Often the very first question people ask after completing our personality test is “What do these letters mean?” We are of course referring to those mysterious acronyms like INTJ-A, ENFP-T, or ESTJ-A. As you may have already read in the free Type Descriptions or additional articles available on our website, each letter refers to a specific trait, with an additional variant listed at the end. But before we discuss those traits, let’s first take a brief historical detour.
Since the dawn of time, we have tried to describe and categorize ourselves in many ways. From the four temperaments of the Ancient civilizations – sanguine, choleric, melancholic and phlegmatic – to the latest advances in psychology, people have been restless in their pursuit of a good, reliable way to fit something as complex and fluid as human personality into a well-defined model. We are still some time away from being able to do that, although the current models account for the majority of our personality traits and can often predict with a high degree of confidence how we are likely to behave in specific circumstances.
That said, it is important to bear in mind that regardless of which model we rely on, our personality is just one aspect of many – our actions are also influenced by our environment, experience, and individual goals. In our Type Descriptions and Premium Profiles, we describe how people belonging to a specific personality type are likely to behave – however, remember that these are just indicators and tendencies, not definitive guidelines or answers. There’s a big difference between scoring 10% on a trait, and scoring 80%. This information is meant to inspire personal growth and better understanding of others, not to be taken as gospel.
Our approach has its roots in two different philosophies. One dates back to early 20th century and was the brainchild of Carl Gustav Jung, the father of analytical psychology. Jung’s theory of psychological types is perhaps the most influential creation in personality typology, and it has inspired a number of different theories, including our own. One of Jung’s key contributions was the development of the concept of Introversion and Extraversion – he theorized that each of us falls into one of these two categories, either focusing on the internal world (Introvert) or the outside world (Extravert). These terms are usually defined differently nowadays, with Extraversion being synonymous with social prowess – however, the original Jungian definitions focused on where the person tends to get their energy from. In that sense, Introversion does not imply shyness, and Extraversion does not necessarily mean good social skills.
Besides Introversion and Extraversion, Jung also coined several additional concepts. The ones most relevant to us are the so-called Judging functions (either Thinking or Feeling) and Perceiving functions (either Sensing or Intuition). According to Jung, each person prefers one of these cognitive functions and finds it most natural to rely on it in everyday situations. However, other functions also have their place and can emerge depending on the circumstances. These functions are also defined by the person’s Introversion or Extraversion – e.g. someone whose dominant function is Introverted Feeling is likely to think differently from someone with Extraverted Feeling at the helm.
In the 1920s, Jung’s theory was noticed by Katharine Cook Briggs, who later co-authored one of the most popular personality indicators used today, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®). Briggs was a teacher with an avid interest in personality typing, having developed her own type theory before learning of Jung’s writings. Together with her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, they developed a convenient way to describe the order of each person’s Jungian preferences – this is how the four-letter acronyms were born. There were four possible pairs of personality traits:
- Introversion (I) or Extraversion (E)
- Intuition (N) or Sensing (S)
- Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
- Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)
You’ll recall these terms from the paragraphs dedicated to Jung. According to the Myers-Briggs model, the first letter determines the attitudes of the dominant and subsequent functions, while the last letter shows which function is dominant. For Extraverts, the dominant function is focused on the outside world. J means that one of the Judging functions (Thinking or Feeling) is dominant; P points to one of the Perceiving functions (Intuition or Sensing). For Introverts, J and P show the auxiliary rather than dominant function – the dominant function itself is internalized.
Of course, this is just a very simplified description of the Myers-Briggs theory – visitors interested in learning more should read Gifts Differing: Understanding Personality Type by Isabel Briggs Myers. As we define personality traits and types differently in our model, we will not go deeper into Jungian concepts or related theories in this article.
Due to its simplicity and ease of use, the four-letter naming model is now shared by a number of diverse theories and approaches, such as Socionics, Keirsey Temperament Sorter, Linda Berens’ Interaction Styles and many others. However, it is important to remember that while these acronyms may be identical or very similar, their meanings do not always overlap. One of the reasons behind such a lengthy introduction is that we want to make it clear that there is no single definition assigned to these type concepts – each theory defines them in their own way and it is entirely possible that if you meet five people who all say “I am an INFJ”, their definitions of what INFJ means are going to differ. There is certainly a lot of overlap between the theories sharing these type names – however, their type descriptions are by no means identical.
But let’s leave the typological theories aside for a moment. A different way to look at people’s personalities is through the lens of a trait- rather than type-based model. What do we mean by that? Instead of attempting to create 4 (or 8, 16, 32...) type constructs and fit people within them, we could simply define a number of traits and measure people’s preferences using well-defined scales, looking at their scores but not categorizing them. You may have heard the term Ambivert, which is a perfect example in this case. Ambiversion means that someone is more or less directly in the middle of the Introversion-Extraversion scale, being neither too social or outgoing, nor too withdrawn – which flies in the face of Jungian models described above. Every type-based theory is likely to have difficulties categorizing people whose scores end up right on the dividing line, regardless of how many dividing lines you have.
Trait-based theories would simply say that an Ambivert is a moderately Extraverted person and leave it at that, without assigning them a personality type. Such an approach certainly makes it much easier to reliably measure correlations between personality traits and other characteristics (e.g. political attitudes), which is why trait-based approaches dominate psychometric research – but that’s it, more or less. Unlike with type-based theories, it becomes impossible to define categories and types which could then be used as easily accessible concepts for discussions and recommendations. Consequently, while categories such as Extravert or Introvert are unavoidably limiting, they also give us a chance to describe a significant part of human personality and create theories that attempt to explain why we do what we do – something that a more scientifically reliable, but nondescript statement such as “you are 37% Extraverted” simply cannot do.
With our model, we’ve combined the best of both worlds. We use the acronym format introduced by Myers-Briggs due to its simplicity and convenience – however, we have redefined several Jungian traits and introduced an additional one, simplifying our model and bringing it closer to the latest developments, namely the dimensions of personality called the Big Five personality traits. Furthermore, unlike Myers-Briggs or other theories based on the Jungian model, we have not incorporated cognitive functions such as Extraverted Thinking or Introverted Sensing, or their prioritization, instead choosing five independent scales and building our types around them. This has allowed us to achieve high test accuracy while also retaining the ability to define and describe distinct personality types.
Let us now go through our five personality aspects one by one, and then move on to the type groups.
Five Personality Aspects
This section will describe five personality aspects that, when combined, define the personality type: Mind, Energy, Nature, Tactics and Identity. Each of these aspects should be seen as a two-sided continuum, with the “neutral” option placed in the middle. The percentages you would have seen after completing the test are meant to show which categories you fall under, and how strong your preferences are.
Let us now go through the personality aspects one by one:
This aspect shows how we interact with our surroundings:
Introverted individuals prefer solitary activities and get exhausted by social interaction. They tend to be quite sensitive to external stimulation (e.g. sound, sight or smell) in general.
Extraverted individuals prefer group activities and get energized by social interaction. They tend to be more enthusiastic and more easily excited than introverts.
Read more about the Mind aspect.
The second aspect determines how we see the world and process information:
Observant individuals are highly practical, pragmatic and down-to-earth. They tend to have strong habits and focus on what is happening or has already happened.
Intuitive individuals are very imaginative, open-minded and curious. They prefer novelty over stability and focus on hidden meanings and future possibilities.
Read more about the Energy aspect.
This aspect determines how we make decisions and cope with emotions:
Thinking individuals focus on objectivity and rationality, prioritizing logic over emotions. They tend to hide their feelings and see efficiency as more important than cooperation.
Feeling individuals are sensitive and emotionally expressive. They are more empathic and less competitive than Thinking types, and focus on social harmony and cooperation.
Read more about the Nature aspect.
This aspect reflects our approach to work, planning and decision-making:
Judging individuals are decisive, thorough and highly organized. They value clarity, predictability and closure, preferring structure and planning to spontaneity.
Prospecting individuals are very good at improvising and spotting opportunities. They tend to be flexible, relaxed nonconformists who prefer keeping their options open.
Read more about the Tactics aspect.
Finally, the Identity aspect underpins all others, showing how confident we are in our abilities and decisions:
Assertive (-A) individuals are self-assured, even-tempered and resistant to stress. They refuse to worry too much and do not push themselves too hard when it comes to achieving goals.
Turbulent (-T) individuals are self-conscious and sensitive to stress. They are likely to experience a wide range of emotions and to be success-driven, perfectionistic and eager to improve.
Read more about the Identity aspect.
Now you know what each type consists of. But how do they fit together?
Our system has two layers: the first (inner) one defines our Roles, the second (outer) one – our Strategies.
The Role layer determines our goals, interests and preferred activities. There are four roles:
Analysts (Intuitive and Thinking [ _NT_ ] types, both Assertive and Turbulent variants)
These personality types embrace rationality and impartiality, excelling in intellectual debates and scientific or technological fields. They are fiercely independent, open-minded, strong-willed and imaginative, approaching many things from a utilitarian perspective and being far more interested in what works than what satisfies everybody. These traits make Analysts excellent strategic thinkers, but also cause difficulties when it comes to social or romantic pursuits.
Read more about the Analyst Role.
Diplomats (Intuitive and Feeling [ _NF_ ] types, both Assertive and Turbulent variants)
Diplomats focus on empathy and cooperation, shining in diplomacy and counselling. People belonging to this type group are cooperative and imaginative, often playing the role of harmonizers in their workplace or social circles. These traits make Diplomats warm, empathic and influential individuals, but also cause issues when there is a need to rely exclusively on cold rationality or make difficult decisions.
Read more about the Diplomat Role.
Sentinels (Observant and Judging [ _S_J ] types, both Assertive and Turbulent variants)
Sentinels are cooperative and highly practical, embracing and creating order, security and stability wherever they go. People belonging to one of these types tend to be hard working, meticulous and traditional, and excel in logistical or administrative fields, especially those that rely on clear hierarchies and rules. These personality types stick to their plans and do not shy away from difficult tasks – however, they can also be very inflexible and reluctant to accept different points of view.
Read more about the Sentinel Role.
Explorers (Observant and Prospecting [ _S_P ] types, both Assertive and Turbulent variants)
These types are the most spontaneous of all and they also share the ability to connect with their surroundings in a way that is beyond reach of other types. Explorers are utilitarian and practical, shining in situations that require quick reaction and ability to think on your feet. They are masters of tools and techniques, using them in many different ways – ranging from mastering physical tools to convincing other people. Unsurprisingly, these personality types are irreplaceable in crises, crafts and sales – however, their traits can also push them towards undertaking risky endeavors or focusing solely on sensual pleasures.
Read more about the Explorer Role.
The Strategy layer shows our preferred ways of doing things and achieving goals. There are four strategies:
Confident Individualism (Introverted and Assertive [ I___-A ] types)
Confident Individualists prefer doing things alone, choosing to rely on their own skills and instincts as opposed to seeking contact with other people. They know what they are good at and have high self-confidence. These personality types firmly believe that personal responsibility and trust in yourself are very important values. Confident Individualists do not pay much attention to other people’s opinions and prefer to rely on themselves.
Read more about the Confident Individualism Strategy.
People Mastery (Extraverted and Assertive [ E___-A ] types)
People Masters seek social contact and tend to have very good communication skills, feeling at ease in social events or in situations where they need to rely on or direct other people. These types are confident in their abilities and do not hesitate to express their opinions. Playing an active role in the society and knowing what makes other people tick mean a lot for People Masters; however, they are not too concerned about what other people think about them.
Read more about the People Mastery Strategy.
Constant Improvement (Introverted and Turbulent [ I___-T ] types)
Constant Improvers are quiet, individualistic people. They tend to be perfectionistic and success-driven, often spending a lot of time and effort making sure that the result of their work is the best it can be. As their name says, Constant Improvers are high achieving individuals dedicated to their craft – however, they also tend to worry too much about their performance.
Read more about the Constant Improvement Strategy.
Social Engagement (Extraverted and Turbulent [ E___-T ] types)
The last strategy is adopted by sociable, energetic and success-driven types. Social Engagers tend to be restless, perfectionistic individuals, prone to experiencing both very positive and very negative emotions. Their curiosity and willingness to work hard also mean that they are usually high-achieving, even if quite sensitive people. Types favoring this strategy also tend to place a lot of importance on other people’s opinions; they value their social status and are eager to succeed in everything they do.
Read more about the Social Engagement Strategy.
This table shows all possible types along with their roles and strategies:
|Analysts||Confident Individualism||INTJ-A, INTP-A|
|People Mastery||ENTJ-A, ENTP-A|
|Constant Improvement||INTJ-T, INTP-T|
|Social Engagement||ENTJ-T, ENTP-T|
|Diplomats||Confident Individualism||INFJ-A, INFP-A|
|People Mastery||ENFJ-A, ENFP-A|
|Constant Improvement||INFJ-T, INFP-T|
|Social Engagement||ENFJ-T, ENFP-T|
|Sentinels||Confident Individualism||ISTJ-A, ISFJ-A|
|People Mastery||ESTJ-A, ESFJ-A|
|Constant Improvement||ISTJ-T, ISFJ-T|
|Social Engagement||ESTJ-T, ESFJ-T|
|Explorers||Confident Individualism||ISTP-A, ISFP-A|
|People Mastery||ESTP-A, ESFP-A|
|Constant Improvement||ISTP-T, ISFP-T|
|Social Engagement||ESTP-T, ESFP-T|