Personality Tests and Technical Communicators

Personality Tests and Technical Communicators

By Julia Southwick and Bethany Aguad

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Technical communicators, like all other people, have personalities! In this series of articles in Memo to Members, we wanted to examine several personality tests that are currently popular. We will start by explaining why we think this topic merits your interest.

We’ve all heard various descriptors of ourselves and others, from introversion to extroversion and creative to analytical. Very likely, we’ve also all heard of numerous personality tests, including Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), Archetypes, and Enneagram types. None of these tests paint a complete picture of someone’s personality but can provide some insight, especially when combined. We hope to provide some useful information on how these tests can provide tools and a shared language for understanding ourselves and each other as technical communicators.

History of Personality Tests

You might be familiar with many personality tests, without realizing that they have their roots in language analysis. Early personality assessments, like phrenology, assessed personality traits based on physical attributes, like bumps on the skull. In the 1800s, Sir Francis Galton proposed a lexical approach to personality assessment based on his analysis of 1,000 terms used to describe personality in Roget’s Thesaurus. Further researchers applied and refined Galton’s terms based on analyzing human participants (Personality Project). 

Modern-day personality tests first came into vogue in World War I, as the US military assessed soldiers to determine if they might experience shell shock, now known as PTSD (Harvard Business Review). In the 1940s, Raymond Cattell used his own set of 4,000 words to develop his Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF). Since then numerous tests have been developed to help companies determine employees’ strengths or to help individuals understand themselves. 

Personality Types in Technical Communicators

We’ve observed some personality traits technical communicators share. We have heard numerous technical communicators profess to be on the introverted side of the MBTI. Of the technical communicators in our chapter, many have expressed their introverted nature or their love of activities that allow them to recharge and explore their own thoughts. We enjoy opportunities to collaborate but work well on our own. Past STC President Ben Woelk has long advocated for the power of introverts as leaders. In a recent interview with Scott Abel, he retold the story of his first presentation at the STC summit on his journey as an introverted leader, where he was surprised to see a full room.

The original versions of the MBTI were created by Katherine Cook Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers starting in the late 1910s. The first edition called the Briggs Myers Type Indicator Handbook was published in 1944. It was republished as Myers-Briggs Type Indicator in 1956. There was a second edition published in 1985 and a third edition published in 1998. 

The MBTI has eight letters representing different aspects of personality in pairs: I/E, N/S, T/F, and P/J. The letters stand for introvert/extrovert, intuition/sensing, thinking/feeling, and perception/judgment respectively. Each letter set answers one of the following questions: 

QuestionsOption 1Option 2
Where do you get your energy?Introverts (I) – Spending time aloneExtroverts (E) – Spending time with others
How do you take in information?Sensing (S) – Looking at factsIntuition (N) – Getting a vibe
How do you make decisions?Thinking (T) – Using logical thoughtFeeling (F) – Going with your gut
How do you organize your world?Judgment (J) – Planning Perception (P) – Going with the flow

We all have some of each letter in our personality but tend to lean more towards some than towards others. Which letters we lean towards determines what our MBTI is. There are several ways to take this test for free, we recommend using 16 Personalities

Julia’s Experience

I took the test in high school, and then again in college. My latest results from college are INTP. For each of these letters, I was given a percentage for how strongly I am each: Introvert (19%), iNtuitive (12%), Thinking (1%), Perceiving (9%). As you can see, I can easily flip-flop on most of them and Thinking/Feeling especially so.

I am mostly introverted but can play the role of an extrovert depending on the circumstances. If I’m in a group that I click with or talking about a topic I’m passionate about, I may seem more outgoing. However, at the end of a long gathering or event, I’ll need time by myself to recharge my social batteries. Or to put it another way, I love people- but people exhaust me.

When taking in information, I get a vibe for what I’m seeing, hearing, or in the environment I’m in. When making decisions, I think about the vibe and the facts I have. I prefer to use both my intuition and logical thinking skills simultaneously or as close to simultaneously as possible. In my experience, intuition and feeling are very similar just as sensing and thinking are to each other, especially when considering the above definitions. It’s very difficult to separate them.

When it comes to planning my week, I tend to have a loose plan and go with the flow for most changes. I see myself as a person who mostly leans towards perception over judgment. Depending on what is going on, I may want a more solid plan, like for my work events. Generally, I tend to believe plans change as life happens— if someone needs to move a meeting or change responsibilities, I go with the flow and replan because I believe we all have good reasons for needing change.

We Want to Hear from You

No test will ever present a complete portrait of who you are, but many people find them useful for self-reflection or as tools to engage with others. We would love to hear from you about your experience with personality tests. Each test you take will give you a different perspective. Let us know what results you have gotten and how you have found that information to be useful or not. 

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