Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Typological Shortcuts – A Cautionary Tale

On line tests, emailed results and other MBTI fails

In my workshop travels, I’ve encountered a lot of people who tell me they’ve “done the MBTI” before.

80% of the time that means:
• they’ve taken a free online test that gave instant results with no explanation or application (other than to tell them that Harry Potter is their Type too!)
• they took the test in college in the placement office and the administrator just handed them the results with no explanation (other than to tell them what major they should choose)
• they took it with their employer who just handed them their results with no explanation (other than to tell them what career track they should be on)

Most of the time these experiences were unmemorable … or memorably bad because they felt pigeonholed into something or someone that they didn’t feel fit quite right.

For the other 20%, they had a decent experience with an appropriate delivery method (meaning a coach, counselor or trainer actually walked them through a self-discovery/self-assessment processes) and they actually remembered their 4-letter type, knew what it meant and how it related to them and felt the explanations were right on.

I wish more people had that kind of experience … I believe the people who experience one of my sessions or workshops would tell you it’s the only way for the MBTI to have meaning and impact. Otherwise, what’s the point of doing it at all? What’s the value of knowing you’re an ENFP or ISFJ or WXYZ if you don’t know what that means, why it matters, how it impacts those around you and how you can use it to grow… grow professionally, grow spiritually, grow academically?

So what’s wrong with the free online test?
From the time the MBTI went public in 1942 after Katharine Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, spent more than a decade vetting and perfecting the precise language used in the questions to indentify preferences in an unbiased way, professional psychometricians have continued to revise and perfect it to improve the accuracy and validity of the tool. Today the Center for Applications of Psychological Type (CAPT) owns the proprietary rights to the questions.

That means that the questions you see on the free online “MBTI” tests are not the actual MBTI questions. They can’t be. That means whoever wrote the questions had to come up with their own questions which don’t have a professional team of psychometricians and nearly 70 years of refining to ensure unbiased results. Even if a seasoned and trained type practitioner like myself took the original MBTI questions and changed them just enough not to get sued by CPP or CAPT, I would destroy the integrity of what makes the questions work as a whole and in combination with each other.

Additionally, my own preferences as an INTJ would certainly influence how I go about changing those questions and could bias them either toward or (in over compensation) away from INTJ answers and end up with an unusual number of INTJ or ESFP results. Of course only I would notice that. The unsuspecting taker of the test only knows they tested as an INTJ and will probably blow off the validity of the “whole MBTI thing” because the description doesn’t seem to fit them.

Okay, so give me the real MBTI and just email me the results.
I get this request at least once for every workshop I run. I understand that not everyone has time to sit through a 4-hour workshop or a 1-hour personal session with me, but the MBTI preference inventory (or “test”) isn’t really the determinant of what someone’s Type is. The self-identification process that an MBTI practitioner walks someone through is what determines the most accurate assessment of preferences and 4-letter type. The test is just a validation tool to affirm what a person has already decided without it.

And here’s the bigger secret… the tests aren’t always accurate. Okay, that’s not really a secret. CPP reports that their most current version of the MBTI inventory has a 90% reliability. That’s actually 10 – 20 points higher than any other personality inventory out there, but it does leave room for error. There are additional factors that could influence an even greater disconnect between the self-determined results and the test results but in my experience at least half of the participants in any given workshop or session I conduct have at least one letter different if not two. If a person doesn’t have the context and information from the workshop, how will they recognize if or which letters might be wrong and identify which one(s) make more sense?

For someone looking for a quicker yet reliable way to explore their Type without actually interacting with another human being, there is a self-driven on-line “test”/workshop combo that is an authentic MBTI (endorsed by CPP and the Myers & Briggs Foundation) but it is $60.00 per test and it still takes an hour to go through the whole module.

Whenever possible, I personally try to offer the MBTI at no cost to the participant. A company might hire me to come in and do a workshop for their employees so the company will pay the fee but the participants get the experience at no cost. If I use it in a counseling situation, I’m usually already compensated for my time so the MBTI is just an added tool I can “throw in” without charging extra for it. If you ever have the chance to do the MBTI with a Certified Practitioner and it’s FREE…? DO IT! It’s going to cost a minimum of $60 to do the MBTI with a legitimate online tool and a company who hires me to come out and do a half-day workshop is going to pay anywhere from $800 - $2000 (depending on the size) so free is always better than that.

One last note… when I went through my certification process, it was drilled into us that we could not just hand someone their results (because that’s not the true determination of their type) we have to walk them through the discovery process for self-determination to reach their conclusion about their 4-letter Type. It’s actually written into our agreement with CPP that authorizes us to purchase and administer the test. If anyone does administer an MBTI and does just hand over the results, they do so in violation of their covenant with CPP which would make me question their ethics. Do you really want someone with questionable ethics analyzing and determining YOUR personality preferences?

Do the workshop!


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