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How Understanding Your MBTI Can Help Your Relationship

Updated on February 14, 2013
Veer photography
Veer photography

The Myers-Briggs Typology Indicator (MBTI) test assesses people according to four preferences (see the Wikipedia article). Though it is by no means a universally accepted method to assess personalities, it is nonetheless a useful and interesting tool for evaluating relationship dynamics.

I've taken MBTI tests a few times in my life--mostly for work--and I've always seen the value in them. The MBTI helps you understand why you think and behave the way you do, and how your 'type' interacts with other 'types'. It can also guide you toward strategies for working in difficult relationships, both at work and at home.

Work Relationships

Work relationships are difficult by nature: people with different backgrounds and experiences are thrown together for five days a week, and expected to be professional and effective. Most of us have had bad experiences with co-workers, bosses, or employees from hell. Sometimes co-workers are guilty of no more than our most annoying pet peeves, but sometimes colleagues' behaviours can deeply affect how we perceive them, and ultimately, how we work together. This is why many companies use the MBTI as team-building exercises, built to help people analyse and understand team dynamics.

The following are examples of how people's work behaviours can be explained if you understand the MBTI.

Perception: Liz is new. She tends to ask very few questions, and people think she's a little stuck up.

Reality: Liz (INTP) would rather use her tools and resources to find out things for herself. Only when she has no other recourse does she ask for help.

Perception: Emma peppers her work-related conversations with "You know what I mean?", which drives some people up the wall.

Reality: Emma (ESFJ) thrives on communication with others, and needs to know that she is understood.

Perception: Darcy sometimes gets uncharacteristically grumpy when his co-workers engage him in work-related conversations. Co-workers think he must not like work much.

Reality: When Darcy (ENFP) has a lot of work to do, he needs to focus entirely on it, with few interruptions. His moods should not be taken personally.

Perception: Bianca always wants to talk to her boss about every step of her projects. Her boss thinks she's a little insecure.

Reality: Bianca (ISFJ) needs frequent feedback--especially affirmation that she's doing a good job--in order to work effectively and happily.

Learning about your own type, and those of your colleagues, is useful not only to avoid and resolve conflicts; it can also help the team work better in as a whole.

Personal Relationships

MBTI tests can help personal relationships too. Personal relationships--especially couples--can be difficult if the parties involved cannot understand each other.

Let's take a couple, Brandon (ENFJ) and Marianne (INTP).

Perception: During an argument, Brandon accuses Marianne of insulting him. Marianne finds the accusation bewildering, and honestly has no idea what he means.

Reality: Being an ENFJ, Brandon is very sensitive, and is wounded easily because so much of his self-esteem derives from what others think of him. He does not tend to take things at face value, which is the opposite of Marianne: she says things plainly and says exactly what she means. In this case, Brandon sees criticism where none was intended.

Perception: Marianne explains what she meant by the perceived insult, which was not a personal comment. Brandon gets increasingly upset, while Marianne restates that she said nothing wrong. She thinks Brandon is irrational.

Reality: Because Brandon is already upset and convinced that Marianne insulted him, Marianne can defuse the argument with an apology, saying that no offense was meant. But being an INTP, Marianne does not consider Brandon's feelings, and is too focussed on trying to get Brandon to see what is (to her) an obvious truth: that she made an innocuous statement.

Brandon and Marianne are very different from each other; they're almost opposites. It is thus important for them to try to see things from the other's perspective. Brandon does not mean to be 'irrational', just like how Marianne does not mean to be insensitive. Both sides have to consider the other's mindset, and be aware of how their own actions can affect the other. They may even discover different ways to approach one another--in times of harmony, and in more trying times.

Final Thoughts

MBTI, and other personality tests like it, are not meant to pigeonhole you into a kind of stereotype. Depending on how moderate or extreme you are on the scale, you might test as ESTJ one time and ESTP a few years later. People are always changing, so taking the test more than once can help relationships, especially long-term ones, as they progress and change over time.

Ultimately, the value in knowing your MBTI depends on how willing you are to look at yourself objectively, and how open you are to personal growth. Understanding, appreciating, and empathising with those who are very different from you can help you enrich your relationships, at work and at home.

Note: I'm not an MBTI expert, and the examples contained here are based on the tests I've done and the people with whom I've done the tests.


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    • _Irene_ profile image

      _Irene_ 6 years ago

      Thanks for your comment, wba108. Not only are employees 'placed' in roles that suit them, but I think that people are (if they're lucky or true to themselves, perhaps) naturally drawn to professions and positions that suit the interests and aptitudes of their MBTI type.

      The way I see it--even if it's 'just' the soft science psychology, MBTI is a useful tool that gives us a framework and a language to understand ourselves and each other better.

    • profile image 6 years ago from upstate, NY

      I am an INFP and my wife is an ENFJ, we are quite compatible because we have enough in common to understand each other but also are different enough so we don't compete. I can see how this can aide in work relationships by promoting greater understanding and increasing efficiency by placing workers in roles that suit them! I not sure I can prove it scientifically but the MBTI seems dead on at describing differences in personality.

    • _Irene_ profile image

      _Irene_ 7 years ago

      Thanks, Ms Dee!

    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 7 years ago from Texas, USA

      Nice to see this hub article, Irene! I linked to it from one I just wrote, as it made a great addition to what I was talking about.

    • _Irene_ profile image

      _Irene_ 9 years ago

      Angela, I've taken the MBTI for fun *and* for work (which is also fun). It's always an eye-opener. :)

      inspiredcook, I'm an INTP too (strong/extreme IN, moderate/strong T, borderline P)! A lot of what you said is what I experience too, but I think that I am so quiet that I come across as 'cold' rather than a 'know-it-all.' People and friends have often told me that they 'used to think I was a snob' until they go to know me.

    • profile image

      inspiredcook 9 years ago

      I'm an INTP, and I am misunderstood all the time. Comments I make are made without realizing how it could hurt someone. Oddly enough, and sad to say, if someone were to make the same comments to me, I might be offended too, if I didn't perceive the comments to be constructive. I come across as a know it all. One description of my personality basically said if I think someone is stupid, they know it. I procrastinate and have trouble making decision, but I have incredible insight. I need a lot of facts to make a decision. I think if you are someone like me, knowing who you are, might help you figure out how you could possibly offend someone who is different. It helps you know who you are, and that in turn can help in relationships.

    • Angela Harris profile image

      Angela Harris 9 years ago from Around the USA

      Fascinating stuff, I almost majored in psychology. I have taken the MBTI just for fun. I never really thought about using it for interpersonal relationships, though.

    • _Irene_ profile image

      _Irene_ 9 years ago

      You're welcome, storytellersrus. I hope it helps. One thing I've learned through MBTI is that I often have to act very much against my 'type' in my relationship (and so does my husband), in order to reach a compromise or an understanding. I suppose that's what a relationship should be. :)

    • profile image

      storytellersrus 9 years ago

      This is fascinating. I can see how these designations help inform relationships. Thanks so much for your insights. I will have to read more about my husband's type interacting with my type. I imagine it could open doors to communication that seem to remain closed, marked "Danger zone!"