MLA Forum
Vol. V, Issue 2, December 15, 2006

Personality Psychology and the Workplace

Paula Storm and Susann deVries, Eastern Michigan University

Personality:  The quality or collection of qualities which makes a person a distinctive individual; the distinctive personal or individual character of a person, esp. of a marked or unusual kind. OED, 2005

Scholars have been fascinated by the study of personality for thousands of years.  From Hippocrates’ (400 B.C.) Four Humours to the Four Temperaments of David Keirsey (1978), F, NT the various aspects of human behavior and character have been analyzed and categorized.  Aristotle (325 B.C.) called them the Four Sources of Happiness; Paracelsus (!550) the Four Totem Spirits; Fromm (1947) the Four Orientations.  Whatever system was used, all sought to explain the various personality types they saw around them. 

Today, diversity is a key goal for the workplace.  The appreciation of diversity, however, goes beyond the differences of race, religion, and ethnicity.  The diversity of personality and the appreciation of the variances of the talents and skills of our coworkers will go far in helping us make our lives less stressful.

The field of Personality Psychology became an identifiable discipline in the 1930s and seeks to be a scientific Study of the whole person that provides a scientific account of human individuality.  It emphasizes internal behavioral determinants such as traits, needs, motives, and the self and aims to synthesize the emotional, cognitive, motivational, developmental, and social aspect of human individuality.

Various modern theories of personality have arisen during the last 70 years.  One of the most famous is Freud’s psychoanalytic theory which stresses the unconscious influences and the importance of sexual drives.  Other notable scholars in this area were: Alfred Adler, Karen Horney, Ivan Pavlov, B.F. Skinner, Abraham Maslow, Erich Fromm, and Carl Jung.

Carl Jung (1875 – 1961) had a background in Freudian theory, but sought to explain human behavior by expanding on those categories of personality traits that could be traced back to Hippocrates.  Jung decided his four personality functions would be:  Sensing, Thinking, Feeling, and Intuition.  In addition, he described two attitudes:  Extroversion and Introversion.

Taking Jung’s theory further, were Katherine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers; two American psychological theorists. This mother and daughter co-created the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).  The MBTI is based on Jung’s theories.

The MBIT measures your preferred ways of thinking and behaving.  It does not measure maturity, intelligence, career potential, or skill level.  More than 2 million MBTI assessments are given annually in the US by Fortune 500 companies, smaller businesses, universities, and non-profit organizations.  It has proven to be a useful tool for career choice and advancement, managing workplace relationships, and determining learning styles.  Though most experts believe that a person’s personality does not change over their lifetime, certain factors can skew the results:  the culture of the workplace, the current work situation, training and upbringing, and stress.

A person’s MBTI profile consists of four letters corresponding to the four areas of personality characteristics measured in the assessment.  The first letter measures the direction of focus and source of energy and is indicated by I for Introversion or an E for Extroversion.  Someone whose score indicated Introversion would have the following traits:

Focus on thoughts and ideas
Think, then speak
Quiet concentration
Inwardly directed
Energized by inner world

In contrast, an Extrovert would be:

Outgoing, gregarious
Energized by outer world
Focused on people, things

The second letter of the profile shows how the person takes in information and is either an S for Sensing or an N for iNtuition.  A Sensor is:

Sequential, step-by-step
Detail oriented
Practical, sensible

The iNtuitive:

Gravitates toward insights and possibilities
Ingenious, imagination
Patient with complex situations
Goes by their hunches, and have a 6th sense

The only trait measured by the MBTI that is sex specific in any way is the third; the way of Coming to Conclusions that is indicated by a T for Thinking or an F for Feeling with the majority of women having the Feeling preference and men having the Thinking preference.

Thinkers are:

Ruled by their head
Reasonable, logical

Feelers are:

Ruled by their heart

The final letter of the MBTI indicated the attitude toward the external world.  The two preferences are J for Judging or P for Perceiving.

Judgers are:

Planned, scheduled
Decisive, settled
Set goals

Perceivers are:

Gathering information

Therefore, the sixteen personality types are:

















Each type has a unique profile and descriptions of these can be found in the list of resources. 

Interestingly, according to a survey done by Mary Jane Scherdin  (LJ, 1995) the profile ISTJ at 16% is the most popular MBTI for librarians, but can be found in only 2.1% of total population.  This discrepancy can be taken into consideration when dealing with the diversity of patrons for whom we interact.


The MBTI measures preferred ways of how people relate to and see the world.  All personality preferences are equally valuable, and each can make a valuable contribution to the workplace.  Myers (1993) associated preference with being left-handed or right-handed.  A person may favor the use of their right hand more often for specific tasks, however that does not mean the left hand can not perform tasks equally as well.  Most people tend to favor the side they are more comfortable with and thus when scraping wall paper, one arm will hurt more than the other the following morning. The same goes for preferences, people may favor one side or the other, but that does not mean they can not tap into the other side as the situation warrants.

If individuals are cognizant of their own personal preferences as well as others, this understanding can lead to a more congenial workplace. Lack of understanding can result in miscommunication and misunderstandings.  As Otto Kroeger (2002) states-“There are no good or bad approaches to resolving conflicts, there are only differences.”  For example, those who feel more comfortable with the judging (J) attitude tend to be more organized and have their “ducks in a row” have a difficult time dealing with colleagues who prefer the perceiving (P) process and are always investigating possibilities.  The opposite types can drive each other crazy in the workplace.  One just wants to get the job completed, while the other is making sure all of the bases are covered.   The perceiver or P, is not trying to drive their colleagues insane, on the contrary, they think they are helping.  On the flip side, the P may look at the J and think they are too closed minded and detail orientated, thus missing the big picture.  Both sides have strengths to offer in the workplace and in group situations- it takes all types to get a job done.  In the workplace, it is imperative to recognize how people operate in relation to others and how individuals can draw on the strengths of others to complete a task.

Understanding preferences help individuals to:

Deal with other people
Contribute more to the workplace
Reduce stress


Preferences are not the biggest influence on a person’s behavior at work.  People behave in different ways in different situations and will adapt their behavior to suit the situation.   It is important to assess the environment at the workplace and determine if colleagues tend to see the “tree” or the “forest.”  If a group is comprised of primarily iNtuitive types, an associate who comfortable using his/her sensing (S) side may draw on his/her least preferred preference to see the proverbial tree and ensure that the group has all the details covered.  It may not be the individual’s preferred way of interacting with data and information, but like using a left hand, it comes in handy to get the job done.

It is also important for individuals to take a look at their training or upbringing. Introverts (I) raised in a family of extroverts (E) may have an easier time socializing at public functions than an introvert raised in a family who is reflective and used to quiet concentration. While this individual may be able to tap into a least preferred preference and function as an extrovert at a party, he or she will need quiet time afterward to recharge and reenergize. 

Z Problem-Solving Model

Isabel Briggs Myers developed the Z Problem Solving Model that can be used by all personality types to solve problems more effectively.  The Z model requires individuals to tap into all four of the middle traits of the MBTI and increases the chances of success without hurting feelings or slowing down the problem solving process.
Problem solving involves four steps:

Gather the Facts- use Sensing to look at the details of the problem at hand
Brainstorm Possibilities- us iNtuition to develop possible causes and solutions to the problem
Analyze Objectivity- use Thinking to consider the cause and effect of each solution to the problem
Weigh the Impact- use Feeling to consider how the people involved in the problem will be affected by the suggested solutions

Final Thoughts

Have you ever noticed that most job descriptions have one line that states “Must have the ability to effectively communicate and work well with others?”  Self-awareness is the foundation of being a better team player. Once individuals appreciate their own strengths and challenges, it will become easy to recognize and acknowledge strengths and challenges in others.


Agada, John. (1998). Profiling librarians with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: studies in self selection and type stability. Education for Information 16, no. 1: 57-69.

Crowe. Sandra A. (1999). Since strangling isn't an option: Dealing with difficult people--common problems and uncommon solutions. New York: Berkley.

Ellis, Albert and Arthur Lange. (1995). How to keep people from pushing your buttons. New York, NY: Carol Publishing Group. 

Jung, C. G. (1976). Psychological types. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Kiersey, David and Marilyn Bates. 1984. Please understand me. Del Mar, CA: Gnosology Books.

Kowalski, Robin M. (2003). Complaining, teasing, and other annoying behaviors. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Kroeger, Otto and Janet M. Thuesen and Hile Rutledge. (2002). Type talk at work. New York, NY: Dell Publishing.

Lundin, William and Kathleen Lundin. (1995). Working with difficult people. New York, NY: American Management Association.

Murphy, Jim. (1994). Managing conflict at work. New York, NY: McGraw Hill.

Myers, Isabbel Briggs. (1993). Gifts differing. Palo Alto, CA: Consulting Psychologists Press.

Riso, Don R. (1995). Discovering your personality type. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Scherdin, Mary Jane and Anne K. Beaubien. (1995). Shattering our stereotype: librarians' new image.  Library Journal July: 35.

Young, Naomi Kietzke and Josephine Williamson. 2002. Tact and tenacity: dealing with difficult people at work. Serials Librarian 42, no. 3/4: 299-304.