Ethical Guidelines for Using the MBTI® Instrument

About the MBTI® Indicator


Ethical Guidelines for Using the MBTI® Instrument

The Purpose behind Ethical Requirements

The MBTI® inventory has a long standing tradition of ethics and ethical administration and interpretation which stems back to the tireless conviction and high standards maintained by Isabel Myers in the creation of the instrument. Thoughtful type practitioners and stewards of the MBTI® tool have followed Myers in this tradition and are careful to follow these ethics, as the Indicator, and psychological type have the power to transform lives.

“…the opinion has gotten about that my method…consists in fitting [people] into this system and giving them corresponding ‘advice.’ This regrettable misunderstanding completely ignores the fact that this kind of classification is nothing but a childish parlour game…My topology is far rather a critical apparatus serving to sort out and organize the welter of empirical material, but not in any sense to stick labels on people at first sight.”C.G. Jung, Psychological Types

Having firm ethics in place is important to guard against misuse or superficial use (such as labeling) of a psychological tool. This is especially important for the MBTI® tool, as it is one of only a few psychological type tools having widespread use and impact on peoples’ individual lives. Most psychological instruments used with the general population are trait instruments; the MBTI® invenory’s foundation, theory, construction and psychometric properties are substantially different from the trait instruments that are growing in popularity today.

MBTI® ethical guidelines remind practitioners that they must have a healthy understanding and respect for using the MBTI® assessment, and for the underlying Jungian theory on which it rests.

General Ethical Guidelines

These are guidelines about the concepts that all MBTI® practitioners need to embrace and convey to their clients when delivering a program or feedback session on type:

  • The MBTI Type Indicator® instrument is the instrument developed and constructed by Katharine Briggs and Isabel Myers; the instrument provides us with an understanding of Carl Jung’s theory of psychological types.
  • Psychological type describes healthy differences between people; it does not explain or measure competence, skills, success factors, excellence, natural ability or psychological problems. Psychological type does imply personality preferences.
  • MBTI® practitioners should understand and communicate the differences between type and trait instruments and the dynamic and multi-faceted nature of MBTI® type. Click here to read an article by Naomi Quenk on Type vs. Trait [PDF].
  • Talk about type preferences as preferences or categories, and different behaviors associated with each of the types or preferences as characteristics, inclinations, tendencies, behavioral expressions or “trait-like” qualities.
  • It is unethical to use MBTI® type as a profiling instrument during the hiring process, or to use MBTI® type to promote, demote, or fire employees since the MBTI® tool does not measure skill, ability, or success factors.
  • MBTI® results cannot be given to leaders, managers or supervisors without the express permission of the individual taking the indicator.  MBTI® results belong to the person who has completed the assessment. MBTI® results cannot be shared without the express permission of the individual taking the indicator.
  • MBTI® results should not be kept within the personnel file of the person taking the indicator as the results belong to the individual taking the assessment.
  • Communicate at all times that there are no good or bad types, and that each of the 16 different types may display both strengths and blind spots; be aware of your own type biases in communicating this.
  • Do not use type as a label or put people into rigid type boxes.
  • Understand and communicate that the environment plays an important role in the development of type preferences.
  • Communicate that items on the MBTI® inventory are transparent and answers can be falsified; therefore, using the results to hire, fire, promote, or otherwise profile individuals for particular success/failure factors in a work environment is inappropriate.

Guidelines for Interpretation and Feedback

When you are explaining type to people who have taken the indicator, follow these guidelines:

  • MBTI® reported type is a hypothesis about an individual’s type that must be “interpreted” through a joint process between the practitioner giving the assessment and the respondent.
  • MBTI® reported type must not be given to the client prior to an individual person-to- person interpretive session.
  • Practitioners must not give clients their MBTI® reported type and tell them, “You are such and such a type.” Ethics surrounding the instrument indictate that each person who is given the instrument should be provided with the opportunity to go through a process of “Self-Selection” prior to receiving reported results.

Verifying Your MBTI® Four-Letter Type

“I do not think it improbable, in view of one’s experience, that a reversal of type often proves exceedingly harmful to the physiological well-being of the organism, usually causing acute exhaustion.”C.G. Jung, Psychological Types

The MBTI® instrument is not a test, it is an indicator of what a person believes his or her personality preferences to be along four dichotomies that have opposing choices (either/or). Even with good reliability and validity, the MBTI® questionnaire is a self-report instrument, so MBTI® reported type will not necessarily reflect one’s true or innate type 100% of the time.

With a recognition that the environment plays a large part in the developing personality, Jung emphasized the importance of becoming conscious of one’s true preferences in order to grow and develop in a way that is “consonant with” one’s nature.

“If a plant is to unfold its specific nature to the full, it must first be able to grow in the soil in which it is planted.”C.G. Jung, Psychological Types

The computed results, or MBTI® “reported type,” reflect those choices on a Preference Clarity Index, or PCI. The PCI is just what it sounds like; a scale that indicates how clear someone was at the time that they answered the questions, between preferring an answer in one direction over the other. The PCI does not indicate a strength of preference even though the length of the bar graphs on reported results appear to imply an amount. The PCI does not imply skilled use of one preference, or lack of use of the opposite preference. You cannot decipher type development from the PCI. Additionally, a slight preference on a dichotomy does not indicate that one “flip-flops” or is “in the middle” between preferences; a slight preference toward the pole of a dichotomy is nonetheless a preference. What we may say is that if someone is to change a preference upon self-selection, it will most likely be in the opposite direction of a slight preference.

The MBTI® instrument, as with other self-report instruments, does not necessarily account for one’s “falsification” of type. If an individual has been accustomed to using particular preferences to “fit” into a family dynamic, work culture, societal or cultural norm, MBTI® reported results may be skewed in the direction of those preferences. Thus, a verification process, which helps individuals become more acquainted with the theory, is crucial for uncovering whether MBTI® reported results reflect one’s true preferences. MBTI® reported type can be used to compare to “Self-Selected Type,” to help an individual understand or find their innate, or “Best-Fit Type.”

There are many reasons for the self-verification requirement (which includes giving respondents all 16 type descriptions):

  • Clients may have adopted a type that is not true to his or her self due to environmental influences.
  • MBTI® reported results are subject to the bias, state of mind and development of the person taking the instrument.
  • Any type identification method is subject to errors in understanding and interpretation.
  • Types are reported in letters and descriptions that provide a sense of certainty even if the type is not best-fit; type results are reported in letters with paragraph and full one-page descriptions that describe the types – this is much more data than is normally associated with the results of other psychological tests.
  • Individual clients receiving feedback must be provided with descriptions of all 16 MBTI® Types in the form of a booklet such as provided in the Introduction to Type booklets from CPP or CAPT.
  • If an individual or organization cannot afford to purchase individual copies of books containing descriptions of all 16 MBTI® types, a practitioner may lend copies for individuals taking the Indicator to read and compare.
  • MBTI® results cannot be distributed via the mail without an accompanying person-to-person interpretive session.
  • Explain MBTI® reported results in terms of the Preference Clarity Index (PCI) (or the Prefernce Clarity Category-PCC) to differentiate the results from normative results obtained from a trait instrument; explain that it is inappropriate within the context of Jung/Myers theory to describe preferences as being “strong” or “weak.”
  • Let participants know that preference clarity does not imply excellence or type development – it is possible to have a dominant function that is not well-developed.
  • Make sure participants are told that type preferences do not, cannot and should not explain all the complexities of human psychology.
  • Correct the use of stereotypical language surrounding the Indicator and type preferences. Click here for MBTI® language guidelines [PDF]

Trademark and Copyright Guidelines

  • It is illegal to photocopy and distribute type descriptions from any copyrighted publication of the publisher, CPP, Inc. or any other copyrighted material.
  • The MBTI® tool in any of its forms may not be duplicated or reproduced for any purpose.
  • Trademark designation must appear on all references to the MBTI® instrument or Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® instrument. The phrase MBTI® (or Myers-Briggs Type Indicator®) should be used only as an adjective (e.g., MBTI® instrument, MBTI® tool, MBTI® results, etc.). An exception is made for text in books, booklets, or electronic materials where there is a copyright page (or legal notices section) that contains the following statement: Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Myers-Briggs, and MBTI® are trademarks or registered trademarks of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Trust in the United States and other countries. In these instances, it is advised to use the trademark symbol on the first reference in each chapter (hardcopy) or page (electronic) to notify users of the ownership of the mark. Click here for CPP Trademark Guidelines [PDF]MBTI® practitioners should fully understand type dynamics and development and the differences between the MBTI® tool and trait-based instruments.