Step by Step: Personality Type and Explicit Instructions

We’ve all encountered instructions that leave something to be desired. For example, maybe you’ve tried to put together some “easy to assemble” toy, gadget, or piece of furniture and opened the instruction booklet to find a wordless collection of shoddy sketches that surely must be missing a few steps. (What on earth am I looking at here? Insert which piece where? Batteries not included?! You know the drill.)

Different personality types will surely have different opinions about whether to pick up that instruction booklet in the first place. But setting that notion aside, it’s worth exploring what different personalities expect from the instructions that they receive. Specificity? Brevity? Flexibility? Why might we appreciate thorough directions, and how do we respond to ambiguous ones?

To delve into these questions, we asked our community to consider the statement, “You prefer painfully explicit instructions to ambiguous ones.” A strong majority (76%) agreed overall, indicating that when we’re given instructions, we generally want them to be easy to follow. But the results show that some personality types have higher expectations for the clarity and usability of directions than others.

Which personality types are the most exacting when it comes to explicit instructions? Let’s get detailed with the data below.


Sentinels and Analysts (80% and 77% agreeing)

Sentinels and Analysts topped the results. While these personalities may prefer to do different kinds of tasks and take different approaches to completing them, when it comes time to follow instructions, they share a desire for effectiveness and efficiency.

For Sentinels, that desire is rooted in their core Judging trait. Judging personalities value clear, orderly processes that deliver the intended results. Sentinels like to go by the book, so to speak, rather than write the book as they go. As such, they may appreciate very specific instructions so that they need not waste time filling in details or creating solutions along the way.

Overall, Judging types were 9% more likely than Prospecting types to agree that they prefer painfully explicit instructions (80% vs. 71%, respectively), and Analysts followed that general trend. Their core Thinking trait also accounts for their higher agreement. Analysts take a logical approach to everything they do. Ambiguous instructions – especially if they suffer from gaps in logic – will be at best irritating and at worst infuriating to an Analyst. Detailed directions, on the other hand, offer more information, which yields more accurate results.

Of all the personality types, Architects (INTJ) and Logisticians (ISTJ) agreed with our statement the most, at 87% each. Architects are highly strategic thinkers who devise plans for everything. When forced to follow instructions, they expect them to be as detailed, logical, and decisive as any that they would develop themselves.

Logisticians are fact-oriented, meticulous individuals who like to adhere to proven methods and rules. They won’t tolerate unclear instructions that jeopardize their ability to accomplish something that they’ve committed to doing. Both of these personalities are known to be impatient with and insensitive toward anyone who they view as lazy, careless, or incompetent. So if you give them a flawed process to follow…well, prepare to feel their wrath.

Diplomats and Explorers (74% and 71%)

Diplomats and Explorers feel somewhat less intensely about their need for clear, explicit instructions. Diplomats, particularly because of their Feeling personality trait, believe in teamwork and cooperation. While they’d certainly rather have instructions that are easy to follow, they may feel that when they encounter something confusing, they can work with others to figure it out and get things done.

Explorers, as Prospecting personalities, are more likely to take a “let’s just wing it” attitude toward ambiguous directions – and life in general. Excellent at thinking on their feet and coming up with quick, workable solutions, Explorers are less vexed by issues like missing steps, illegible diagrams, and bewildering language.

Entrepreneurs (ESTP) (65%), despite their Thinking trait, were the least likely personality type to say that they want their instructions to be clear-cut. Entrepreneurs are usually happy to go their own way and are not much for rules or thorough planning. Comfortable with risk, they tend to act first and fix their mistakes later, so it make sense that they are notably less bothered than other personalities by ambiguous instructions.


Constant Improvement (81% agreeing)

The Mind and Identity personality aspects both factored into this survey, with Introverts being 7% more likely than Extraverts to agree that they prefer painfully explicit instructions (79% vs. 72%, respectively), and Turbulent types being 10% more likely than Assertive types to agree (80% vs. 70%).

The Introverted, Turbulent members of the Constant Improvement Strategy – as personalities who seek perfection – were the most eager to receive comprehensive directions. Constant Improvers are prone to second-guessing themselves and are sensitive to their own mistakes. Specific, detailed instructions take a lot of the pressure off of them to get things right. They also limit the potential of having to seek help from others, which may make these Introverts feel nervous or annoyed.

Social Engagement and Confident Individualism (77% and 75%)

The responses of Social Engager and Confident Individualist personalities were slightly less extreme, which is an indication of the different ways in which their Mind and Identity traits balance each other out.

Social Engagers, as Turbulent personalities, may wish to avoid the inevitable feelings of inadequacy or self-doubt that arise when they don’t understand directions, but as Extraverts, they feel more comfortable reaching out and asking for clarification or assistance.

For Confident Individualists, their Introversion is the stronger impulse – it’s important to them to be able to do things on their own, so they’ll be frustrated by insufficient instructions that prevent them from being independent. But their Assertive personality trait boosts their confidence in their own skills and keeps them from feeling too stressed out if things don’t get done as well or as efficiently as they could.

People Mastery (68%)

People Masters’ combination of Extraverted and Assertive personality traits makes them the least concerned with having exhaustive instructions to follow. People Masters are just as comfortable in situations where they’re in charge as they are in situations where they have to rely on others – such as times when they’re stymied by ambiguous instructions. Confident that they’ll be able to accomplish the task at hand, they can easily put their strong communication skills to work to ask questions, resolve issues, or recruit a team to get the job done.


While the vast majority of our readers agreed that they prefer painfully explicit instructions to ambiguous ones, some are more insistent about the need for precision and efficiency in their work. This is most true of those who seek certainty and structure in their lives, who shy away from social contact, and who tend to doubt themselves – that is, Judging, Introverted, and Turbulent personalities. More often than not, they want a clear roadmap to success, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

Others, especially Explorers and People Masters, are more comfortable with interpreting instructions and relying on their own ingenuity or communication skills to fill in any gaps. Indeed, overly detailed instructions could possibly even offend some people by giving them the impression that their capabilities are in doubt.

Are you a personality type who likes clear-cut instructions? Or do you prefer to work on the fly when you encounter inadequate directions? We welcome your comments below.