How The Myers-Briggs Test Can Help You Better Deal With Your Coworkers

 
How to work better with people around you, with a little help from your pals, Isabel Briggs Myers and Katharine Cook Briggs

How to work better with people around you, with a little help from your pals, Isabel Briggs Myers and Katharine Cook Briggs

Trying to get ahead at work, but not sure you have what it takes? We have your back. And if you’re lucky, so too will your well-assembled team, with a little help from the Myers-Briggs test.

The Myers-Briggs personality indicator test, created in 1971, is your secret weapon to finding out what makes you and your colleagues tick, which means working on a team could become much more harmonious, productive, and fun. What's not to love?

A little knowledge can go a long way. According to Dr. Julie Albright, a sociologist at the University of Southern California, and an expert in compatibility and relationships, Myers-Briggs can serve as a great foundation for understanding how you and your colleagues can best relate to one another.

“The best relationships—and this goes for any kind of relationship—are the ones where people are well-matched by personality traits,” she said.

The test uses four sets of opposite traits to divide people into groups based not on shared interests, but on shared patterns in how they tend to interact with the people and world around them. Each of these get put together to create one of 16 unique combinations on personality types, based on these dichotomies:   

Introvert (I) v. Extrovert (E)
Intuitive (N) v. Sensory (S)
Thinking (T) v. Feeling (F)
Judging (J) v. Perceiving (P)

While matching on key qualities in the Myers-Briggs test is important, knowing how to deal with differences is equally so.

“There are certain personality traits that show up in the Myers-Briggs test that you’ll want to either match coworkers on or complement one another on,” said Albright.

Aside from optimizing performance, learning how to minimize conflict through knowledge of these combinations and their associated working styles, is particularly useful when working on small teams or in open office spaces where collaboration is part of your day-to-day.

Albright pointed to three key traits identified in the Myers-Briggs test that she has found to be particularly important for people to mesh on at work:

Introversion/extroversion match

“This is key for team members who work in collaboration,” she said, “because this is the personality trait that defines what energizes you the most.”

She added that introverts tend to choose activities where they can work alone or with fewer social demands, such as writing or other critical thinking tasks, while extroverts become energized by social interaction, such as through client meetings. “Introverts can find an extrovert exhausting,” said Albright. “Making sure tasks fit people's strong suits will bring out the best in them.”

Be mindful, though, not to jump to judgment if someone appears anxious or stand-offish, added Dr. Alice Boyes, a practicing psychologist and author of the book, The Anxiety Toolkit.

“Some people are good at office chit-chat, whereas others may have a more ‘slow to warm’ or gruff or aloof personality,” she said. “Those people may still be very valuable and reliable colleagues, if you take time to learn their strengths and develop relationships.”  

Anal-retentive/anal-explosive match

This doesn’t refer to your bathroom habits, but it does pertain to how clean and organized you keep your shared spaces.

It’s important to match on how you and your co-workers will manage your work environment—and that includes everything from project management to virtual files to attending meetings on time.

It's important not to assume everyone will view situations and have the same preferences you do, said Boyes. Making it a habit to notice—and working to understand differences in work styles, along with preferred organizational and communication methods—can help boost good feels between you and your office mate.

“For an anal-retentive person, order calms his or her mind,” added Albright. “This is someone who takes cleanliness to an extreme. So when an anal-explosive person comes in—and it looks like a bomb went off in the office—it can cause problems.”

Narcissism doesn't need to match

“A narcissist needs an audience,” said Albright. But if there’s any rejection—or perceived rejection—a fragile ego can lead to a big problem in teams or partnerships that include people with the narcissistic trait.

Albright characterized narcissism as a personality issue that comes from a lack of attention or low self esteem. Still, even as a dialed-down version of narcissism, a “need for drama” is a thing, says psychologist Scott Frankowski and his University of Texas at El Paso colleagues in a recent study.

“Narcissists need to feel they are the center of attention and in the spotlight,” said Albright. “Praising the narcissist so they feel reassured in their performance can sometimes stabilize their personality in the work environment.”

Boyes warns that email can be a sore spot for everyone, narcissists and non-narcissists alike, since it’s easy to misconstrue meaning or intent. “The nature of email is that it's hard to get an accurate read on the sender's emotions,” she said. “Try not to excessively personalize comments at work, period.”

Ready to assemble your team? Take the test.

Words: Kristin Marguerite Doidge