ATD Blog

Frustrated in Your Role at Work? Understanding Your Personality Type Can Help

Monday, January 5, 2015

If you’re frustrated with your current work situation, your initial impulse may be to look for another job. This may or may not be the best decision, depending on the root causes of your frustration. To discover why you feel this way, and what you should do about it, a good place to start is by learning more about yourself. 

Personality type, as described by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® instrument (MBTI®), offers a great deal of insight into preferences for how we think, behave, and communicate at work. Understanding your personality type could have a profound effect on your on-the-job satisfaction. 

What motivates you to work in the first place? 

The MBTI breaks down personality type description into four letters based on how we draw our energy, take in information, make decisions, and orient ourselves to the external world. However, it is the middle two letters in our four-letter type—which indicate our preferences for “taking in information” and “making decisions” and represent our “main motivators” for work—that play the biggest role in work satisfaction. The degree to which we enjoy or dislike our jobs heavily correlates with the degree to which our tasks and responsibilities align with these particular preferences. 

As you size up your own fit with your work, take a look at how your tasks and responsibilities line up with your main motivators, which lie at the core of who you are and indicate the kind of situations and activities in which you naturally thrive. While most of us have some sense of these, we seldom stop and take inventory of what actually makes us tick. However, doing so can pay off in dividends when it comes to job satisfaction. 

Are you into the “big picture” or the day-to-day details? 

The first step in identifying your core work motivators is to determine how you take in information. In MBTI terms, this is referred to as your preference for either Sensing (S) or Intuition (N). If you gravitate toward facts, figures, and specific data describing the current reality in most situations, you might have a preference for Sensing (S). On the other hand, if you’re more interested in future possibilities, and a vision of how you can improve things, you could have a preference for Intuition (N). Most of us do both of these (Sensing and Intuition), but we’re looking for the one that comes more naturally in most situations. 


Second, think about how you make decisions. If you focus on logical, objective decision-making, using cause/effect, pro/con reasoning, you probably have a preference for Thinking (T). You’ll tend to look at what’s wrong with the system so that you can fix it. On the other hand, if you base your decisions primarily on how they support your values and the values of those affected by the decision, you likely have a preference for Feeling (F). In most situations, you’re looking for what is “right,” so that you can build on it. Again, most of us are doing both of these in our jobs, and need to in order to be effective, but we’re looking for the one that takes less energy. 

The combination of these preferences (Sensing and Intuition, and Thinking and Feeling) indicate what will be most satisfying at work: 

  • ●ST: “Bottom line” people who want to get it right and accurate
  • ●SF: “Practical service” people who want to provide immediate support  to individuals
  • ●NF: “Make a meaningful difference” people who want to inspire others to grow long term
  • ●NT: “See possibilities for making systems better” people who see what is wrong and want to create a long-term solution to fix it. 

While it’s not realistic to only have to work within your preferences, if you can spend the majority—let’s say 60 percent—of your time within your preferences, you’ll be more energized and invigorated by your work. Conversely, if you spend the majority of time working outside of your preferences, you may still be competent, but could feel drained. 
Look at the big picture of your work life 

If you feel the need for a change, take a look at the big picture, not just the immediate realities of your situation. Examine how your middle letters (Sensing or Intuition and Thinking and Feeling) match up on 3 levels: your role, your department, and your company. 


Let’s start by taking a look at your company. Your current role may not map well to your preferences, but if the broader company culture is more in line with who you are and your key motivators, pursuing a new role within the company might be better than looking elsewhere for employment. Does your organization pursue a wider vision of the future (Intuition), or is it more focused on addressing a problem that exists in the here and now (Sensing)? Is the decision-making process geared toward logic, objective analysis and ROI (Thinking), or does it support a set of core values, and creating harmony and consensus around the decision (Feeling)? 

If you’re currently frustrated by a role that demands a high degree of facts, data, and logical decision making, yet your overall company is driven by a wider vision of making a positive contribution to the world, there may be other roles within the organization that will allow you to operate more within your natural preferences. Or, you could choose to take on new tasks within your current role where you can express more of your middle letter personality preferences (ST, SF, NF, NT). 

Keep in mind, however, that a company may work toward a future vision geared toward people, making a difference and values (NF), yet operate on a day-to-day basis more in an ST manner, basing decisions on facts, data, logic, and objective criteria. While this adds a layer of complexity to the decision, it also presents new possibilities. 

If you prefer Sensing and Thinking, you may yet find a satisfying role in an organization that, at its highest levels, espouses a more visionary, less bottom-line-driven outlook. But if roles within your company map extremely well to your preferences, you may find that the enjoyment you get within a new role offsets any frustration you experience from a wider company culture that doesn’t exactly match your preferences. 

In the next post, we’ll dive a little deeper into how personality type plays into the things that bother you about your current role, and how you can choose a role within your company that will be a better fit. 

About the Author

Catherine Rains is a consultant for CPP, Inc., the exclusive publisher of Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® instrument (MBTI®). She works with Fortune 500 companies, universities, and nonprofit organizations to develop and facilitate organizational development initiatives and team-building interventions. With more than 25 years’ experience as an assessment and organizational trainer, her expertise includes instructional design, stand-up training, program development, train-the-trainer sessions, and team-building strategies. Catherine is an MBTI® Master Practitioner and a qualified facilitator of CPP’s MBTI® Certification and FIRO® Certification training programs. She also is an expert on interpreting the Strong Interest Inventory® assessment and using it in combination with the MBTI® tool. During her 17-year tenure at CPP, she has been a regular speaker at numerous conferences, including those of the, National Association of Colleges and Employers, the National Career Development Association, First Year Experience, the Middle Atlantic Career Counseling Association. 

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