Conflict management using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)

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"A project manager's prime responsibility is to ensure that the project produces the required products within the specified tolerances of time, cost, quality, scope, benefits and risk." [1] In order to achieve successful projects one of the key competencies for a project manager includes conflict management. Conducting projects might tend to conflict between project managers and team members due to natural reasons. Humans are social beings, but basic differences in the ways people prefer to use their perception and judgement means that conflict is inevitable. While one individual might be positive about a decision made within a team, another one might perceive the action as terrifying. From a study stating the importance of conflict management by K.W. Thomas and W.H. Schmidt at the University of California, Los Angeles [2], it is shown that managers spend around 20 percent of their time dealing with conflicts. Another part of the survey worth pointing out is the sources of conflict which in this survey tended to be psychological factors such as misunderstanding (communication failure), personality clashes and value differences. Becoming aware of personal and other peoples preferences can help project managers handle conflicts more smoothly and be a key to building strong communication patterns that meets the needs for both the managers and the team members. This article will address the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), a four-factor model within personality typology with a purpose to help indicate personal communication preferences by four letters. It is a useful tool when managing a project as the indicator helps to understand differences, identify triggers and bridging communication gaps, which is ideally to prevent and manage conflicts within a team. [3] [4]

To start, this article will introduce the history behind the indicator and how it was developed, followed by the structure. Section 3 will define what conflict is and the different ypes of conflict. After this, there is a brief description of how a project manager can utilize the MBTI and section 4 will give an examples of a real-life case. The last two chapters will state some limitations and end with a conclution.



The development of the MBTI began already in 1915 when Katharine Cook Briggs noticed how different her future son-in-law Clarence Myers was from her daughter Isabel. It inspired her to develop her own typology. In 1921 the Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung published Jung's personality Theory of psychological types which was similar to Myers and Briggs ideas, but much more developed. Myers and Briggs started aiming their work on making Jung's theory accessible to individuals and groups which led to the idea of creating an indicator. From 1941-43 Myers and Briggs begin to utilize the types as a measure to help people choose suitable work and to acknowledge differences. World war 2 was another huge factor on the development of the MBTI, as Myers believed that understanding individual differences in personality could help people work together more effectively and avoid conflict. Myers dedicated the next two decades developing and validating the MBTI before the first published manual in 1962. Since then, the tool has undergone multiple revisions and updates by the Myers-Briggs Company, reflecting ongoing efforts to improve its accuracy. [5] [6]

The structure of the MBTI

Based on Jung's theory of psychological types, the MBTI is based on four dichotomies of personality types. These include Introversion(I) or Extraversion(E), Sensing(S) or intuition(N), Thinking(T) or Feeling(F) and Judging(J) or Perceiving(P). A person is said to tend to one of the preferences in each category, resulting in 16 unique possible personality types expressed as a code with the four letters as illustrated in Figure 1. [4] [7]

The assessment consists of around 93 questions and is designed to measure an individual's preferences in different scenarios across the four dichotomies. Some examples might be questions of how you prefer to handle conflicts and how they use their energy. Once the test is complete, the results are used to determine their four-letter personality type. For example, a person getting the test result ITNJ prefers Introversion, Thinking, Intuition and Judging.

The four categories

Figure 1: The 16 personality types. Own work.
  • Extraversion(E) vs Introversion(I)

This category is described by Jung as how an individual directs their energy. Extraverts tend to direct their energy outwards and often feel energized by the presence of others. Introverts, on the other hand, might direct their energy inwards and tend to be more reserved and introspective. They often feel energized after spending time alone.

  • Thinking(T) vs Feeling(F)

This category describes how a person likes to make decisions and how they use judgement. If a person chooses to focus on logic and objective principles before deciding, the person is more of a thinker. If the person, on the other side chose to put more weight on personal concerns, the person is more of a feeler.

  • Sensing(S) vs Intuition(N)

How does a person choose to gather and process information? People who are sensing-dominant focuse more on physical reality using their five senses, while a feeling-dominant person focus more on pattern and meaning behind the information they get.

  • Judging(J) vs Perceiving(P)

This category is all about how an individual person deals with the outside world. Those who are judging tend to be more structured, preferring to make decisions quickly and stick to a plan. Perceiving types, on the other hand, tend to be more open-minded and flexible, adapting more easily to new information and experiences.

The 16 personality types and conflict

There is an estimation of how the different personality types handle conflict. To restrict the length of this section, there will only be given two examples. [8]

  • Example 1: ENFJ and conflict. ENFJs typically find conflict to be challenging and try to steer clear of it whenever possible. They strive to bring a quick end to the conflict when faced with arguments or disagreements. This tendency to avoid conflict can be beneficial in a relationship, as it can prevent minor disagreements from escalating into full-blown arguments. However, it may also cause ENFJs to overlook or avoid more significant issues, leaving them unresolved. To effectively manage conflict and resolve any underlying problems in their relationships, ENFJs require a supportive environment where they feel comfortable expressing their opinions. When they trust the opposite, they are more likely to speak up and address the root cause of the conflict.
  • Example 2: ISFJ and conflict. Individuals with ISFJ preferences tend to have an aversion to conflict and confrontation. In situations where conflict arises, they may over-apologize and strive to resolve the issue quickly. Rather than directly confronting someone who has upset or offended them, ISFJs may express their emotions indirectly through their behaviors, which may be perceived as passive-aggressive by others.

Conflict management

Before we dig deeper into conflict management, it is first of all important to define what a conflict is. For a soldier, the term conflict would mean armed confrontations, while for a computer engineer the term conflict would mean a processing program is incompatible. This article will talk about conflict in business where the term is defined as a social phenomenon that can arise when people interact with each other and pursue common goals. When two people or parties have different interests and objectives, a disagreement often begins. A disagreement can be resolved by negotiation or by a decision and can be described as a strained situation. In a worst-case scenario, a conflict can arise if the problem at hand is more complicated by a relationship problem. [9] From evolutionary history our brain naturally tends to either fight or flight in situations where we have to react to ensure own survival. In a workplace today, both of the alternatives would be of little use. With an immediate retaliation to conflict, it rarely results in a constructive resolution and often leads to escalation of the dispute. The same with escaping a conflict as fast as possible which could result in loss of face.[9]

Types of conflict

In order to reduce the risk of handling the wrong problem, it is important to establish what type of conflict exists. According to Proksch, S. [9], there are six types of conflicts:

  • Circumstantial conflicts - Caused by insufficient and incorrect information, which can lead to misunderstanding and disagreements.
  • Conflict of Interest - This type of conflict occurs when individuals or groups have differences in interest, goals or objectives. Taking a political context as an example, conflicting interests arise naturally between different parties because they have different interests of managing the country.
  • Relationship conflicts - Caused by problems of an emotional nature and are often a result from missunderstandings or natural feelings such as jealousy, envy, frustration, etc. Relationship conflicts can be especially challenging because they can involve deep-seated emotions and personal histories.
  • Conflicts of value - This type of conflict is caused when individuals or groups have different values, ideals and principles.
  • Structural conflicts - Caused by differences in structural factors such as power, resources and access to opportunities and have nothing to do with differences between people.
  • Inner conflict -This type of conflict is an individual's internal struggle with thoughts, feelings and desire. They can, for example arise from personal insecurities and moral dilemmas and are often deeply subjective.

Using the MBTI to manage conflicts in project management

A project manager, or generally a project team member should practice a combination of various skills including negotiating and resolving conflict within the project team and between the project team and other stakeholders. [10] The use of the MBTI can first of all create more effective communication and collaboration within a project team. If a project manager becomes aware of their own and their team members' type, they might be able to tailor their communication style to match the preferences of team members who have a different type. This can also result in improved conflict resolution as the managers can identify potential sources of conflict and address them before they outburst into a conflict.

Firstly, the project manager should analyze the conflict in order to know what type of conflict they are dealing with. If the type of conflict contents the differing in personalities (conflict of interest, relationship conflicts, conflict of values or inner conflicts), it is relevant to use the MBTI. This article will not cover potential resolutions to circumstantial and structural conflicts. Second, the project manager should have everyone in the team undergo the MBTI assessment, and from this try to analyze and understand the different individual. In order to do this, the Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI®) as described in the following section can be utilized as well as reports developed by the Myers-Briggs company [11]

The Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument

Figure 2: The Thomas-Kilman Conflict model. Own work.

The Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument (TKI®) is a world-known tool used by organizations and individuals in order to gain a deeper understanding of how individuals approach conflict situations. It is an effective tool for improving communication and collaboration among team members which can lead to more productive and efficient interpersonal and group dynamics. [12]

The instrument measures five conflict-handling "modes": competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding and accommodating, which can be described in a two-axis scale, assertiveness and cooperativeness as illustrated in Figure 2. How assertive a person is describes to what extent that person tries to satisfy his or her own concerns. On the other hand, cooperativeness describes to what extent that person tries to satisfy the other person's concerns. Competing involves a high degree of assertiveness and low cooperativeness, where an individual is focuses on achieving their own goals at the expense of others. Collaborating involves high assertiveness and high cooperativeness, where an individual seeks to find a mutually beneficial solution for all parties involved. Compromising falls in the middle of the scale where individuals tend to find a middle ground between their own and the need of others. Avoiding involves both a low assertiveness and a low cooperativeness, where an individual does not immediately pursue their own concern or the other person. Accommodating scores low on assertiveness and high on cooperativeness and is the opposite of competing. An individual who is accommodating neglects his or her own concerns in order to please the concerns of the other person. [12] [13]

Each preference from the MBTI® can be described in each conflict mode in the TKI. For example, depending on how a person prefers to get their energy (extraversion or introversion) they have a different way of competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding and accommodating. Similarly, with how a person takes in information (sensing or intuition), how the person make decisions (thinking or feeling) or how the person orient and organize him- or herself in the world (judging or perceiving). [14]

Real life examples

Through an interview with four nurse managers conducted by Castello, K [3], they expressed their opinions and experiences with utilizing the MBTI in their teams. One of the nurses expressed her appreciation of the tool after feeling frustrated with how a team member handled timelines and deadlines. After backing up and reviewing where their preferences lay, they gained awareness of each other rather than causing diversion and inability of working together. She also recognized how it helped the group work towards common goals and build teamwork by for example distributing tasks and responsibility based on their preferences. All in all, the managers learned to interpret with their team in different ways through a better understanding of themselves and their team.


As a personality indicator reflecting upon the human mind, there are of course some limitations. First of all, the indicator is criticized for lacking scientific basis or empiric evidence and is, as mentioned earlier, based on Isabel Myers own observations and beliefs. It is therefore no evidence of the tool working at all. The tool also has limited reliability and validity as studies shows that individuals often receive different results after taking the test multiple times.[15] Another limitation of the tool is that it simplifies the complexity of human personalities. By categorizing people into dichotomous types, it fails to capture the many traits and variations that exist in each person.

Some examples of opponents' thoughts are the statements of Adam Grant and Annie Murphy Paul. Adam Grant is an organizational psychologist as University of Pennsylvania and has written about the shortcoming of the MBTI, describing the accuracy of the indicator as "something in between the beliefs of horoscopes and a heart monito on the opposite side". He argues with other sources that the test is not reliable and that the 16 types have no scientific basis. [16] Annie Murphy Paul is an author and magazine journalist specializing especially in biological and social sciences. One of her books "The cult of personality testing" presents skeptical views of different personality tests, among these the MBTI. She argues that the tests are intrusive and produce oversimplified descriptions of people that do not accurately capture the complexities and contradictions of human behavior across different contexts and over time. [15]


Whether it is to improve your relationship with your team or how you want to represent yourself in a career, it can be difficult to start the path to success. The MBTI can be a helpful startingpoint for project managers to understand themselves and their team in order to resolve conflicts and improve communication. The human personality is unique and incredible complex, so when utilizing the MBTI it is important to underline that there are no right or wrong answers and you should not blindly base your whole personality on what a personality indicator is telling you. Since it is a tool that defines people's personal treats and that it is not a scientific proven tool, it is for obvious reasons a sensitive subject mainly filled with personal opinions. In the end it is up to the individual whether they choose to use the outcome of the tool or not, but they should bear in mind that there are several other factors in a conflict that might play a bigger role and might not be solved by acknowledging types.

Annotaded Bibliography

  • "A Survey of Managerial Interests with Respect to Conflict" by Kenneth W. Thomas and Warren H. Schmidt: In this article from 2017, the findings of a survey commissioned by the American Management Association on the subject of the managerial interests in the area of conflict and conflict management are discussed.
  • The Myers & Briggs Foundation. The Myers-Briggs Foundation is an organization founded in 1982 that continued the work of Isabel Briggs Myers and her mother Katherine Briggs. The foundation provides training and resources for organizations and individuals to help them understand and use the MBTI.
  • "The Cult of Personality Testing: How Personality Tests Are Leading Us to Miseducate Our Children, Mismanage Our Companies, and Misunderstand Ourselves" by Paul A.M. This book is written by the award-winning psychology writer Annie Paul. She argues that personality tests, such as the MBTI, have been overused and relied upon in ways that are often innacurate and harmful. The book provides examples of the misuse of personality tests in different context such as emplyment, education, and personal development.
  • "Conflict Management" by S. Proksch: This book by S. Proksch describes a wide range og practical examples on how conflicts within organisations can be managed and the methods that can be employed. S. Proksch works as a mediator and consultant with a professional backround in the field of quality management and a doctoral thesis in the field of conflict management.
  • "Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2" by AXELOS, 2017 Edition: This book shows prectitioners how principles of PRINCE2 are the foundation of effective project management. PRINCE2 is a globally recognized project management method that provides a tried and tested method, built upon industry best practice. They have over a million certified professionals working in close to 200 countries.


  1. AXELOS (2017). "Managing successful projects with prince2 2017 edition." The Stationery Office Ltd.
  2. K. W. Thomas and W. H. Schmidt, (1976), "A survey of Managerial Interest with Respect to Conflict",Academy of Management Journal, 19(2),315-318
  3. 3.0 3.1 K. Costello, (1993), "The Myers-Briggs type indicator--a management tool", Nurs Manage, 24(5):46-7, 50-1. PMID: 8265080.
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  5. K. Cherry, "How the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator Works", retrieved from, accessed 15.02.2023
  6. "The history of the MBTI® assessment", The Myers-Briggs Company, retrieved from, accessed 16.02.2023
  7. J. Simkus (2022). "An Overview of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator", Simply Psychology, retrieved from, accessed 16.02.23
  8. The Myers-Briggs Company (2021), "Myers-Briggs personality type and conflict - what causes fights between MBTI types?", retrieved from, accessed 06.04.2023
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 S. Proksch (2016), "Conflict management", Springer Cham, DOI:, accessed 01.05.2023
  10. Project Management Institute, Inc. (PMI). (2021)." A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK ® Guide) – 7th Edition and The Standard for Project Management - 3. Project Management Principles." Project Management Institute, Inc. (PMI). Retrieved from
  11. A.L. Hammer (2015), "Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Comparison Report: Work styles.", the Myers-Briggs Company, Retrieved from, accessed 01.05-2023.
  12. 12.0 12.1 K. W. Thomas, and R. H. Kilman (2020), "Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument, Profile and Interpretive Report", The Myers-Briggs Company, retrieved from, accessed 03.03.2023
  13. N. A. Schaubhut, "Technical Brief for the Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Instrument, Descrition of the Updated Normative Sample and Implications for Use", CPP Research Department, retrieved from, accessed 03.03.2023
  14. Psychometrics, "Using the TKI Assessment with the MBTI® Instrument | Guide", retreived from, accessed 05.03.2023
  15. 15.0 15.1 A.M. Paul (2010), "The Cult of Personality Testing: How Personality Tests Are Leading Us to Miseducate Our Children, Mismanage Our Companies, and Misunderstand Ourselves", Free Press, isbn: 9781451604061, retrieved from, accessed 29.03.23
  16. A. Grant (2013), "Goodbye to MBTI, the Fad That Won’t Die", Psychology Today, retrieved from, accessed 27.03.2023
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