Monday 3 July 2017

MBTI - often misunderstood (slightly ranty)

Not long ago I had a late night discussion concerning Myers-Briggs and the "pseudo-science" behind it (it is based on Jung's work, which is admittedly a bit outdated, but it wasn't when M & B did their work). A few days later I came across independent tweets, one telling awful stories about how companies abuse the MBTI and the other about "how to deal with your introvert in your team", or something similar to that.

So now I feel a bit compelled to post something about how I see MBTI and in particular introverts.
I will give you 3 statements to go with, to moderate anything anyone ever say or claim about MBTI.

1. You are not your type.

Insanely important to understand: whatever your MBTI profile turns out to be, it's not you. Or the whole of you. The 4 parameters that the test measures you on each have 2 possible outcomes. So the test says you are either introvert or extravert. Intuitive or Sensitive. Thinking or Feeling. Judging or Perceiving.

So if your profile turns out to be ESTP - or any other - then that's not you. You do not tackle all of life from an extravert position. You can feel still. You can even judge. It simply means that you preference is ESTP, or we could call it your preferred mode of operation.

You feel good in this profile, so this is where you are probably most relaxed. But you can do all the others too. They are just harder for you. That's all.

Some people like to put their MBTI profile on their conference name badge. It's okay, I think. It tells others something about you, and whether you know about MBTI or not, that's a conversation starter - which is exactly what you would want at a conference.. Right? It's called conference for a reason.

If you put your MBTI (or worse: if others do) profile on your door to your office, it's wrong. It implies that you are ESTP (or whatever) always and must therefore always be treated to optimise that profile. The people who would walk in and out of that door would likely get to know you. They will not need a conversation starter. They won't even need a reminder of your type. Because they know you.

2. You can do all the profiles, if you want to

Yes, introverts can act as extraverts. And when I say 'act' I do not mean faking it. I mean using the extravert mode. And vice versa. So why have a MBTI profile? Because, there's a preference to a single one. You can learn to use the others, and it's easier once you recognise your starting point.

I have heard a lot of times how batteries are depleted when introverts are with other people, and charged again when the introvert is alone. I once even believed it, until I could no longer find truth in it. I suggest we change that model a bit (so meta now - a model for understanding a model.. hehehe):

Imagine that everything you do deplete you batteries. You have 4 batteries - corresponding to your four parameters in MBTI (no, not really, but this is a model.. play along).
Say your profile is ESTP. When you are acting in an extraverted way, your first battery will still discharge, slowly.
Sometimes you act in an introvert fashion. Your first battery will now discharge faster.
You recharge when you rest - either asleep or during a recreational activity.

Likewise you discharge a battery when you work from your thinking mode, and also - but much faster - when you operate from your feelings. And so on.

For some people, one or more of these modes are bordering to being impossible to use. If you are very very very much a "T" - thinking - then operating from your feelings - "F" - becomes difficult. Maybe even so that you try to shut that down completely inside you (mind you, in this case you will have very little control over your feelings - they will control you, as you have little experience with them). But it doesn't mean you cannot learn to get in touch with your "F" mode.
This is how we grow through life, learning more and more, and becoming less 'binary'. The MBTI is not binary as in exclusive. It just points to your preference.

3. Introverts are not shy, silent creatures

I have to be honest - it pisses me off when introverts are being presented as someone who cannot speak up in a group, who hates to be with other people and in all ways is a kind of sad person, just longing for solitude.

While it's true that introverts are dealing with solitude much easier than extraverts, introverts don't have to be tormented by shyness and insecurity. And if you - an introvert - think of yourself in that way you are doing yourself a disservice.

Being shy or insecure comes from your thinking: what can I add to this - am I worth anything in this context? It's a terrible question to ask again and again, especially if you arrive at a "nothing/no" for an answer frequently. But it's not the same as introvertness.

Being introvert does not mean you hate being with people. I am introvert, and I like being with people. I don't always appreciate to be the center of discussion, or the one who has to speak up - but I can do this if I want to, and regardless, I do like being in the company of others.
From my observations many introverts do. Being together is better than being alone, after all.

I find that to explain introvertness I need yet another model. Imagine you have something to say in a particular situation. Your brain forms a statement, but before it is being sent to your mouth for articulation, the uttering is being thrown in front of the internal board of directors. Here it is being weighed for relevance, importance (to you as well as to others), degree of funniness (oh, can we make other people laugh at the right time - so good ...) and some other things.
This process obviously takes time, even if your brain is quite fast.
And so, at last your brain may allow you to speak - or discard. And perhaps someone else said it just before you. So you keep quiet - slightly frustrated that you didn't just speak up but had to think about it. Or the moment went away before your sentence was ready to speak. Damnation.

Extraverts do not have this inner board of directors for censoring your speech. They just babble out whatever and feel perfectly happy about it.
Why it is so, I don't know. I also don't know if the model is accurate, but to me it makes sense.

I find that with alcohol, the internal board of directors seem to choose to party instead of doing censoring (that's not a recommendation to drink), and also when the topics are not very important (not a recommendation to not care about anything), this process flows easier and faster.
And also when in company with people who shares trust and the environment is very safe, this censorship goes away (this I recommend getting).
So it could be, that this introvert mechanism is simply for defense: do not put yourself or others at risk by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.  I don't know. But I do know, that being an introvert does not equate to hating being with other people.

So - what is MBTI for then?

I had a lot of struggle to find out what my preference is. I took the test over and over and with varying results. Every time I found that something just didn't add up.
Maybe you know, or maybe you don't, but there's one more step in taking the test, which can be done for free online - or paid if you prefer that: to have the test result validated through an interview. The test is crude. Only by interacting with another human being, trained to observe you, can the profile be determined.
Since I couldn't find an interviewer close by - and wasn't desperate enough to pay for it - I resorted to reading books about MBTI. It took me about 3 years to crack it, until I could see everything fall into place. I would recommend studying, as it gives you a more nuanced insight into how it works.
And also what you can use MBTI for.

For me, it's a tool to primarily understand that we as people are individuals and different, yet - somewhat similar. Some of the things we experience other people do strikes us as odd. Reminding yourself that there are other profiles around you than your own can be helpful in understanding where the others are coming from and why they may act as they do.
But in my humble opinion, if you take this further to expect people to act their type all the time, or hire people based on type - you're off the track. That's just wrong.
Instead you should accept the other humans you share a part of your life's journey with as they are and if it is helpful to you, use MBTI to understand them - and yourself - as one tiny piece of the puzzle.

Monday 2 February 2015

I'm officially a mentor

I am proud to have become a mentor on the Speak Easy program.

Over the years I have spent a bit of my spare time to coach and consult with primarily younger testers from around the world, and I have enjoyed that immensely. When I found the Speak-Easy program. I simply thought: this is for me, this is what I do. 
One of the best project managers I ever worked with had a saying, that there is only one thing in the world that can give you five years worth of experience, and that is 5 years of experience. You cannot cheat on this, you have to work your way through. Well, that was many years ago now, and I have an addition to make: you also need a push once in a while. I'm here for you to do just that. 
I know how frightening it is to get up on the stage at a conference and how insecure it feels: do I have a message anyone even bothers to listen to? Will there be anyone left when I finish? Will they ask nasty questions or laugh? 

Well, I intend to be the friend I needed back when I found myself writing proposals, doubting their worth myself, and then suddenly found myself with a ticket to a major conference. I was so nervous despite having rehearsed and rehearsed in my hotel room at least twenty times that last evening and morning. My heart was pounding when I got down to the room and partly disappointed and partly relieved that there were only a few people there. But once I had ensured myself that my slide deck was in place and had the microphone wrapped around my ears I turned around and saw that it was a packed room. I nearly died of nerves and I remember hearing my voice stutter and break up a bit on the first words. Then it calmed down somehow magically and I got through it, and the rest of the conference was a celebration.

I belong to a community where discussion matters and where opinions need to be defended. That becomes boring when only a few voices are present. The more diverse views and the more ideas that are brought into the debates - and conferences are a great place for that - the better. I'd like to do my bit for that.