Screw You, Myers-Briggs

4 years ago

I’m a postdoctoral research fellow, which is a euphemism for someone who has gone to college for at least ten years but whom the world feels is still not ready to be a fully productive member of society. In fact, I was told on the first day of my postdoc assignment that having only a PhD while working in a medical school is downright embarrassing, and I would need to enroll in new classes right away that would help me grow extra gadget arms and be less useless.

My attitude about this trip back to the classroom changed, however, when I looked at the next class I was scheduled to take:

CRE 252: Professional Development and Communication Skills

Professional development.

The back of my mind immediately began to write the next chapter in my life. I could see it all: wearing pencil skirts, laughing around the water cooler about Johnson getting another parking ticket and sitting in leather chairs discussing synergistic, bottom-line quarterly merger memo faxes. This could be a start of a whole new career path -– a whole new me. It would be me the professional. The images were still abstract, but I liked this version of me. She had quiet dignity. People respected her. She washed her hair at least three times a week. I wanted in.

I thought the first step to becoming a professional would be hiring a personal assistant, but it turned out, for the sake of the class, it was taking a Myers-Briggs personality test, a test that tells you your preferences for interacting with and thinking about the world. This test was going to tell me how I prefer to communicate, then give me gentle, constructive direction on how to be more perfect, which would then allow me to take over the professional corporate world. Once I had a personal assistant.

I answered the questions with genuine curiosity about myself. Would I turn out to be an extrovert or an introvert? I can get up in front of 300 people and lecture for two hours without breaking a sweat. But I’ve also spent upwards of an hour examining fabric patterns in furniture at parties in order to avoid talking to new people.

We received our results on the first day of class, and I opened my 17-page report eagerly, hoping to gain a better vision of my life as a professional -– including tips on pantsuits and hair products. My type: ENFJ, or extroversion, intuition, feeling, judging. According to my report: “ENFJs are typically friendly, diplomatic, compassionate, and empathetic and place a high value on harmony between individuals. They are loyal to people and to their ideals. They are conscientious, persevering, and orderly in getting things done in a timely and caring manner.”

I sat up a little taller in my chair and gazed benevolently at those around me. Go on.

“ENFJs draw out what is best in other people … They like working with people’s potential and helping others grow and develop by focusing on visions, insights, and new ideas.”

There it was, right there on the page. I. Am. Destined. For. Professional. Greatness.

“ENFJs are likely to be most satisfied in a work environment where they can help people achieve their potential. People can count on them to follow through in a concerned and organized manner and to encourage others’ personal growth and development.”

As I read the last words, a reverent hush fell over me. This is no longer just about me and my pantsuit and memos and synergy. This isn’t about a new version of myself or my well-kept hair; this is about a world that needs me. Together with Carl (the assistant I hired in my head), I will help the world rise like a glorious phoenix from the ashes of its broken, bailed-out dreams. This could be a new beginning for all of us.

I could only assume the rest of the 17 pages would reinforce this vision.

Credit Image: jared on Flickr

Extrovert communication style: Very Expressive

“You find it easy to express your feelings and interests to others.” Generally, yes.

“You are seen by others as cheerful, warm, and humorous.” Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but that sounds about right. Scary how accurate this thing is.

“You are easy to get to know.” Well, when you’re inspiring people to reach their full potential, you can’t hold too much back.

“You may sometimes wonder whether you’ve talked too much or said inappropriate or perhaps embarrassing things.” Well, I do --


Wait a second.

Um, somebody? My personality report is broken. It’s suggesting that my preferred way of expressing myself is to make a jackass of myself. There is no way that that is an actual line in my personality report. This must have been a typo. I read on.

“You readily envision what is needed for the future and enjoy strategic planning.” See? That’s better. Now who’s embarrassing and inappropriate?

“You find that practical uses for your ideas may come as afterthoughts.”

This is stupid.

How can a stupid piece of paper pretend to know me or anything about me? On the following a page is a list of ways I can improve every aspect of my communication style; if I’m too one side of a scale, I should consider leaning more the other way -- and for my ambivalent middle-ground items, I should be aware that “people might be confused by your lack of consistency.” You know what Myers-Briggs? YOU’RE an afterthought.

But then I stop myself. I realize that’s just what they want me to do. This is the test, right now, when I can show just how professional I really am. I will collect myself, sit up a little higher, whisper a few clever comments to myself about how Myers and Briggs weren’t loved as children, and smile confidently at the other people assigned to sit at my table. They may be recovering from reading their own reports right now, and will need someone -– someone cheerful, warm, and humorous – to lead them through it. Me, the ENFJ.

My poise was put to the greatest test with the next assignment: work as a team to build a freestanding tower on the floor using only newspaper and tape. One person was supposed to observe how we approached and executed the assignment and then give us feedback on … I don’t know, leadership and communication skills or something. I wasn’t really paying attention. I was designing a tower in my mind.

I paused briefly to show that I valued my team members’ input, then launched into my vision of a triangular pyramid-like creation. A foreign student who I couldn’t really understand started rolling newspaper into a long tube, which I felt like protesting, until I saw its remarkable potential. Potential. Yes. The word reminded me, I am here to draw out the potential in others and let them soar. I provided the plan for the triangular foundation then stepped back and allowed my team members to build a much higher tower than the one I would have been able to build. In the end our tower stood over five feet tall and wasn’t bad to look at. I had to give myself props; I really allowed my team to blossom. And I did such a good job of leading they didn’t even realize it was me who drew it out of them.

When time ran out, I looked around the room in horror at the travesties that challenged us. Two were relatively short and stood on their team’s tables. So much for a tower on the floor. But the third was by far the worst: It was a long tube that was taped to the ceiling and fell all the way to the floor. I’ll let you all recover from the shock. More shocking, however, was that the professor didn’t seem phased by the fact that no one followed the rules; she was going to let us all vote on the “best” one, and from what I could gather, none had been disqualified. How would all my positive leadership skills get us through this?

Looking around, I knew what to do about the cheaters: I had to say embarrassing and inappropriate things. You don’t point out that someone has broken the rules, that would be petty. No –- you ask obvious questions, and then you make backhanded compliments, and do it just loud enough that other people notice.

“Wow, this is really creative, and I can see why you didn’t put it down on the floor like we were supposed to -- it looks nice up here on the table.”

“That’s so brave of you guys to completely disregard the rules of the assignment. I’ve never had that kind of confidence.”

“This is such a cool tube you guys made. Did you make a tower, too?”

And guess what: We won. In the end, I believe I did learn how to be a professional: I took credit for other people’s ideas and sabotaged the competitors whom I felt deserved it. Those may not have been the skills listed on the syllabus, but they sure do come in handy.

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