We’ve all been in this scenario. Your meek, bookish friend that you thought you had pegged for sure comes up to you excitedly and reveals her personality type according to the test she just took: ESFP! What?
Or you argue with your brother who insists he’s a thinker when you suspect otherwise. Or your mother who knows she’s an NF when really, SF is a better fit. Or your sister who insists she’s a J because she loves to organize her music collection, when really…well, you know. How do you deal with these people?
First of all, stop arguing with them. You’re making it worse!
Let’s talk about why mistypes happen, why they can be so difficult to navigate when they do happen, and what you can do about it when you encounter one. I’ll be focusing on MBTI here, but this applies to any and every typology where self-assessment is required.
Not all types are created equally
Unfortunately, even though MBTI and other typologies are adamant that every personality type is equally valuable and good, not everyone sees it that way. Women are socialized to have feeler values, whereas men are socialized to have thinker values (whether or not these people are actually feelers or thinkers). Pretty much everyone is socialized as sensors in daily life. But online or in academia, there is a huge value shift towards the intuitive, which makes sensors in online and academic communities feel like the oddball. Perceivers are sometimes made to feel lazy, messy, disorganized, and less useful in a J-driven society. These biases make it obvious why mistypes occur. Not every type is equally valuable or desirable in every situation!
With all of this pressure to appear to be what you are not, is it any wonder that when you see that forced choice question, you’re going to answer the one you think makes you look good? No, you’re not supposed to, but you’re going to without even realizing you’re doing it. That’s why personality enthusiasts tell you not to take the tests at face value, because the tests can only tell you what you believe about yourself. They rely on self reporting, after all. And what you believe about yourself is often what you want to believe about yourself. And what do you want to believe about yourself? Whatever society or the immediate context you find yourself in values!
It’s true. If your immediate culture places pressure on you to act more feminine or masculine or abstract or tactile or spontaneous or organized, those results will show in your score. Not only that, but things like mood and self perception play a role. As a matter of fact, one professional criticism of MBTI regards its reliability, which means that when test takers retake the test, they often don’t get the same result. This is common in personality communities as well where enthusiasts tend to take a lot of tests and confusingly get different results each time. While there may be many factors to this, the main factor is the unreliability of the subjective reporter: the test taker.
Okay. So you’re bound to mistype. And so are your friends, family members, and that guy on the internet you just know is wrong about his type. But what do we do when we’ve studied the theories and analyzed our own behavior over an extended period of time, assessed our own best fit type, and are confronted with an obvious case of someone else’s mistype? Read on.
Rule number 1: never force the issue!
This is the most important rule. When you suspect a mistype, gently guide, don’t beat them over the head about it! If you force them, you take away the other person’s agency to know themselves better than you, and they fight that instead of the suggestion. Think about how you feel whenever someone challenges something you strongly believe to be true. Do you shrug and say huh, okay, I never thought about it like that before? Or do you dig your heels in and insist the other person has no idea what they’re talking about? If you want the reaction you receive to be the first one, you have to approach the topic like a discussion, not an accusation. Once you’ve set them on the defensive, the conversation is already over.
When you meet someone who, in your opinion, demonstrates traits and behaviors that indicate one type over another (especially in cases where one type is statistically more likely than another, such as preferring sensing over intuition), what do you do? Gently open the discussion and ask them if they have considered an alternative. Ask them why they arrived at the type they did and what makes them feel it is the best fit. Have a dialogue about it. Don’t accuse them of mistyping on purpose, and especially don’t imply they chose their type because they wanted to be “special” and they’re not. Don’t be smug about it. Don’t take ownership of the type they are claiming to be. Your role is to guide them to their best fit, not the type you want them to be.
Let’s talk about INFPs and INFJs for a minute. There is a lot of famous infighting in personality communities between these two types because statistically, INFJs are the rarest type. However, both INFPs and INFJs value rarity and uniqueness to some degree, and this leads them to battle over the supremacy of getting to possess the coveted “J” status. So pretty much every claim to be INFJ is followed by a claim that the person is really a mistyped INFP. Why?
It comes back to that contextual values thing I mentioned earlier. In online communities, the most valuable thing to be is also the rarest. So those who don’t score INFJ want it, and those who do score INFJ don’t deserve it. But isn’t that incredibly silly? And, guys, it’s not what MBTI is about!
I think you can start to see a little bit of the problem here. On the one hand, we’ve got actual people mistyping through no fault of their own (or maybe through a correctable lack of self awareness). On the other hand, you’ve got people wanting those people to be mistypes for whatever reason. Insecurity and scarcity value, I guess? So which side are you on? Do you want to help people find their best fit type, or do you feel that someone scoring a certain type somehow detracts from the value of your type? Take a moment to assess yourself before you fire off that comment or post.
I want to help, and I know they’re mistyped. Assist!
If there’s a rule number one, here’s rule number two: actually listen. Your suspected mistyper had a reason for arriving at their type. Walk them through it. Remember that the first type you get may or may not be your actual best fit, so help them walk through each dichotomy and understand every part of the typology. Maybe they thought feeling meant being reasonable. Maybe they thought judging meant organizing their books obsessively. Encourage them to see past stereotypes and get to the true traits or behaviors behind the measurement.
What if you’ve done all that and they still insist they are ENTPs when they’re really ISFPs? Here’s the hard part: let it go and accept it. In the official MBTI scoring process, the final judgment of the subject being typed is king. Even if they’re wrong. Listen, you’ve done your part. You’ve educated them, guided them to see more of the theory, gently encouraged them to face parts of themselves they may not have acknowledged. But after that? You’re going to have to agree to disagree and accept that you can’t change someone’s mind. They have their reasons for sticking with their identity. Perhaps it really is a matter of refusing to see what they don’t want to see, but berating them certainly isn’t going to change their minds, is it?
Besides, you may be wrong, too. Consider it a learning experience and move on. If you’re right, time will tell. All we can do is continue to develop our self awareness the best we can, and that includes re-evaluating the conclusions we’ve come to from time to time.
Speaking of which, how sure are you about your type? 🙂