Gifts Differing is one of the founding works on Jungian personality types, and provides an easy to use framework for understanding ourselves on four key dimensions leading to 16 different personality types. It also explains our interactions with others including partners and work-place colleagues. From the founders of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator test. Key insights:
We perceive the world through the five senses (Sensing), or via the mind’s eye (iNtuition); and one makes decisions based on logical reasoning (Thinking), or felt emotions (Feeling)
We have a preference to deal with real world things (Extroversion), or inner world concepts or ideas (Introversion)
We have a preference to gather information (Perceiving), or be decisive in making decisions (Judging)
Four preferences (E/I, S/N, T/F, P/J) give rise to 16 personality types such as INTJ, or ESFP
Each type has different strengths and weakness in relation to the four key processes of sensing, intuition, thinking, and feeling
Learn your type and where you sit on the range for each dimension (say from full extrovert to full introvert)
Learning to type profile others can help you understand them better and have more productive interactions
Type alignment matters for intimate relationships; too much and you may lack diverse thinking, too little and you might consistently disagree on everyday matters
Children’s personality type can influence the rate of learning; for example, children high in intuition pick up concepts more easily
Different careers lend themselves to different personality types
Full title: Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Type. By Isabel Briggs Myers, with Peter B. Myers
Length: 256 pages, or 8 hours and 21 mins on Audible
Key insight 1: Four temperaments based on gathering information and making decisions
Gifts Differing starts with a discussion on how we engage with the world by gathering information (what they call ‘perceiving’) and making decisions (called ‘judging’). These two steps sit between events happening in the world that we can sense, and the actions we take after we’ve made decisions as shown below:
They articulate two methods for each as summarized below.
(S/N) Two ways of perceiving information. Jung describes in Psychological Types that humans have two ways of perceiving the world. The first is to use our five senses to literally sense the world, the other is by intuition in which we use the mind’s eye to intuit abstract ideas, concepts, or relationships. These two perceiving possibilities are known as the sensing/intuition dimension and are given the letters S/N. From the authors:
“When people prefer sensing, they are so interested in the actuality around them that they have little attention to spare for ideas coming faintly out of nowhere. Those people who prefer intuition are so engrossed in pursuing the possibilities it presents that they seldom look very intently at the actualities.”
Jung posits that from childhood we choose a preferred way of seeing the world, and then as we grow we become better at that method of perception, and ultimately prefer activities related to that method.
(T/F) Two ways of judging information. When making decisions through the exercise of judgment there are two broad options available to us. One way is to think through a problem with logic and reasoning to arrive at an impersonal decision. The other way is to feel the substantive personal and subjective values at play in the problem to arrive at a decision humanistic decision. For a given problem these two approaches – thinking / feeling – will likely arrive at different decisions. Letters T/F are assigned to this dimension. From the authors:
“In judging the ideas presented here, a reader who considers first whether they are consistent and logical is using thinking judgment. A reader who is conscious first that the ideas are pleasing or displeasing, supporting or threatening of ideas already prized, is using feeling judgment.”
The two ways of perceiving, leading to two ways of judging are shown below.
It follows that there are four ‘temperaments’ that form based on the above. These are identified in Gifts Differing as described below:
Key insight 2: Inner or outer world, gathering information or making decisions
The authors go on to identify two more dimensions of personality covering a preference for the inner or outer world, and how one engages with the world on a day-to-day basis. These are described below.
(E/I) Preferring the inner or outer world. Another basic difference between people is their relative interest in the inner world of concepts or ideas, versus the outer world of people and things. Thus when circumstances permit, the introvert concentrates their perception and judgment faculties on ideas; while the extravert focuses them on the real world situation. An example from the book might help:
“Among sensing/thinking (ST) types, the introverts (IST) organize the facts and principles related to a situation; this approach is useful for economics or law. The extravert sensing/thinking types (EST) organize the situation itself, including any idle bystanders, and get things rolling, which is useful in business and industry. Things usually move faster for the extraverts; whilst they move in a more considered direction for the introverts.
Among the intuitive/feeling (NF) people, the introverts (INF) work out their insights slowly and carefully, searching for eternal verities. The extraverts (ENF) have an urge to communicate and put their inspiration into practice. If the extraverts’ results are more extensive, the introverts’ may be more profound.”
(P/J) Preferring perception or judgement in dealing with the outer world. One final dimension rounds out the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) – the preference we have toward perception of new information, or making judgments with existing information. The letters assigned here are P/J. Although we all use both systems, we cannot use both at the same time, and we have a preference for one over the other when circumstances allow.
People with a preference for judgment are quicker to decide all the evidence is in and it is time to make binding decisions. People with a preference for perception however, believe more relevant information is yet to arrive, developments will occur that change events, and that it isn’t time yet to make binding decisions.
“This preference makes the difference between the judging people who order their lives, and the perceptive people who just live them. Both attitudes have merit. Either can make a satisfying way of life, if a person can switch temporarily to the opposite attitude when it is really needed.”
The graphic below shows the interaction of these four preferences in action. The solid versus dashed lines show how the E/I preference, and P/J preference interact with the S/N and T/F preferences as described in the paragraphs above.
Key insight 3: The General and his family of 16 types
16 unique types. It should be clear now that different personality styles (or types as the author calls them) result from different combinations of preferences amongst the four traits discussed above (E/I, S/N, T/F, AND P/J). The mathematically inclined will realize that four sets of two options results in 16 possibilities (24 = 16). The table below shows the 16 types with common ‘type nicknames’, a type slogan, and their frequency across the US adult population for males and females. The top careers for each type are also provided. Note this information is from various sources external to this book.
Dominant, auxiliary, tertiary and inferior processes. In Gifts Differing the authors introduce a the concept of dominant and auxiliary processes. Just as a ship has only one captain to set direction, so to do we have a dominant and secondary ways of interacting with the world. Here’s a few quotes from Gifts Differing which pull the dominant and auxiliary concept together (note a summary table is coming to pull this together):
“This phenomenon, of the dominant process overshadowing the other processes and shaping personality accordingly, was empirically noted by Jung in the course of his work.”
“One perceptive process (S/N) and one judging process (T/F) can develop side by side, provided one is used in the service of the other. But one process – sensing, intuition, thinking, or feeling – must have clear sovereignty, with opportunity to reach its full development if a person is to be really effective.”
“If the dominant process is a is a judging one (T/F), the auxiliary process will be perceptive (S/N).”
“In addition to supplementing the dominant process in its main field of activity, the auxiliary has another responsibility. It carries the burden of supplying adequate balance (but not equality) between extraversion and introversion, between the inner and outer worlds. For all types, the dominant process becomes deeply absorbed in the world that interests them most, and such absorption is fitting and proper. It is where they can do their best work and function at their best level.
The authors’ note that in extroverts, the dominant process, being extroverted, is visible and conspicuous; and is therefore immediately apparent. The reverse is true for introverts; where the dominant process is habitually and stubbornly introverted such that they tend to use their auxiliary process for dealing with the outside world. From the book – and I think this is really important:
“A good way to visualize the difference is to think of the dominant process as the General and the auxiliary process as his Aide. In the case of the extravert, the General is always out in the open. Other people meet him immediately and do their business directly with him. They can get the official view point on anything at any time. The Aide stands respectfully in the background or disappears inside the tent.
The introvert’s General is inside the tent, working on matters of top priority. The Aide is outside fending off interruptions, or, if he is inside helping the General, he comes out to see what is wanted. It is the Aide who others meet and with whom they do their business. Only when the business is very important (or the friendship very close) do others get to see the General himself.”
If an extravert’s type ends in J, the dominant process is a judging one (T/F); if it ends in P, the dominant process is a sensing one (S/N). For introverts the opposite is true, as they use their auxiliary process in dealing with the external world. Thus for introverts, the J or P in their type reflects the auxiliary process instead of the dominant process. Thus if an introvert's type ends in J, the dominant process is a perceptive one (S/N); if it ends in a P, the dominant type is a judging one (T/F). I know it’s confusing, but hang in there for the summary table coming.
Other MBTI researchers since Gifts Differing was published have taken this concept further, introducing the concept of a tertiary process (third most important perception/judgement process), and an inferior process (the fourth and last perception/judgement process). For fun I’ve added the visual image of a Teenager and Baby to reflect the tertiary and inferior processes alongside the General and Aide. The table below summarizes all four processes for each type, with the grey shading show the process seen by others most often.
How to read the table above? I’m an INTJ and here are the conclusions I draw (look for INTJ row):
My most developed and preferred process is to use intuition for gathering information from the world. This is what my General excels at.
My Aide supports my General by using thinking for decision making. If I have to decide something, logic and reason rule the day. This aspect of personality is what the world mostly sees me as (see grey shading above).
When needed I can use feeling for decision making, but I’m not great at it and need to focus on it. I’m like a Teenager when using this process.
My least developed process – the one I’m not very good at – is using sensing to gather information from the world. This limitation is likely to be the cause of most mistakes or errors in my life unless I recognize the shortfall and be deliberate in trying to overcome or avoid them. This is my Baby process.
How about you? Find your type in the table above and be deliberate in writing down the key insights for you.
Other insights from Gifts Differing
4. Understand your type. Take the time to understand your type and what it means in terms of strengths and weaknesses, career choices, and which processes the General, Aide, Teenage, and Baby in ‘your’ team perform.
5. Learn how to type profile others. Here’s the process. When gathering info are they more interested in tangible facts detectable by the senses, or using the mind’s eye to intuit information (S/N)? When making decision do they use their cold hard logical faculties, or their softer emotional ones (T/F)? Is more time spent on gathering information, or are they quick to make decisions (P/J)? Is their general interest in the outer world of people and things, versus the inner world of concepts or ideas (E/I)? But remember one’s type reflects their preferences not their immutable characteristics.
6. Think about two-way type in your interactions with spouse, child, or colleague. What might the point of difference between an INTJ and an INTP be? Answer – the P/J dimension – in which one is want to make quicker decisions than the other. What might the approach differences between an INTJ and ESFP be?
7. Type and marriage #1. Alignment in type is the norm and helps, but differences can be over-come. Random chance suggests couples would align on 2 of 4 dimensions; however the actual distribution is all 4 aligned (9%), 3 dimensions aligned (35%), two dimensions aligned (33%), only one dimension aligned (19%), and no dimension aligned (4%).
8. Type and marriage #2. If a couple has 3 or 4 aligned dimensions, the couple might suffer from a lack of diverse thinking (i.e. two thinkers with no feeling element). IF a couple has 2 or less aligned dimensions, there may be continual problems in how to manage life’s problems due to personality differences. In the later case, you can minimize problems by mutually seeking insight into the dimensions where you differ and coming up with plans to understand and leverage the differences.
9. Type and early learning. Children develop their approach to learning by age 3. The ability to learning new things – such as reading – is influenced by type. Understanding that letters stand for sounds comes faster to IN children than ES, so the latter group need more support. In latter school topics S types want to know ‘what’ is happening and ‘how’ it occurs, whereas N types need to understand ‘why’ something happens.
10. Aligning career and personality. When selecting a career, or a new job within an industry, look for a role that allows you to use your preferred perception and judgement styles as much as possible. These are the General and Aide roles above.
Why you should read this book if you’re under 30
“Know thyself” was first used by Greek play-write Aeschulus around 480BC and has been cited by writers and philosophers ever since.
It was also one of three Delphic maxims inscribed on the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo in the 4th century BC. Today – some 2500 years later there are great gains to be had for all of us in the quality of our everyday lives through a better understanding of ourselves, and those we interact most frequently with.
Relationship to other Eruditeable books
#1 – The Algebra of Happiness. This book is a broader approach to life happiness, but does touch on the importance of partner choice, an issue which is covered in Gifts Differing.
#3 – Atomic Habits. This book focuses on the development of good habits (and elimination of bad ones), topics which can be better comprehended through an understanding of your own personality.
#4 – The Defining Decade. This book encourages 20 somethings to use their 20-29 years wisely, which includes prioritizing career and serious relationships. Gifts Differing helps you understand what career options may suit you best, whilst also understanding how to interact with others around you.
#7 – Emotional Agility. This book deals with how we develop our life narrative and react to adverse situations; both of which are influenced by personality. For example, and INTJ is likely to be less emotional than and ESFP.
#12 – Loserthink. This book suggests thinking like an artist, economist, engineer, and other professions as a way to gain perspectives on different problems. Given these professions have largely different types, it confirming the point in Gifts Differing that different types have unique perspectives to share in the world.
#15 – 50 Etiquette Lessons. The etiquette lessons in this book can make more sense when you consider the variety of personality styles in the world. For example, being on time for appointments is important to J personality types, whilst being caring and thoughtful is important to F personality types.
#17 – Crucial Conversations. This book covers best practices for difficult conversations. Understanding the different personality types, notably S/N and T/F can help deepen subject understanding.
#21 – Leaders Eat Last. This book deals with best practices in leadership. A knowledge of personality types allows the reader to have a richer understanding of this subject.
#22 – Never Split the Difference. This book deals with high stakes negotiation; and an understanding of personality type can assist in understanding how to better communicate and build rapport with your protagonist.
#24 – The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. This book helps couples improve their relationship, and thus an understanding of different personality types can help one understand some of the challenges couples can face.
About the author
Isabel Briggs Myers was an American author and co-creator with her mother, Katharine Cook Briggs, of the personality inventory known as the Myers–Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and based on theories of Carl Jung. With just a Bachelor’s Degree in political science and no academic affiliation, she developed and refined the MBTI over forty years progressing the MBTI from cottage industry to recognized system translated in to numerous languages.
Peter B Myers PhD is Isabel Briggs Myers son, and continues research work on the development and application of personality type. Former staff director of the National Academy of Science, he is currently extending the use of the MBTI instrument worldwide.