will be looking forward to hearing YOUR voice.  If you choose to blog about the book at any time, be sure to share a link in the comments so we can all profit from your detailed analysis of the content.

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