Back when I was fourteen I sat down with the school guidance counselor. His job was to help me assess what I wanted for a career. There was a questionnaire, some brief discussion, and some vague advice that I promptly ignored and soon forgot.
What he was trying to tell me, way back then, was that I wasn't just like everyone else. I had a certain temperament that would tend to make me more successful at some careers than others. I had already found something I loved doing, electronics and computers, so my ignoring his advice may not have been a terrible thing. What I hadn't realized at the time was how he had come to his conclusions and how useful that knowledge could be.
It was only decades later that I would find out and I would find something much more than choosing the right career. I would find respect, tolerance, and appreciation for all kinds of people. You know the people I'm talking about. They seem to go through life doing everything wrong. Their ideas are nonsensical. Their behavior odd, or worse, inappropriate. Maybe I'm envisioning you right now, if so, you're probably envisioning me in return.
What knowledge of personality types can teach us is that, different though we may be, we all serve a useful purpose. We all have value. It's just that sometimes we can't see it so clearly when that value is so far apart from value we provide.
Step One: Know Thy Self
Before we get too far into the topic I'd like to send you off to complete a personality questionnaire. It won't take long and it's not a test, there are no right or wrong answers, nobody scores higher than anyone else. A word of advice, if you can't decide between two choices, just go with your first impression. Click here to take the Keirsey Temperament Sorter II (opens in new window). I'll see you back here when you're done...
How was your assessment? I hope you found the testing easy.
What personality type were you? If you haven't already, read the overview report you received and follow some of the related links of interest.
Does it describe you, at least to some reasonable degree? For most people it does. The free version of the test report only gives you the broad-brush categorization into one of four types. The detailed reports which you can buy give you much more information and further subdivide your type, Guardian, Artisan, Idealist, or Rational, into four sub-types each. It's worth it to get the details but for the purposes of this article I'm going to stick with Keirsey's Four Temperaments.
Learning About Other Personality Types
Rather than plagiarizing Keirsey's fine work, I'm going to send you back over to his site for some more research. This time, spend a little time and read up on each of the other four types. Start by reading the overview, then follow the related links to each type. (If you're really enjoying yourself go ahead and read about the sub-types.)
Appreciating The Other
What I found when reading about other types was a deeper appreciation for who and what those types bring to society and to my life. I'm a Rational, Inventor (ENTP) type. My polar opposites are Guardians, particularly the Protector (ISFJ). Here's what Keirsey has to say about Inventors and Protectors:
- Inventors are intensely curious and continuously probe for possibilities
- Inventors are always on the lookout for a better way...always aiming to "build a better mousetrap
- Inventors can succeed in many areas as long as the job does not involve too much humdrum routine
- Speculating and experimenting do not intrigue Protectors
- Protectors prefer to make do with time-honored and time-tested products and procedures
- Protectors are willing to work long, hard hours quietly doing all the thankless jobs that others manage to avoid
It wasn't until I saw the contrasts between my type and my opposite that I really started to understand what was going on with all the strange people out there.
In Keirsey's four basic types, Guardians are the opposite of the Rationals, Artisans are the opposites of Idealists. Read up on your opposite. Do you see what I did, that these are people you really don't relate well with? Are these the people you get most into disagreement with?
My type is the best type. Or is that your type? The deal is this, there is no best type.
If I were to imagine a world with only my personality type, Inventors, in it. Well, all I can say is there's a lot of stuff not getting done. There would be lots of good ideas running around but, as Inventor types, we're all so busy thinking up new and better ways to do things that a lot of basic stuff would get missed. Inventors (ENTP) would be the ones who invented the spaceship in Wall-E (a good movie if you haven't seen it yet). We'd invent our way around cooking, cleaning, guarding, fixing, yeah, just about everything that we don't like doing. Where would we be? Spontaneity, compassion, and structure, our Achilles' heels, would be hardly represented in life. We Inventors wouldn't be very happy for very long.
Life needs all of our personality types. There is no best type, though there are best types for different purposes. I want Guardians out there making life safe and stable. I want Artisans making life fun. I want Idealists making the world a better place. I want Rationals working around our human shortcomings.
I Am Not Just A Personality Type
Personality typing goes way back. Plato, whose terms Keirsey adopts, was influential. Carl Jung recaptured and reassessed Plato's work. Isabel Myers-Briggs improved on those ideas. Finally, Keirsey put an empirical underpinning to observation. Keirsey's model is the latest, and in my opinion, most useful revision to the model.
There are only 16 types in the Jungian/Myers-Briggs/Keirsey model. People are, of course, far more complex than that. Personalities are as varied as the humans that contain them. The fact that this approach only focuses on four aspects of personality is a significant limitation. Other approaches, like the Big Five personality assessment, have come up with more dimensions but, again, they are only showing certain aspects of personality and aren't as useful for understanding ourselves and others. We each have many interrelated traits that comprise our personality.
I think of personality this way: Imagine a large control panel with lots of knobs on it, each numbered from 0 to 10. Each knob controls a different aspect of our human nature. Each of us has our knobs set differently. Some knobs are set far away from the middle, these are our peculiarities. Some knobs are tied to emotions and change based on our moods. Other knobs are basically locked in place at birth, hard, if not impossible, to change. What scientists do not presently know is exactly what knobs there are. One thing that is certain, there are far more than 4 or 5.
If there are so many other knobs, how are the 4 of Keirsey's types useful? Well, they do work to describe some important aspects of human personalities. The theory is a limited theory, a model. Models only describe observation, they don't explain why. All we presently have are models, not comprehensive explanatory theories of temperament.
Evolutionary psychology offers the prospect of comprehensive personality theory but the field is hasn't advanced enough to bring us the sort of general answers and comparative self-testing that Keirsey's model gives. When that time comes, and I think it will come, these older models will be replaced with a deeper understanding of what makes humans the way they are. Until that time, let's make use of what works.
I recommend you pick up a copy of Dr. David Keirsey's "Please Understand Me II" and give it a read. It will give you a new appreciation for others and help you understand yourself in ways that are life affirming and, potentially, life changing.