why i love preference indicators (and why they are not personality tests)

As anyone who knows me well can very well attest, I am a strong advocate for the use and application of personality profiles– my two favorites, of course, being the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator.

I’ve been hooked on preference indicators* for a few years now, and their jargon has become a part of my everyday vocabulary. I will admit that I go over the top with it occasionally, which is something I’ve been trying to work on in the last few months.

*I am strongly against the use of the phrase “personality test” to describe these indicators. There is no definitive way to measure something as multi-faceted and shifting as human personality. I will most always use the term “preference indicator,” which is a much more accurate description of what indicators like the MBTI and Enneagram actually do. “Personality profile” is a mostly acceptable term, but I use it only when introducing the subject of preference indicators, as it is a more common phrase and more easily understood.*

But in all seriousness, I truly and honestly believe that preference indicators have a valid place in society and in the building of relationships. The problem is that many people do not approach them in the correct way and their perception becomes awkwardly skewed.

To me, the purpose of these indicators is to assist in identifying personal strengths and weaknesses in a way that allows you to hopefully capitalize on your strong points and work with your weaknesses so that they won’t be as detrimental to you.

I am an ENFP (Myers-Briggs) and a Type 2 (Enneagram). These types are often typified by easily obsessive natures, excellent communication skills, a measure of naiveté, perennial optimism (ENFP); as well as the desire to be needed, occasionally misplaced altruism, a motherly personality, and a heart for people (Type 2).

These are all parts of my personality that I have loved about myself or fought against my entire cognitive life.  I am all of these things, and that is why I scored as an ENFP and a Type 2, not the other way around (this is the misconception most people suffer under when it comes to preference indicators).

The indicators did not make any personality aspects appear or disappear. What they did do was articulate some strengths and weaknesses I was aware existed, yet didn’t know how to explain to myself or others. In some cases, I was able to identify some personality facets I had never come to realize in myself (or, more honestly, had been ignoring because I didn’t want to confront them).

For example, I have always known I latch on to people. I have also always known that I get jealous when friends I am particularly close to spend more time with other people. I have been aware of this part of me from very early on, but I could never verbalize where it was stemming from. It wasn’t exactly jealousy, it was something I just couldn’t put my finger on.

When I discovered the Enneagram and that I typed as Type 2, and after reading about the type, I was confronted with a very true and not-exactly-glamorous reality of my reasons for latching on so tightly to people. I desperately want to be wanted and when I find those that seem to want me in their lives, I become very possessive of those people. And I don’t exactly appreciate it when other friends come in and seem to threaten that.

Just to reiterate: THIS WAS ALREADY A VERY PRESENT PART OF MY PERSONALITY. The Enneagram did not create this in me. What it did was give me a vocabulary with which to confront a personal weakness so that I can be aware of when it appears in my life and hopefully rein it in so it doesn’t get me in trouble.

By absolutely no means are indicators such as the MBTI and Enneagram a full description of a person. No one is purely an Sensor (MBTI) or purely a Type 5 (Enneagram). That’s the reason I use the term “preference indicator.” Because that’s exactly what they are. They indicate which side of the dichotomy or which type you most often prefer.

I may be a Feeler, but that doesn’t mean I have no Thinking function in me. I just prefer Feeling over Thinking in the majority of my life.

I may be a Type 2, but that doesn’t mean I have no personality aspects of a Type 1 or Type 5. I simply exhibit the traits of a Type 2 most often.

The results of personality preference indicators are like Cliff’s Notes for a human being. In no way do they give you the whole story of who the person is. They can’t. That’s not what they’re designed to do. What they can give you is a basis for understanding that person and how they think and operate. You should absolutely read the entire book. Get to know the person as a human being, not as a set of four letters or a numerical type. But the types can open an easier avenue of communication to understanding that person.

I love preference indicators because I love people and all their quirks and facets that make them unique. I want to understand them. Indicators like the MBTI and Enneagram are just a tool I use to gain a deeper appreciation for the individual personality.

If you want to read more about the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator specifically, check out my recent 4-part series for exodusmagazine.com (a student publication of Samford University). 


One thought on “why i love preference indicators (and why they are not personality tests)

  1. Pingback: guess who’s coming to dinner | various and sundry

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