14 April 2017


So looking through old emails I found a copy of this, which I sent to my then employer about their decision to ask us all to participate in a an MBTI test as part of a team-building exercise.

Having read about, and discussed this with people in the past, and come to the conclusion it is a load of old rubbish, I was naturally slightly disappointed, and disinclined to participate.

I thought my response was interesting enough to share here with people, so here it is.
Note. The company name has obviously been removed - but they were very understanding of my position - though no doubt felt I was making a big fuss about nothing and went ahead anyway - without me of course. Also, the last sentence is meant as an ironic joke... just in case you thought I was being hypocritical. 

Dear Learning and development team. 
I notice that I was recently asked to attend a group/team MBTI session. I have subsequently declined this and would like to put my reason for declining, and views of MBTI, on record.
Since MBTI was originally developed and rejected as a test for personnel selection by the Educational Testing Service back in the 1950's (the rights subsequently bought by those who developed it and ever since sold as a model for personality analysis) it has come under significant criticism from those working in the field of psychology and others, who, based on research and analysis of its methodology, have called in to question not just its efficacy but also the predictive claims it makes and, significantly, its overall validity as a theory and analytical tool. 
Criticisms range from issues around: its reliability in assigning a 'type', where retests show people do not reliably conform to one type over a number of weeks let alone months or years: to the disconnect between a dichotomous categorisation and the research which does not support such a view. This means there is a paper thin difference between most people with one result and those of another, or in other words there is likely to be less difference between the majority of people irrespective of type (and across all types) than there is between the range of people within each type, making any predictions of behaviour based on type meaningless. 
Other criticisms relate to the lack of evidential and corroboratory support for the theoretical 16 'types' as valid constructs, but perhaps most damming of all is the research which shows that there is no indication that people labelled as a particular personality 'type' perform any better in particular types of jobs or roles. 
Rather than list all the issues with MBTI I would refer to this article by the psychologist David J. Pittenger, Chair of the Department of Psychology at Marietta College:
[edit: I really do recommend reading this article - it is very good and pulls apart the whole thing far better than I could - whilst being accessible and understandable too] 
It is, I think, worth reiterating the summary here, which reads:
"In summary, it appears that the MBTI does not conform to many of the basic standards expected of psychological tests. Many very specific predictions about the MBTI have not been confirmed or have been proved wrong. There is no obvious evidence that there are 16 unique categories in which all people can be placed. There is no evidence that scores generated by the MBTI reflect the stable and unchanging personality traits that are claimed to be measured. Finally, there is no evidence that the MBTI measures anything of value." 
I do understand that the above position is not 'the' definitive position (although I am yet to see a convincing counter argument) and that my refusal to take part could be seen as churlish or antagonistic. However, I do have strong views on why this system should not be used and should be challenged when it is. 
The below issues are my primary concerns relating to the use of MBTI: 
Given the lack of evidence supporting MBTI, and the evidence and arguments against it, it is hard to see how decisions based on this exercise can have any relevance to how people think and act, and raises the concern that any decisions based on such analysis run the risk of being based on a false understanding of employees needs and desires. For me personally, this is exacerbated by the lack of information provided with regard to exactly why ████████ are doing this and how they will use the data they collect. 
Assigning any label to a person can have significant effect on their own sense of identity, affecting their actions and the way others see them. When a person freely chooses to identify with a label, when it is used as the basis for long term reflection and analysis, with support and discussion around the limitations any label can be used to define a person, they can be a useful tool for personal development and therapeutic work. Even then this should be approached with caution and sensitivity at the best of times. In the case of a 'personality type' it may seem a trivial thing taken in isolation, but such things aggregate over our lives to influence how we see ourselves, each other, and how we interact. 
When we consider how MBTI works, selecting our 'type' using questions we answer ourselves, based on our view of ourselves, MBTI has the very real potential to reinforce views of ourselves that could otherwise be challenged or considered more constructively.
There could in the right circumstances be some value in considering yourself in the light of one of the 'types' in an abstract and theoretical way, but the lack of research supporting the validity of MBTI personality 'types' (and the fact that if anything it shows the opposite) has to suggest there is more potential for harm than good coming from being presented with your type, with the assumption that it represents a valid and realistic assessment or interpretation of who we are. 
The issue of how people are viewed comes in to sharper focus when considering the impact of relating these labels to specific types of behaviour (something which is again not borne out by evidence). The idea that categorical 'types' of personality are better at communicating, or selling, or focusing, runs the very real danger of being influenced by stereotypes and prejudices which have formed within society. Even when this is based on observation or research we are dealing with a society which has already been subject to such biases throughout its history, where inequality and prejudice is an inherent part of its makeup, and in the processes which we use to select people for certain jobs. 
Society subjects us to these biases throughout our lives and it is unreasonable to believe that this does not affect how we see and define ourselves and our behaviour. It is little surprise that there is an identifiable prevalence for certain personality 'types' within different genders, nor that there is a similarity between the 'types' which are more prevalent in males and those which are more prevalent in 'managerial' roles. Far from providing an objective tool for identifying peoples strengths and weaknesses, MBTI has the potential to paint a veneer of rationalisation and respectability on to established biases, stereotypes and prejudices. 
I do believe that the culture and level of responsibility towards staff shown within ████████ will, to some extent mitigate the above concerns. I also recognise that people do have different personalities, different strengths and weaknesses and bring different things to any team they are a part of, this is a part of what makes a successful team. I get that and wholeheartedly support efforts to bring teams together and better understand how they do this and what they can do to nurture and utilise these further. But, I am deeply disappointed that ████████, a company that prides itself on the strength, versatility and diversity of its staff, would choose to utilise a system that seeks (on the basis of very little supporting evidence) to reduce people in to a narrow band of categories, with an associated range of 'standard' behavioural patterns, ignoring the complexity and uniqueness that exists within and between each one of us. 
However, it is not enough to know that people within ████████ are likely to be insulated from the effects of what I view as dangers. ████████ decision to use MBTI feeds in to a wider narrative surrounding its use as a tool. The popularity of MBTI owes more to its continued use than it does to any ability to demonstrate efficacy or accuracy, and every time another business or organisation decides to use it, it adds to the ability of those selling it to claim it has some kind of validity. There are many companies and institutes throughout the world that use MBTI for the purposes of personnel selection or career advice, and many people will be subject to decisions based on a system which can be demonstrably shown to be a poor basis for such decisions and has the potential to exacerbate inequality and discrimination, and so people outside of ████████ are affected by this decision too. 
I hope the above does not seem like a personal attack on those who took the decision to use MBTI, I don't intend it as such - although it is hard to criticise such a decision without it seeming so. 
… that said, I'm an Aries and we are known to be a bit temperamental and fiercely independent, so perhaps that explains my vociferous complaint against being systematically (or rather arbitrarily) categorised.