Friday, November 19, 2010

What a Difference a Personality Makes

by Dina Sleiman

News flash. God has wired each of us with a unique personality!!!

Okay, maybe that’s not news to anyone. Yet isn’t it true that we often struggle to understand the differences between ourselves and others. We tend to think that our way of viewing the world, making decisions, or dealing with life is the right way, and everyone else’s is wrong. But the truth is, God has given us different sorts of wiring. Different motivations in life. In the Bible we see a variety of motivational gifts that God has given to people. He wants each of us to serve a different function in the body of Christ, and each of us is needed. If we try to squelch or change our internal wiring, we are doing a disservice to God, to ourselves, and to others. Therefore it is helpful to learn about what makes people tick in order to understand and appreciate these differences.

My undergraduate degree is actually in a little known field called Interpersonal Communications. Probably the most valuable tool I took from that education is a personality indicator used by psychologists called the Meyers Briggs assessment. I love this test for a number of reasons. In general, personality tests help us better understand ourselves and our unusual little quirks. They also assist us in understanding others who have vastly different personalities than our own.

I prefer the Myers Briggs test because it breaks down to sixteen different personality types and is more targeted and specific than any other test I have found. Another reason I prefer it, is because it is well known and you can find a number of excellent websites and books that talk in detail about these personality types.

The Myers Briggs assessment looks at four aspects of human characteristics. Keep in mind that everyone has all of these traits to some degree, and it’s good to be balanced, but that we lean more heavily towards one or the other.

Introvert vs. Extrovert – This has to do with how you are energized. It is not about how shy or social you are. An extrovert is energized by the outward world of people and things. An introvert is energized by their inner world. An extrovert is always up for a party and comes home excited and full of energy. An introvert may enjoy the party, may even be the life of the party while there, but will be exhausted by the end and need to go home and regroup. Extroverts need to process things with others. Introverts need to process things alone. Extroverts quickly grow lonely and have a stronger need for others. Introverts are content with their own company.

Sensory vs. INtuitive – This has to do with what you pay attention to. Sensors focus on the five senses and on facts. Intuits focus on what might be called a sixth sense. Sensors are very aware of their surroundings whereas intuits might drift off into their own head. Sensors tend to seem more grounded in realism than intuits. Sensors deal with basic information and intuits tend to take in information, but interpret and add their own meaning to it.

Thinkers vs. Feelers – This has to do with how you make decisions. A thinker takes into consideration logic and reason only. A feeler takes into consideration people and their emotions. Feelers incorporate values and beliefs into their decisions. If you change how a thinker thinks about a subject, their feelings will naturally follow. If you change how a feeler feels about a subject, their thoughts will naturally follow. I have found you can best tell your preference in this category by asking yourself, “If logic and feeling are in opposition to each other, which would I regret not following?”

Judgmental vs. Perceptual – This has to do with how you live and work. A judger prefers to be planned and organized. A perceiver prefers to be spontaneous and flexible. Judgers are strict on themselves about keeping commitments and following rules. Perceivers view commitments as something they will probably do and view rules as suggested guidelines. Judgers tend to be on time and be early for deadlines. Perceivers tend to be late and procrastinate. Judgers like to know where they are going and how to get there. Perceivers like to go with the flow and respond to where life might take them.

By finding your letter preference in these four categories, you discover your four letter personality type. For example, I am an INFJ (which is both the rarest personality type in normal people and the most common personality type in novelists by the way). I can go online and find career advice, relationship advice, my strengths and weaknesses, etc…by looking up these four letters. Different books and websites have varying views, so I recommend you look at several. This website is a good place to start. It is full of exhaustive information. Be sure to scroll over the little icons for the links and also to look at the bottom of each page for sublinks.

If you would like to take the Myers Briggs test for free, here is a good version

* Now, an extra note for all the writers in the audience. As writers, these tests can help us to write consistent characters with distinct personalities and clear motivations. My new contemporary novel is a sisterhood type of book with three main female characters. These three women needed to have enough in common to be drawn to one another, yet still have distinct personalities. So I chose a Myers Briggs type for each of them and used that to help with their characterizations. When I wanted to know what would be a good career for one of my girls, I could easily look it up online. When I wanted to know what type of man would be a match for them or how they would respond to stress I could look it up. Pretty cool, huh. And for a bonus lesson on how your personality type affects you as a writer, read the last portion of this similar post from my personal blog.

So whether you are a writer or not, I strongly recommend that you learn more about the unique wiring that God has given to you and those around you. Learn how to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. Learn how to communicate better. Learn about the special characteristics in your friends, families, and co-workers, and allow each of them to shine as the unique individuals God has created them to be as well.

Do you recognize yourself or someone you know in any of these preference types? Do you know your four letter type and would you share it with us? What unique gifts and wiring has God given you?


  1. I found this fascinating the first time I did it as part of a day long workshop at a small company I worked for. We used it to find out what personalities flourished in different parts of the business. I was involved a second time at my last job.

    It really helped me understand ME. I'm an ISTJ, and I test as an Extreme I. So true. I love my alone time! and it explains why I sometimes have to withdraw. I'm very task oriented and can make a good leader. Someone has to do it. But I'd like to be more people oriented. I'm not unfeeling but being too practical can sometimes come off that way. Now I know where I can improve in my personal relationships. That's the best part of this. We know more of what to expect from ourselves and our friends, family and co workers. Understanding helps communication.
    ISTJs want clear direction or they'll founder--or take over! Okay, back to my the internet and back to my WIP. Have a great weekend, everyone!

  2. I'm an INFJ too Dina. But my F and T are very close. In fact, I had to laugh at myself when I was reading your post and you asked the question: “If logic and feeling are in opposition to each other, which would I regret not following?”

    My immediate thought was, "Well it would depend on the circumstances!" I deal with this all the time... :o)

  3. Hi Deb, great example of how this test can be helpful. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Okay, Lisa. Here's one of my personal theories on this. I think the older you get, the clearer your preferences become as you grow into being yourself instead of meeting the expectations of others.

    For example, they don't even test for thinking vs. feeling with young children because they're still experimenting and learning which works best for them.

    I also think the J vs. P preference has a lot to do with how you're raised and might change once you get out on your own.

    In college, only one letter was crystal clear for me. The N for intuit. The others, I was so close to 50/50 that my test results would sometimes vary. I had to study the descriptions, and when I did I felt INFJ fit best. Now that I'm older, my test results are definitive and consistent.

  5. Hey Dina and Inkies,
    ISFJ here. I've always loved the Myers Briggs and being in the mental health profession as well as the writing profession I recognize its value.
    Great post! So for those of you who know me, does it fit? :)
    Happy Thanksgiving!

  6. I always empathized with Mr. Spock rather than Capt. Kirk. But no one stands alone. We all need the variables of others for balance. I know it would be an awful world if everyone was like me! And I like me.

    You're right, Dina, the older you get the more comfortable you are with your own wiring and operate less on the feedback of others. I will probably have my h/h take the test before my last run through of edits.

  7. Good morning, ladies! I am an INFJ too. I'm close to an E, however. I need society (to use a Regency-esque term) more than other "I"s I know.

    How interesting that this is the most rare personality type. What's the most common, Dina?

  8. Okay, I'm gonna take the test again. Like Lisa, I had issue with some (okay, many) of the questions. They were to either-or. Well, sometimes the circumstances change my response.

    The question that irritated me the most was "do you value justice over mercy?" Well, no. But neither do I value mercy over justice.

    I hate either-or questions.

    Stupid test.

    Oh, I was an INFP. But my scores in F and P were fairly low. While I consider myself more of an introvert, I don't act introverted in a group setting. I'm a good faker.

    Off to take the test again.

  9. Allrighty. Let's look at the first question: You are almost never late for appointments.

    My first answer was no. I'm late all the time. But then when taking the test again, I got to thinking how I'm rarely late for a scheduled appointment. However, I'm always late for church.

    I hate taking tests that ask such black-white questions.

  10. Here's another stupid question: You are more interested in a general idea than in the details of its realization.

    General idea as in, like, a high-concept pitch? General idea as in "Mom, I want to play soccer?"

    With the former, I'm good with. Unless it's a vague concept. Then I need details. For example, the tv show The Event is Lost meets 24 meets Battlestar Galatica. Well, I'm familiar with all three series so I get the general idea.

    With "Mom, I want to play soccer?" my response focuses on teh details. Why? Do you know playing soccer increases risk for brain damage? Let's talk cost. You don't even like soccer, so why play?

    I hate questions that make me think too much about how to answer.

  11. I think I've come across the most idiotic question on the quiz.

    12. You believe the best decision is one that can be easily changed.

    Hello. If it's the best decision then why change it? If the best decision is one that can be changed, then inherently it's not the best decision because the best decision is the one that the decision is changed to. Grrr.

  12. You take pleasure from solitary walks.

    If I took solitary walks, I'd take pleasure in them...until I got bored. I'd rather read a book or socialize with friends.

    I think I'm totally over-analyzing this test.

  13. Test first round: INFP 56/38/12/11

    Test second round after analyzing every question: INFJ 44/44/12/22

    Good thing to know I'm consistent on my feelings, which score fairly low so I'm feeling rather sad...and heartless. Thanks, Dina, for helping me waste an hour and end up feeling worse at the end of it. ;-)

  14. Sorry for sounding grumpy. I did have fun taking the test and complaining about it. Not that I was really complaining. Just being a drama queen. ;-)

  15. Okay, I was wondering why the sudden jump from 4 comments to 14 while I spent a few hours with a crit group. Now I know. They're almost all Gina.

    Gina, if you think a question is stupid, it's because you're totally not that thing. If you can't make up your mind, your probably pretty balanced in that area.

    And to not be helpful at all...I can usually peg my friends, but on you I couldn't decide between the J and the P. I think you're a J when it comes to value judgements, but more of a P in how you handle time and schedules. See. No help. If you want to waste a few more hours you could study the profiles and see which best fits you :)

  16. Hi Jill, nice to see you. Glad to hear you like the test since you're the pro. I need to read up on ISFJ since I don't have any of those in my family. For me, the S is the hardest to relate with because I'm insane off the charts N. I barely live in the real world at all.

  17. Suzanne, without even meeting you in person I would have guessed INFJ.

    You know, I'm not sure what the most common type is. In general NF combo's are rarer than other types, so probably some sort of ST, which is my middle son and husband, salt of the earth type people. I've read in several different articles that INFJ's are the rarest and hard for others to understand because they are sort of mystical and keep a part of themselves hidden away.

  18. By the way, Lisa, I would have had a hard time deciding between the F and T for you.

  19. Dina, I had to take this test when I worked in Guest Services at CBN. My poor ADD self almost hit the roof because it was so long!!!
    One of the vice presidents (who is now working in Branson) had about the same attention span as me.... so Gina, I'm with you girl...

    I took the 72 questions as fast as I could and ta da.... I now know that I am an Introvert drowning in an ocean of sensory,feeling and perception. It proved that my world can be a very scary place.

    So the "gifts and wiring" can be a challenge, but also what I needed to place my dependency on Jesus.

    Blessings!! And thank you!

  20. I don't remember such awful questions when I took it years ago. I have to say I way over analyze things and of course there are always situations that make you choose one or the other.

    Do you value justice over mercy? yikes.

    Is there a question on there about how much you love the end of the workweek and the start of a weekend?

  21. Dina, I think you're accurate in saying "I think you're a J when it comes to value judgements, but more of a P in how you handle time and schedules."

    Circumstances/situations influence if I'm more Judgmental or Perceptive. Yay, I'm a toss-up. But apparently Lisa is a toss-up too.

    Cheryl, my frustration wasn't with the number of questions but the phrasing of the questions.

    Dina, what do you score on N? I know you're more internal than I am. I'm curios to know how you answered the questions on following rules and status-quo verses trying something out of the box. My theory is you're more of a rule-breaker than I am.

  22. Hey, Cheryl, I thought about your "introvert drowing in feelings, perceptions, and judgement" line. I decided that while I'm introverted when it comes to needing to recharge, I also realize that being around deep introverts makes me more extroverted. Whereas being around extreme extroverts causes me to sit back and watch.

    Does anyone else do that?

  23. I agree Gina, and I was thinking about that after Cheryl's remark too. Where is the question about being ADAPTABLE?

    Thanks Dina for prompting an enjoyable conversation and reminding me to use this test.

  24. Cheryl, wait, you work at CBN??? Do I know you from there? Am I failing to put 2 and 2 together somewhere? Were you at my class this summer? Am I losing my mind? Talk about living in my own head, lol.

  25. Gina, on the rules thing, you're right, I am looser on rules than you, but I still turn out as a J. Whoever asked about adaptability, basically that would be a P trait. I mentioned, we all have all of these to some extent. It's all about the one you prefer. The more you study this, you find that most healthy, well-balanced people are towards the middle.

    As for me and the N, I'm like 95% or something ridiculous like that. I'm balanced on the other three.

    I honestly think this test is most beneficial to help us understand others, although of course, no one is a perfect cookie cutter.

    But seriously, if you're a writer, try applying this to your characters and see what happens.

  26. Oh, and Gina, I seemed like a total extrovert at the ACFW conference. When I see people more introverted than me, I just want to help them feel comfortable, so I end up being more outgoing. But put me with a bunch of true extroverts, and I get overwhelmed and clam up.

  27. Gina, I do the same thing too, I think it's the feeling part so when I see someone else struggling more than me, the desire to help wells p and I try to draw them out of their shell.

    Dina, characterization didn't come natural to me. So I've used the book Please Understand Me for awhile. It is really helpful. Right down to the which types make the best matches.

  28. Dina! Loved my time in VA Beach! I was there from (dare I say?) 1983-1990. Went to Regent, worked at CBN, met my husband and moved to St.Louis after he graduated from the law school.

    I would have loved to have been in your class, but no...sigh...

  29. Cheryl, that's so cool. My husband works at CBN and we're both Regent graduates. He was telecom and I was writing.

    So glad to hear I'm not losing it. I taught a writing class this summer and had several students from CBN. One was named Sharon, and I thought, what if I got it wrong and it was Cheryl. Ha ha.

  30. Lisa, the book sounds great. Did they use Myers-Briggs or some different sorts of categories? I know Gina has mentioned using the Biblical motivational gifts. I've actually used the motivational gifts several times to make my characters more likeable in the beginning of the story.

  31. Dina, I also like using a birth order book to begin the foundation of a character.

  32. Well I am definitely an ENFJ. I am totally atypical at that. I am the type that gets my energy from others and needs to work through things with others.I do tend to lean towards my feels and that can led to trouble at times but also does benefit me. I do give others the benefit of the doubt even after they have hurt me countless times. I love this post and also find I write my characters with the same type of personality traits that I possess.

  33. The first time I took this, it was my writers group. All but one of us amongst 20 women were INFJ. The one who was an INFP ended up trashing her career because she could never meet a deadline.

    My husband is an ENTJ. I think realizing that that was the wrong personality for the career he was in is what decided him to go to law school after all. So, for our personality types, we are in the right careers. And coincidentally, interests, too. The I/E thing does cause conflict at times, more than the F/T thing, which one might think would. I just want to be quiet in my cave, but he wants to socialize. I dated a guy for a long time who was an S. didn't realize that was my major problem with him until I learned this stuff.

    I use this a lot in caracter development. Birth order, too, yes. I am so typically a second daughter.

  34. Hi Louise. Writing your heroine with your basic personality probably works, but make sure you shake things up for the other characters or the book might feel flat.

    That being said, I wrote my first heroine, Dandelion, as an ENFJ like you.

  35. Laurie Alice, I've read its most important to match your spouse on the N vs. S preference. Often they will say your pefect match shares the intuitive or sensory quality and is an opposite on the other three. I don't know though, I would think a hardcore P with a hardcore J would be like the television odd couple and drive each other crazy.

  36. Hmm, have to correct an early comment now that Laurie Alice has me thinking about spouses. My middle son is an SJ, ESTJ to be exact. But my husband is ENTJ. I used to think he might be S, only because he's much more so than I am. But, compared to my son, you can tell he's an N. Plus, the ENTJ profile fits him perfectly. My other two children are both ENFJ. It's interesting seeing the difference between the girl version and the boy version.

  37. Yep, Dina. Please Understand Me uses the Myers-Briggs. It is by David Keirsey and I highly recommend it! I actually have Please Understand Me II now.

  38. Sounds cool, Lisa. I'll need to get that.


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