I am looking at a piece of paper that pronounces me an ENTJ.
If you think this means that I'm an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist, with a subspecialty in ailments of the Jaw, then you've obviously never been exposed to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. But if you work at one of the many organizations whose human resources officers have embraced the MBTI -- the Pentagon, Freddie Mac, Sallie Mae and countless others -- then you have pondered such questions as:
At parties, do you
(A) sometimes get bored, or
(B) always have fun?
Do you feel it is a worse fault
(A) to show too much warmth, or
(B) not to have warmth enough?
Would you rather be able to:
(A) eat nails and spit rivets, or
(B) open your garage door by thought alone?
Okay, I made up that last one. But the other two are among the 126 questions I answered a few weeks ago and which Otto Kroeger scored to come up with my personality type.
Otto -- 72, with a psychologist's trademark balding pate and neatly trimmed white beard -- is the founder of Otto Kroeger Associates in Fairfax and author of such books as "Type Talk at Work: How the 16 Personality Types Determine Your Success on the Job."
Some 2 million people a year take the MBTI, which is based on the theories of Carl Jung. By answering dozens of questions, you narrow down where you fall in four different categories:
Do you prefer to focus on the outer world (Extrovert) or inner world (Introvert)? Do you rely on the information you take in with your five senses (Sensing), or do you entertain hunches (iNtuition)? When making decisions, do you look at facts logically (Thinking), or do you focus on what other people care about (Feeling)? Are you someone who likes to have things settled and organized (Judging), or are you flexible and spontaneous (Perceiving)?
Mix and match the letters, and you fall into one of 16 categories with certain traits. INFJs, for example, are "an inspiration to others." ESTJs are "life's administrators." ISTPs are "ready to try anything once."
And ENTJs? "Life's natural leaders." (And yet I still can't get my kids to put their dishes in the dishwasher.)
Like being born left-handed, there's supposedly nothing you can do to change your type. It's what you do with it that counts. Managers are supposed to use it to get the most out of their employees, knowing, for example, that introverts hate brainstorming.
Looking over the personality types is like reading a book on dog breeds put out by the American Kennel Club. Every type has something to recommend it. Nowhere does it say, "Life's natural whiners; suspicious, forgetful, flatulent."
Of course, we humans love being told we possess innate qualities. It's why we pore over the placemats at the Chinese restaurant: " 'People born in the Year of the Ox can be remarkably stubborn.' Jodie, that is so you!"
My head reeled during my lunch with Otto as he tried to make me understand what the alphabet soup of personality types meant. (His most memorable line: "We used to say, 'Never have a party without an FP.' ")
It struck me that knowing your type could bring on a certain inertia.
It happens, said Otto: " 'John, I meant to call you back, but I'm an introvert and we don't return phone calls.' You can't believe the excuses I've heard like that."
Some feel that the MBTI is ripe for misuse. Otto has been a witness in three lawsuits involving people who felt they'd been discriminated against based on personality type.
Given how prevalent it is around here, it's no surprise that the Myers-Briggs has connections to Washington. Isabel Briggs Myers, the political scientist who created it in the 1940s, with her mother, Katharine Briggs, grew up in Washington. Isabel's father was the head of the Bureau of Standards. Early versions of the indicator were administered to students at George Washington University medical school.
Otto -- who calls himself "an ENFJ who wants to be a P" -- knew Isabel. He was skeptical of the indicator's value at first but has been a fan for 30 years. "If someone is a guest in my house for more than one visit, they've filled it out or they don't come back," he said. (Such a J!)
He has thousands upon thousands of results in his computer, and he studies them for interesting correlations. He said he has seen links between certain personality types and the likelihood that a student will drop out of college or that someone will develop a colon-related ailment.
Then there's marriage. "Statistically, the marriages that are the most opposite have the highest failure rate," said Otto.
As we drank our coffee, Otto speculated on the personality types of various famous figures. Kennedy, Reagan, Clinton, the current Bush: all extroverts.
There must not be too many introverted presidents, I ventured. There are, said Otto; they're just not popular: Nixon, Carter, the first Bush, Coolidge.
Charlie Brown is an IP. Lucy, on the other hand, is an EJ. Otto imagined a conversation between the two cartoon characters:
"Lucy, how do you know you're right?"
"Because I am. Five cents, please."
No matter what your personality type, please come to my online chat, today at 1 p.m. Go to www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.