The MBTI personality assessment was designed to look at people’s tendencies to use their minds in different ways. So what are these “different ways” and how do you figure out your preference? The best place to start is to look at the four preference pairs, which are the basis for understanding of your MBTI personality type. To recap, people prefer one of each of the following:
• Extraversion* (E) or Introversion (I)
• Sensing (S) or Intuition (N)
• Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
• Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)
*Notice that we’ve spelled it Extraversion instead of Extroversion. While many on the internet often spell the word with an ‘o’, the correct spelling is with an ‘a’. Extra means outside (think of words like extraordinary or extraction, they aren’t spelled extrordinary or extroction…) and while both spellings can be used, we think that people starting using Extrovert because it looked more similar to its counterpart Introvert. We will however spell it Extravert moving forward.
While you can read about each of the preference pairs in-depth, let’s start with the first “letter” you have in your MBTI personality type: Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I). While this happens to be one of the most talked about preference pairs in popular literature, it’s also one of the most easily misunderstood aspects of MBTI personality type, particularly because people tend to associate “Introversion” with shyness. In reality, these two things (Introversion and shyness) have very little to do with each other. While shyness connotes a degree of anxiety about socializing, someone with an MBTI preference for Introversion may not have any more fear or anxiety about social interaction than someone with a preference for Extraversion.
Where We Get Our Energy
The MBTI assessment identifies two basic orientations for how people tend to focus their energy and get their energy. We’re not talking about that mystical “inner energy” but rather people’s energy in their excitement and figurative “battery” that allows people to accomplish things and do things (without needing a nap). People who prefer Extraversion like to focus on and get energy from the outer world of people and activity. They tend to:
• Prefer to communicate by talking
• Learn best through doing or discussing
• Be sociable and expressive
• Readily take initiative in work and relationships
People who prefer Introversion, on the other hand, focus on and get energy from their inner world of ideas and experiences. They tend to:
• Prefer to communicate in writing
• Learn best through mental “practice”
• Be private and contained
• Take initiative when the situation or issue is very important to them
An easy way to understand the Extraversion/Introversion difference is to envision yourself at a party. The key question to ask is not whether or not you want to be there and have a good time, but whether it energizes you to mingle and interact, or does it require that you put energy into it. If hanging out in that kind of setting leaves you with more energy than you had before, that’s probably (but not always) a preference for Extraversion. If you have to expend energy to do it, that’s probably (but again, not always) a preference for Introversion. Of course we’re really simplifying here, even someone who strongly prefers Extraversion may feel drained by having to attend a party with people they dislike, or having to discuss a subject that they’re not even remotely interested in, or if they have to stay for hours upon hours because all the Ubers are busy…but you get the general idea (but if you want more than the “general idea”, get The Ultimate (and Official) Guide to Extraversion & Introversion here.)
Preferences for one or the other personality preference play out in an infinite number of ways, but a more frequently discussed aspect involves work settings. Those preferring Extraversion (for example) like variety, interaction and brainstorming out loud and in groups. On the other hand, those preferring Introversion more often appreciate quiet for concentration and developing ideas internally before sharing them. But it plays into more than even that. Knowing about preferences for Extraversion and Introversion (and knowing your own preference) can help you communicate better with family, friends and significant others. It can help you understand where you need to spend time during your day to make sure you’re not burning yourself out. It can help you manage and prevent stress, set and achieve goals, better focus your career plans, understand how you’re motivated and how you take action on that motivation, and more. And it all starts with self-awareness.
Your Personality is More than the Sum of its Parts
When you take the MBTI assessment, you receive a four letter type, and one of these letters will identify your preference for either Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I). However, your personality type is more than just a collection of four preferences. Think of personality type as being like a four piece musical group, where each player brings their own style, yet is heavily influenced by the playing of the other members of the band. Even more than that, these preferences are only a description of part of your personality – they’re not meant to describe every aspect of what makes you unique. Each of the four preferences interacts dynamically with the other three, thus the same preference for Extraversion is expressed differently in each of the 16 different personality types. And each of those 16 personality types is expressed differently because of people’s different upbringings, brain chemistry, hormones, modes of conflict management, interpersonal needs, and more. But for now, we’ll stick to understanding each of the four preference pairs (otherwise this article would turn into an encyclopedia on neuroscience).
For instance, someone with the personality type of ESTJ is generally described as practical, realistic, matter-of-fact, decisive, efficient and forceful in implementing plans. This is quite different from someone with a type of ENFP who (while sharing the preference for Extraversion) will often be described as warmly enthusiastic, imaginative, spontaneous and flexible, seeing life as full of possibilities. Likewise, those preferring Introversion and Judging (such as ISTJ or ISFJ) tend to be “decisive introverts”, where as those preferring Introversion and Perceiving (such as ISTP or ISFP) tend to be “adaptable introverts”; those preferring EP (ESTP, ENTP) tend to be “Adaptable extraverts” and those preferring EJ (ESTJ, ENTJ) tend to be “decisive extraverts.”
Contrary to Popular Belief, We Are Not Solely Extraverts or Introverts
There’s one other common point of confusion that should be cleared up. In MBTI terminology (used by the psychologists, learning & development managers and professional HR trainers who specialize in this area), people aren’t typically described as simply Extraverts or Introverts, but rather as “preferring” Extraversion or Introversion. In other words, these descriptions aren’t meant to define us, but rather to describe our natural tendencies. Someone preferring Introversion may learn to function quite well in social settings and can easily network with the best of them—they may even get a lot of satisfaction out of it, it just may not be their “shoes off” preferred mode.