As a teacher and a parent, I can attest to the fact that tests are not always helpful. But as I shared in How to Use Myers-Briggs in Parenting, I consider the Myers-Briggs personality test one of the most useful tools I’ve encountered on my parenting journey. It helps me recognize my kids’ differences and has provided a common language for our conversations.

The Myers-Briggs test provides a snapshot of an individual’s personality using four letters. My earlier article focused on the first two letter categories, I/E and N/S, which identify how individuals receive information. The other two categories, T/F and P/J, describe how people process and act on that information.

Thinking vs. Feeling

I visualize “T” and “F” as decision making filters. “T” stands for Thinking, and people of this type make decisions based on an internal set of norms. For example, if they believe that stealing is wrong, then it is always wrong. Conversely, “F” stands for Feeling, and these individuals filter a situation through their emotional response to it.  An F,  then, may consider stealing wrong in general, but believe that in some cases, for example, a mother stealing a gallon of milk for her hungry child, stealing is justified.

This difference was recently reflected in my daughter’s friend group. She and her best friend of many years are both T’s, which limits the drama in their friendship. Last year, they added a third bestie into the mix: a girl who is definitely an F, according to Myers-Briggs.  Suddenly, the girls found themselves in a sea of drama, with many hurt feelings and angry words.

I decided to sit down with the girls and talk to them about personality types. I explained to the new friend that the other two don’t attach much emotional value to specific preferences, so disagreeing about what’s fun or interesting isn’t emotionally charged and will in no way affect their friendship. This took the pressure off her to always agree. To the other girls, I pointed out that having a person in the group who is sensitive and emotionally generous is a gift. She has brought a lot of joy and laughter, not to mention positive interactions, to their time together.

Judging vs. Perceiving

The final two letters, “J” and “P,” are probably the easiest to observe as they involve how an individual performs tasks. The “J” stands for judging. A person with this classification tends to feel relief when decisions are made. They also accomplish tasks in a regulated, timely way. On the other hand, a “P,” for Perceiving, prefers to leave things more open-ended and allow life to happen. Some people think P stands for procrastination, which may seem true because P’s tend to approach projects in a round-about way. I once saw this difference illustrated with a start and finish line representing how different people approach a specific task. The J’s route to the finish line was a straight line, divided into equal parts. The P’s route started toward the start line but looped off to the side several times until eventually ending at the finish line.

In our family, we have two J’s and two P’s. My husband is a Judger and I am a Perceiver. This difference shows up in our discussions about homework. I like to allow the kids to rest awhile when they get home from school after a long day.  My husband feels they should start their homework right away so they’ll be sure to get it done. If I didn’t understand his thought process, I might perceive his insistence as criticism. Now I know that it is just his nature.

The Myers-Briggs test has limitations, of course. Most people are not all one type or another. As a mother, my P has headed more in the J direction when it comes to planning and interactions with the world. Still, these categories can help us all better understand ourselves and one another—and who couldn’t use a little more of that?