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Assessing Type Without Questionnaires

By Carol Shumate

How to Assess Type Without an Instrument, by Carol ShumateWhen John Beebe invited me to co-teach a graduate course on psychological type with him, I was delighted—until I learned that students did not know their types and that I would not be allowed to use an assessment tool with them. As is often the case in life, hardship breeds invention, and I had to find a way to teach students who are completely ignorant of typology to identify their own types without using a validated instrument—and then I had to teach them how to assess others.

We type practitioners have a kind of radar that helps us know when someone’s reported type is not their true type, but it can help to have rules to follow as reminders of what to look for in each type. Like any skill, assessment requires knowledge, training, and practice. To be able to identify the sixteen MBTI® types well requires meeting and assessing hundreds of individuals. Ideally, when assessing others, one should be able to identify a type profile without the aid of any instrument but developing that skill usually requires using the MBTI or a related instrument at first, kind of like training wheels (stabilizers in the UK). Such instruments can help you eliminate some of the sixteen types but should not be relied on exclusively.

A critical aid to accurate assessment is a knowledge of the eight functions. Consider an ESTP and an ESTJ. Without knowing their functions, a practitioner might find it hard to tell them apart. Isabel Myers described their differences as a J/P difference: the ESTJ seeks closure while the ESTP wants to delay closure. However, knowledge of their functions provides far more information about these two types, since all four of their ego functions are in the opposite attitude from each other, which makes for many areas of difference.

Extraverted SensingFor example, the ESTP’s dominant function, extraverted sensation (Se), seeks physical engagement and prefers to live in the moment, with no worries about the future and no regrets about the past. By contrast, the ESTJ’s auxiliary function, introverted sensation (Si), monitors and archives the past, and finds enjoyment in the nostalgia of tradition.

These functions also impact their physical demeanor: the ESTP’s dominant Se often manifests in continual motion and shifting attention, while the ESTJ’s auxiliary Si is a sequencing function that manifests in a focus on priorities. Such oppositions can create considerable conflict, although type trainers often emphasize, for example, how much the sensing types have in common. However, because of their two kinds of sensation, the ESTP likes variety and wants to keep the scenery changing while the ESTJ tends to be a creature of habit.

Introverted SensingFunctions that are the same but opposite in attitude produce the most discord of any of the polarities in Jung’s type system, as Marie-Louise von Franz (1971/2013) observed: “The hardest thing to understand is not your opposite type … but … the same functional type with the other attitude” (p. 52).

Because of the Si/Se opposition, an ESTJ can perceive an ESTP as irresponsibly impulsive, while an ESTP can perceive an ESTJ as enslaved by statistics.

Luckily for us type practitioners, differentiation or development of the preferred functions begins in excess. Like babies learning to use their voices, when we start to differentiate our functions we use them without moderation. The excesses of type often become most evident in adolescents who tend to enjoy exploring and asserting their personalities. Therefore, it can be helpful to ask clients about their childhood and adolescence. Keep in mind that trauma and even geographic moves can influence type, prompting individuals to develop non-preferred functions.

There is however, one thing that tends not to change, even if circumstances force us to live out of a non-preferred type, and that is a person’s physical demeanor. It seems to be the case that gestures and facial animation are difficult to change, even if we have adopted a type that does not match our natural preferences. There are visual and verbal clues to typology that tend to maintain over time, even when individuals have become more well-rounded.

In my urgency to teach students to self-assess, I had to make conscious what many of us type practitioners do unconsciously—pay attention to the subtle aspects of type. That is when I discovered that videos of individuals of different types were the best teaching tools. When the sound is turned off, gestures and facial animation illustrate facets of type even more clearly. Videos and film clips that exaggerate various aspects of type can provide clues that can be correlated with the eight Jungian functions. The wide availability of video has now made it possible for all of us to become experts at assessment, if we know what to look for.

Note: I am preparing a book manuscript on this topic, but workshop participants at the Pearls of Wisdom conference will get a preview.

About the Author

Carol Shumate

Carol Shumate

Since 2013, Carol Shumate (ENFP) has been teaching the course on psychological type at Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria, California, using no assessments to ascertain type. She also co-edits the journal Personality Type in Depth, launched in 2010. Previously, she served on the board of directors for APT International.

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