Imagine a work environment where everyone has their MBTI type label posted on their office door. This may strike some as just terribly efficient. But no No NO NOOOOO…this is just bad practice and a misuse of the MBTI or any other assessment tool IMHO.

People are NOT any label that you might hang on them, and this way of viewing the use of assessment tools does a disservice to everyone. MBTI professionals are very careful in their language to make the distinction. They will talking about “those with a preference for Extraversion” as opposed to “those who ARE Extraverts”. People are wonderfully complex and they definitely should not be limited by any label. People HAVE a preference – they AREN’T their preference. This distinction matters.

When you hang a sign on a door that limits possibilitites for genuine engagement. People can make all kinds of false assumptions based on too little information and misunderstanding. It is an act that separates us from each other rather than building true connection and compassion.

Knowing that someone may have a different type helps me to understand how they process information and make decisions differently from my way of being. I don’t have to take their behaviour as a problem or weird or even better than mine – simply different. If I spend some time observing myself I may even come to appreciate the benefit of how their type handles some situations where my way of processing may have blind spots.

Yes – use the MBTI to learn how to communicate with other styles. Yes – use the MBTI to find work that fits your natural ways of being. Yes – use the MBTI to learn to see and appreciate each other and to share in a way that builds trust. This approach involves real conversation about our different perspectives and a desire to learn and understand those with whom we work. Putting type labels on office doors may do the opposite – contributing to judgment and alienation. Don’t do it even if you think people will be okay with it – it may seem harmless but it isn’t.

Category: Best practices / Perspectives
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5 Responses to “Repeat after me “I am not a label””

CJ February 5, 2009

Couldn’t agree more! (Although I’d have to replace MBTI with “Enneagram” :-)

Your timely post reminds me of my favourite book, that I recommend to all clients: Anthony De Mello’s “Awareness”. He explores dropping our labels in depth. Here’s a link to amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Awareness-Anthony-Mello/dp/0385249373/ref=pd_bbs_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1233855811&sr=8-1

Hunter Nuttall February 5, 2009

Forcing people to post their MBTI type on their doors would surely be resisted by a lot of people. I’d like it personally, but many people freak out about being labeled.

Notice that we only mind labels when they’re negative. Face it, we couldn’t communicate without labels. We label ourselves with names and job titles, we say “I’m a motorcycle enthusiast” or “I’m a pizza lover,” we like it when people call us “smart” or “nice.”

All these labels are fine, but call someone by a label that sounds negative, and they’ll suddenly be all “Don’t label me!” As the MBTI labels are simply about our preferences, none of them are bad. It doesn’t make sense to be offended by your own preferences.

I think people resist these labels because they don’t understand them. They think that learning your type somehow limits your options, or tells you that you’re bad at something. Nonsense. Knowledge is power.

Another thing is that everyone is labeling us anyway. Remaining ignorant about our type will do nothing to protect us from peoples’ negative judgments. I’d much rather be called an INTP by someone who’s been educated about the MBTI, rather than be called “shy,” “flaky,” “heartless,” or “lazy” by uninformed people.

BTW, I’m building a list of peoples’ self-reported MBTI types. My URL points directly to that, if you want to take a look.

Stephen February 6, 2009

Thank you for this point.

James Flaherty, in “Coaching – Evoking Excellence in Others”, points out that personality profiling leads us to expect certain behaviours from others which influences that person’s behaviour and frames our observation of that person. And these two factors, coupled with laziness leads us into one of the main hindrances of coaching, which is to understand people as a collection for fixed properties with desire attached.

In the book he proposes assessment models which he claims give form and shape to our observations without limiting the person to parameters.

The idea of putting MBTI labels on office doors is exactly what he is highlighting. It is easier to say – “She is an ISTJ” than it is to understand and formulate a view of her concerns, commitments, history, future possibilities, mood, domains of competence, Intellect, emotion, will, context and soul (to outline JF’s assessment models).

I have used MBTI in exercises with teams, allowing people to comment and draw comment on what they agree with and what they don’t. In my experience this has provided an excellent framework, for mutual understanding. In coaching however I have started using JF’s (and others’) approach. Having said that, I also know that MBTI takes us to the same understanding if we are prepared to do the hard work required to get beyond a tetragrammaton.

Sandy, what process do you build into your work to prevent the kind of response you describe in this posting?

Sandy McMullen February 6, 2009

A few things come to mind about how I work with the MBTI with people. First is that I have a commitment and intention behind my coaching practice. I believe that we do the best most fulfilling creative and sustainable work when our actions are congruent with who we are.

Tools like the MBTI and Enneagram and Reiss are mirrors to use to see a more accurate reflection. All of this happens in the context of a conversation that has a purpose behind it.

For example, any MBTI workshops that I have done as an associate of Context Management Consulting Inc. have been part of a larger strategic framework. Context works to implement strategy through ongoing Action Learning groups in cross functional teams as well as regular retreats for intact teams etc. The MBTI workshops were integrated into these retreats when appropriate and linked to a larger context.

In additon to the workshop individual coaching followed. Some of the focus integrated the Hay groups Emotional Competency Inventory and the insights from the MBTI to help deepen the learning and build capability.

Two things stand out – that the MBTI was part of a leadership development strategy – that there was both a group and individual opportunity for reflection on applying insights.

It was not delivered as a “one off” event that was entertaining or interesting. As I mentioned in my post above I am also careful with language and asking permission to share personal information during the workshop or coaching. My intention is to set the stage for people to take the risks to have a more meaningful conversation (a least that’s the plan) Creating this kind of container for good work to happen is subtle and an art form. When it happens I celebrate when it doesn’t I learn and go on.

Roberta Hill February 7, 2009


Thanks for letting me repost your article on my blog at http://www.assessmentstoday.com/2009/02/what-does-your-name-tag-personality-badge-say.html

I was actually in the process of writing a post in a similar vein and this made a great addition.