Type dynamics - who's in the driver's seat?

Posted 24 Sep 2012 by Helen Rayner
Type Tables

Type dynamics as defined by the MBTI instrument is a bit like a family car, with driver, navigator, and a couple of passengers in the back. But to make the analogy work we need to set out a basic type dynamics road map.

The MBTI questionnaire assesses preferences in four distinct areas or pairs:

The questionnaire aims to find out which side of these four preference pairs the respondent favours. There is recognition and acknowledgement that we use all eight preferences in our daily lives. However, type theory say that we prefer one side of the preference pair over the other. As such, it is impossible to have preferences for both Extraversion and Introversion or Sensing and iNtuition, etc. We cannot prefer both even though we use both.

Using the combinations outlined above, a respondent can be one of sixteen possible types. These range from ESTJ through to INFP or any combination in-between. In Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Type (1980), Isabel Briggs-Myers wrote: “In combination, the four preferences determine type, but the [characteristics] that result from each preference do not combine to influence an individual’s personality by simple addition; instead, the [characteristics] result from the interaction of the preferences.”

My simple analogy of the family car can help to understand combinations and the interaction of the preferences. One aspect of our personality is like the driver of the vehicle. It is what we rely on and use regularly, the most trusted aspect of our personality: this is the dominant function. The second aspect of our personality is like the navigator in the passenger seat – we find them useful in some situations, perhaps for conversation or when we need assistance along the way: this is the auxiliary function. In the back of the vehicle we have the teenager. They are becoming mature so on some occasions they can come up trumps and at other times they are not much use: this is the tertiary function. Finally, in the other seat at the back of the vehicle is the baby. This is the aspect of our personality that is least developed. It can start crying when we are stressed and tired. We tend to shy away from using this aspect of our personality, as it can feel quite childish when we do.

Type example ESTJ

When working with type dynamics, there is one key piece of information to retain. The Judging and the Perceiving preferences always act to extravert their functions. So how would we go about working out the mechanics of type dynamics? Let’s take someone with preferences for ESTJ (see diagram above). It can seem a bit counter-intuitive but we actually start at the end! We do not need to worry about the E, the S and the T at the moment so those have been greyed out. All we are concerned about is the J.

Remember the key piece of information we need to retain when working out the mechanics of type dynamics? The Judging and Perceiving preferences are always extraverted. At the beginning of this post I introduced Sensing and iNtuition as perceiving functions, while Thinking and Feeling are the judging functions. As such, we know that the first step here is for the Judging Function (in this case, Thinking) to be extraverted. We represent this by adding a small ‘e’ next to the T (see second figure in diagram).

The next step is to counterbalance the extraversion with introversion. We continue to move from right to left. We therefore balance the Sensing and make that introverted. This is represented by adding a small ‘i’ next to the S (see third figure in diagram).

How do we know which function is the dominant one? Is it Extraverted Thinking or Introverted Sensing? Well, we look to the first letter, E. We know that the preferred world of the ESTJ is Extraversion. As such, their dominant function is extraverted.

For someone with preferences for ESTJ, we now know this much about their type dynamics:

How about the Tertiary and Inferior functions that I mentioned? Well, those are a kind of reverse mirror image of what we are dealing with in relation to the Dominant and Auxiliary functions. The opposite of Introverted Sensing is Extraverted Intuition. However, the jury is still out on whether the Tertiary function is extraverted or introverted. When we are discussing the Tertiary function, we do not talk and think about it in terms of it being extraverted or introverted. Instead, we would simply say that the Tertiary function is Intuition.

1. Dominant function: Extraverted Thinking

2. Auxiliary function: Introverted Sensing
2. Tertiary function: Intuition

Notice how I have used the line and numbering here to help act as a mirror in relation to the functions.

Finally, how about the Inferior function? If we continue with the reverse mirror image then we know that the opposite of Extraverted Thinking is Introverted Feeling. As a consequence, Introverted Feeling is the
Inferior Function of someone who has preferences for ESTJ.

1. Dominant function: Extraverted Thinking

2. Auxiliary function: Introverted Sensing
2. Tertiary function: Intuition
1. Inferior function: Introverted Feeling

Again, notice how I have used the line and numbering here to help act as a mirror in relation to the functions.

If you are working out type dynamics for the first time in a while, it can be helpful to write it out (or type it out) using the arrows. Once you have the dominant and auxiliary functions, instead of writing along the page, it can be useful to write in a vertical list format to help with the reversed mirror image aspect.

I hope this post has provided a useful refresher of type dynamics. If you would like to clarify the mechanics of a particular type, please feel free to leave a comment and I will come back to you.

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