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What Do The MBTI, Learning Styles, And Employee Engagement Have In Common?

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Why You Believe, Really Believe In The Usefulness of The MBTI, Learning Styles, and Employee Engagement

Psychological types, learning styles and employee engagement have a number of things in common.

First, they are rampant in workplaces, almost like three new "religions of the working world", now accepted as doctrine, AND making consultants and vendors billions of dollars a year.

Second, you probably believe in all three. It's unlikely you'll attend one of these churches and not others.

But who cares? Well, because all three of these "useful approaches" are so flawed that they have potential to become barriers to what you want to achieve.

Employee engagement, for example, funnels money companies could be using to actually benefit employees into surveys, analysis and meeting costs, with virtually no chance of improved engagement.

Learning styles, or at least if you look at the research, is a complete washout. Matching instruction to styles doesn't mean better learning. Sometimes it's actually better to mismatch instruction to learner style preferences.

MBTI, or other personality assessments (or whatever the vendors are calling it end up classifying the billions of human beings into one of sixteen types, then stereotyping them. If we did that for race, religion, gender, there would be an uproar.

Here's the really weird part. It's almost impossible to convince people who believe in these three things that there is no good evidence to support their use.

Why You Believe And Why No Amount Of Information Will Change Your Mind

You're a smart cookie, no doubt, as are most of the "believers in these things", but mind you there are also some smart people who believe in astrology, which shares some of the same characteristics.

Here's why your beliefs are so powerful.

  • We are most interested in finding out about ourselves. We puzzle ourselves, and we aren't all that good at understanding what goes on in our heads, and why we do things, so we look for ways outside of ourselves to "tell" us about ourselves, or confirm what we believe about ourselves. When our self-images are confirmed, we believe the instrument.

    How many millions of people take online quizzes or magazine quizzes in magazines. It's the strange quest to understand the most important person in one's life -- oneself.
  • We want simple. All three of these "things" categorize people, into very simple groups, then stereotype them. It's also why we just love generational stereotyping. Employee engagement surveys tend to fit people into just three categories, the learning styles into four (usually), and the MBTI into sixteen. Real simple. We can stick labels on ourselves and others and then "explain" what people do via those labels.

    Astrology benefits from the same effects, actually, simple, few categories, and "learning about oneself."
  • All three seem to be scientific, but the science is very very weak. Often you have to read a lot of the source research, AND have extensive experience in research methods in the social sciences to realize how, in some cases, there's a lot of junk science involved. Not only is the science bad but it's often created by people SELLING the products they allege they are investigating without bias. We just love science, and something that appears scientific tends to be believed.
  • All three are incredibly well marketed, and in particular the surveys or instruments which are exceedingly lucrative for companies who can thus, afford to market and market and market, recruit affiliates (apostles), and turn them lose.
  • It's almost impossible to prove the uselessness of all three, and if you could, it's impossible to let enough people know. Some things, particularly intuitive things are very hard to disprove in science. That's because they are often so general, the claims so vague that it's very hard to do simple experiments that lay people will understand to disprove the claims.

    However, what's worse is it's hard to get that information out to true believers even if you can "prove" something is wrong or useless. Journals tend to not publish "no effect" type articles, and believers seek out information that CONFIRMS their beliefs, not information that disproves those beliefs.

Here's A Key Question To Ask Yourself About Your "Work Religious Beliefs"?

OK. You want to know more about yourself, and what goes on in your head? Here's a simple one question survey.

What information would you need to convince you that the MBTI/ Learning Styles and/or Employee Engagement movements were a complete waste of time?

What would constitute proof sufficient to convince you?

If you can't answer that question without reference to ONLY yourself, then you aren't acting in a rational way, but in an emotional way and you have become one of the converts. Which is fine. Just act with a little ethics and not foist off your beliefs as facts to others.



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Bacal & Associates was founded in 1992. Since then Robert has trained thousands of employees to deal with angry, hostile, abusive and potentially violent customers. He has authored over 20 books on various subjects, many published by McGraw-Hill.


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