You don’t have to spend long in the business world to run across personality tests. They are touted as the answer to everything. They aren’t, and in fact, they often cause more problems than they solve.
You’ve certainly heard of the Myers-Briggs personality test. Or to be more precise, the last two letters in MBTI stand for type indicator, not “test.” But here’s what a scathing Vox piece says about it:
About 2 million people take it annually, at the behest of corporate HR departments, colleges, and even government agencies. The company that produces and markets the test makes around $20 million off it each year.
The only problem? The test is completely meaningless.
“There’s just no evidence behind it,” says Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania who’s written about the shortcomings of the Myers-Briggs previously. “The characteristics measured by the test have almost no predictive power on how happy you’ll be in a situation, how you’ll perform at your job, or how happy you’ll be in your marriage.”
It’s so bad that a Psychology Today piece by that same Adam Grant notes:
Research shows “that as many as three-quarters of test takers achieve a different personality type when tested again,” writes Annie Murphy Paul in The Cult of Personality Testing, “and the sixteen distinctive types described by the Myers-Briggs have no scientific basis whatsoever.” In a recent article, Roman Krznaric adds that “if you retake the test after only a five-week gap, there’s around a 50% chance that you will fall into a different personality category.”
Your personality is supposed to be fairly constant. This test is junk.
If the Myers-Briggs is so worthless, why is it so popular? Part of the reason is because the company that is pushing it insists it’s valuable. Rich Thompson, Director of Research for that organization, claims: “If it didn’t do what it’s supposed to do, or if it lacked a solid research-based foundation, it wouldn’t be used by the world’s top organizations.”
That is circular logic. Thompson is saying “If it didn’t work, people wouldn’t be using it!” Isn’t this the same thing that quack “doctors”, peddlers of magic elixirs and miracle cures, and proponents of every now-dismissed social, psuedoscientific, or political policy have always said? Myers-Briggs is junk.
Actually, it’s worse than junk. A long piece from the Atlantic asks why people love it anyway:
Stereotyping people using the test seems risky at best and harmful at worst. In particular, screening potential employees through the MBTI is probably a mistake, since there’s no proof that you can link MBTI to how effective people will be at their jobs.
But even if the test isn’t perfect, people’s infatuation with it shows that it’s quenching some kind of thirst they have for understanding themselves and others.
If Myers-Briggs is garbage, what should you use instead? What tool is the right tool to give to candidates during the hiring process? How should we sort our colleagues by personality type so we know how to deal with people? If not MBTI, what should we use?
Nothing. The biggest problem with personality tests is that they are used inappropriately. You cannot classify the way people think. Personality isn’t like height, weight, and eye color, which stay relatively consistent and are easy to measure. Stereotyping is always a bad idea: if we prejudge people we can’t imagine them doing anything beyond what we’ve already assumed.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to understand ourselves and others. It doesn’t mean there isn’t good science about personality that business can draw upon to help improve communication and collaboration.
The name of that model that is well-supported by research is five factor. But instead of telling you all about it, take some time to think about why you want to use it. If it’s to increase understanding, start researching. But if it’s to divide people, step away.
We don’t need more help stepping apart from each other. We need help finding ways to work together, at the office and everywhere.