Updated: Jan 24
In his best-selling book Principles, multibillionaire Ray Dalio talks about the importance of knowing the objective strengths and weaknesses of yourself and others. To quote his words,
“Just as people have different physical traits, people also have different psychological traits. Since our brains are biologically different, we all experience reality in different ways, and any one way is actually distorted. By getting multiple perspectives, we get closer to truth. The better we know ourselves, the better we can recognize our blind spots and what we can or cannot change about ourselves. The better we know other people, the better we can predict their behavior and performance on certain tasks.”
Ray Dalio uses psychometric assessments, and 16 Personalities is a great one because it is free and offers highly detailed insights. You can learn all about the 16 Personalities framework on their website, but my goal with this article is to summarize the key details, as well as real life examples to add color to the theory.
This post will talk about
Personality Traits in 16 Personalities
(You can click on a title to jump to that section)
Part 1: Why Personality Profiles are so Useful
Knowing your personality profile is extremely useful for three reasons:
Self-Understanding: You can learn your objective strengths and weaknesses and those of others.
Convenient: It’s a fast way to get a deep understanding of someone.
Harmony: You can more easily embrace people’s differences rather than complain about them.
First, you learn about your objective strengths and weaknesses. Successful and happy people invest most their time and energy into their strengths. As for weaknesses, they just have to patch them up to the point where it’s not hindering their ability to pursue their strengths. All of this requires you to actually KNOW your strengths and weaknesses! As Dr. Alan Zimmerman said,
"The more you know yourself, the more your can grow yourself."
Most people only have a rough idea of a couple of strengths and weaknesses. But your personality profile gives you a detailed list with multiple strengths and weaknesses. When you read your strengths and weaknesses you probably think, “Oh yeah that’s true.” You might even think you don’t need a personality test to tell you. But if you didn’t read it, you wouldn’t have thought of all those strengths and weaknesses yourself. THAT’s why reading your personality profile is extremely valuable. With that knowledge, you can take steps towards optimizing your life for the better.
Second, it’s a fast way to get a deep understanding of someone. Have you ever wished you could understand someone quickly? For example, maybe you have a new colleague or a new boss. It only takes 10-15 minutes for someone to do the personality survey and tell you their results. When you know their personality profile, you can predict their thinking and behavior. That means you can stop viewing people as “super-hard-to-understand creatures” and start seeing them as “just another one of those.”
Third, when you understand yourself and others, it’s much easier to accept and embrace other people’s differences rather than fight over them. If you’re like me, you’ve wondered, “Why are people so strange? Why aren’t people more like me?” After learning about 16 Personalities, you realize people aren’t strange; they are predictable. And people aren’t more similar to you because their personality is different from yours. You understand their values (what’s important to them in life), and you learn to predict their behavior. This one is huge!
Before learning about 16 Personalities, I would always think, “Why can’t that person be as reliable/trustworthy/logical/whatever like me?” After learning about 16 Personalities, I now think, “That’s just her personality. You can’t change that about her. Plus, that personality trait has these strengths which are my weaknesses.” I can also predict people’s thinking and behavior, so I don’t get annoyed or shocked when they do something that I previously would have thought, “Why would anyone do that?”
Ultimately, understanding others allows us to stop always thinking about their weaknesses and why they annoy us, and instead focus on their strengths and how we can bring out more of their strengths in our relationship. When we focus on their strengths, we naturally will have a better, happier, and more productive relationship with them.
Now that we’ve looked at why 16 Personalities is so useful, let’s get into the details of the test.
Part 2: Personality Traits in 16 Personalities
The 16 Personality test is a comprehensive personality test that measures five personality traits:
Introverted versus Extraverted
Observant versus Intuitive (or in simple words, Practical versus Imaginative)
Thinking versus Feeling (or in simple words, Logical versus Emotional)
Judging versus Prospecting (or in simple words, Planning versus Spontaneous)
Assertive versus Turbulent (or in simple words, Self-assured versus Self-conscious)
To find out your personality type, take the test here:
Given these 5 traits, there are a total of 32 possible combinations. The way 16 Personalities organizes these possible combinations is into 16 personality profiles. Each profile uses the first 4 traits, and then the 5th trait is added on at the end. So you can get a result like INTJ-T, which means Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging, and Turbulent. INTJ is the personality profile. The “-T” is the additional add-on to the profile.
Here is an overview of the 16 personality profiles:
For the sake of time, I’m not going to go into the details for each of the 16 profiles (and certainly not the 32 possible combinations). I think it’s plenty enough to cover the 4 roles and the 4 strategies. Then you can read the profiles that interest you (probably your profile and those of a few close family members and friends).
Alright, let’s get into the 5 traits.
Trait 1: Introverted versus Extraverted
This trait determines how the interact with our environment. Specifically, it determines what kind of environment energizes us and what kind of environment drains us.
A lot of people misunderstand introversion and extraversion. They think that someone who likes to talk a lot is extraverted, and someone who is quiet is introverted. That’s not necessarily true.
Introverted people lose energy from being with a group of people that they are not familiar with. In order to replenish their energy, they have to have alone time. Introverted people can be very talkative and energetic when they are just with a few close friends. Extraverted people gain energy from being with a group of people that they are not familiar with. They enjoy that social interaction. Being alone makes them lose energy and get restless.
It’s very useful to know if someone is introverted or extraverted because the workplace and society is always full of social activities. Extraverts love them and will go to as many as they can. Introverts literally lose energy going to them, so they have to be selective.
Introverts are great at sitting down alone and working or studying. Extraverts literally lose energy if they try to do that. That’s why they need to get up and go somewhere with people and talk to people to recover their energy. Once people understand this, they stop judging each other on their differences.
Trait 2: Observant versus Intuitive
This trait determines how we process information. Out of the five traits, this trait is probably the most difficult to understand.
Observant people are highly practical and concrete, whereas Intuitive people are very imaginative and curious. Observant people like to focus on what is, while Intuitive people like to think about what could be. Intuitive people enjoy talking about what-if scenarios, while observant people see that as a waste of time.
Observant people prefer to have habits, while Intuitive people prefer novelty. If you ask an Observant person, “What do you want to do this weekend?”, she might say, “The usual. I need to clean the house and go to the park.” Her answer is very practical and reflects her habits. If you ask an Intuitive person, “What do you want to do this weekend?”, he might say, “Hmmm, I’d love to go watch a movie. There are so many good movies choices right now." His answer is very open-minded and focuses on novelty.
Observant people might get annoyed and Intuitive people for being so unpractical and having weak habits, while Intuitive people get annoyed at Observant people for being so boring and too routine-focused. Observant people might also get frustrated at Intuitive types for implicating hidden meanings all the time, while Intuitive types might get frustrated at Observant types for being so numb to hidden or deeper meanings.
Making good decisions requires creativity first to think of many options and possibilities. Then picking the best option requires practicality. If these two types can work together, they can make better decisions.
Trait 3: Thinking versus Feeling
This trait determines how we make decisions and handle emotions.
Thinking-types are focused on logic. When making decisions, they prioritize logic over emotions. They tend to hide their feelings, and they view efficiency as more important than harmony with others. Feeling-types are focused on emotions and feelings. They are emotionally sensitive and expressive. They view harmony as more important than competition.
Thinking-types might get annoyed at feeling types for being so illogical, while Feeling-types might get annoyed at Thinking-types for being so cold and emotionally stupid.
For example, let’s say John is a Thinking-type and Mary is a Feeling-Type. Mary asks John, “How does this dress look on me?” John says, “Don’t buy it. It makes you look fat.” Mary gets upset and complains that John is so emotionally stupid. John gets upset and complains that Mary is too illogical.
To make good decisions, often both logic and emotions are needed. If these two types could get along better, they would make better decisions together.
Trait 4: Judging versus Prospecting
This trait determines how we like to work.
Judging-types like to make plans. They are very organized, and they want predictability and stability. They hate it when unexpected things come up that breaks their plan. Prospecting-types like to be spontaneous. They go with the flow. They’ll deal with whatever comes up when it comes up. They are like to keep their options open and improvise on-the-spot.
Judging-types might get annoyed at Prospecting-types for being irresponsible and never planning things out. Prospect-types might get annoyed at Judging-types for being so rigid and unopen to the full experience of life. If these two types could collaborate, then the Judging-type can make the plan, and then the Prospecting-type can improvise on-the-spot when unexpected changes happen.
Trait 5: Assertive versus Turbulent
This trait shows how confident we are in our abilities and decisions. It is highly related to self-esteem (how we feel about ourselves).
Assertive people are self-assured and resistant to stress. They don’t worry too much, and they don’t push themselves too hard to achieve things. Turbulent people are very self-conscious and sensitive to stress. They are very perfectionistic and eager to improve. They are likely to experience emotional roller-coasters (high ups and low downs).
Assertive people might think that Turbulent people worry too much and are too critical of themselves and others. Turbulent people might think Assertive people are too self-confident and too laid back. Ultimately, we need a balance between self-confidence and the caution.
Now that you know about the 5 personality traits in the 16 Personalities test, you can already see how useful it is to know your individual traits for each of the five. But we can get even more useful information when we combine the traits together.
Part 3: The Four Roles
Your 16 Personalities Role tells you about your goals, interests, values, and preferred activities.
There are four roles (personality groups):
Analysts [_ N T _ -_] ————— logical and enterprising
Diplomats [_ N F _ -_] ———— compassionate and caring
Sentinels [_ S _ J -_] ————— hardworking and dutiful
Explorers [_ S _ P -_] ————— curious and fun-seeking
Here is an overview of the four roles:
The four Analyst profiles:
Analysts all have the intuitive and thinking traits. They value logic, curiosity, independence, and problem-solving. They focus on logic when making decisions. They have a strong drive to learn and improve on their flaws. They are very selective about their friends and would rather spend time alone than with someone who isn’t compatible with them. They like to solve problems and are very confident in their problem-solving abilities.
Analysts are strong at logical problem-solving, taking initiative, and finding creative solutions. The main challenge for Analysts is social relationships and maintaining harmony.
The four Diplomat profiles:
Diplomats all have the intuitive and feeling traits. They value social connection, harmony, belonging, altruism (taking care of others and the world), justice, and purpose. They would rather cooperate than compete with others. They seek to make the world a better place. They can see beauty in life, and they get inspired by art, music, and theater. Diplomats need feelings of belonging and worry about being alone. They want to have a partner and a few good friends.
Diplomats are strong at empathy and counseling. They bring warmth and harmony to people.
A big challenge for Diplomats is to balance being real and authentic with their desire to belong. They are also very idealistic, and their high expectations for themselves and others can set themselves up for disappointment. They also struggle to just take action because they spend so much time in their imagination.
The four Sentinel profiles:
Sentinels all have the observant and judging (planning) traits. They value cooperation, practicality, stability, wisdom, kindness, carefulness, and planning ahead. Sentinels work hard and get things done on time. They strive to never let others down, and they take pride in their character and competence. They are self-motivated and they hope to offer stability and wisdom to others.
Sentinels are great at being reliable, caring, and conscientious. They are also great at planning. Sentinels are weak in situations without clear rules or in fast-changing situations. They also tend to be stubborn and don’t like drama in relationships. Sentinels often expect others to be just as conscientious and reliable as them, and this unrealistic expectation can set themselves up for disappointment.
The four Explorer profiles:
Explorers all have the observant and prospecting (spontaneous) traits. They value self-reliance, adaptability, quick-thinking, novelty, and fun. Unlike the other types, Explorers love handling uncertain situations. They usually just want something to work rather than making it perfect, but if they get really interested in something, they can get extremely focused on the details. They enjoy learning about different tools and techniques, from instruments to emergency response techniques. They look for balance between work and leisure.
Explorers are strong at quick-thinking and bringing fun and excitement to relationships. When they are very passionate about something, they will devote 100% effort to it. Explorers are weak at planning for the future. They often like to take risks just for the fun of it. They are also weaker in rigid environments such as school because they find these environments too boring and restrictive.
Part 4: The Four Strategies
Your 16 Personalities Strategy tells you how you prefer to do things and achieve goals. There are four strategies:
Confident Individualism [I _ _ _ -A] ———— private and self-assured
People Mastery [E _ _ _-A] ———————— outgoing and confident
Constant Improvement [I _ _ _-T] ————— introspective and sensitive
Social Engagement [E _ _ _-T] —————— friendly and driven
Here is an overview of the four strategies:
Confident Individualists have the introverted and assertive traits. They have trust in themselves and their abilities, and they don’t feel the need to show-off or prove themselves to other people. They value independence and prefer working alone rather than working in groups.
Confident Individualists are strong at independence and self-confidence. On the flip side, their self-assuredness can lead to complacency. Since they don’t push others to change, they also don’t want others to push them to change.
People Mastery types have the extraverted and assertive traits. They are energized by social interactions and challenging experiences. They enjoy traveling to see new things, people, and places. They see problems and opportunities and they like to team up with others to chase those opportunities. These people need to find a healthy balance between their ambition and seeking social connection. Although they don’t need people’s approval, they still do want it from close family and friends.
People Mastery types are great and handling stress and having courage to face challenges and criticisms. They are also great at collaborating with people and helping them bring out their strengths. A weakness for them is that they can get overconfident in themselves and push themselves past their limits. People Mastery types say what they think and say what they think. They are very real and honest, which can be both good and bad. It’s important for them to learn to speak honestly without being rude.
Constant Improvers have the introverted and turbulent traits. They are sensitive people who enjoy having their own space and freedom. They get stressed out when dealing with tense environments or new situations. They might feel that something is missing from their lives, even if their lives are fine in reality.
Constant Improvers have a strong drive to do well (a strength), but that comes with a strong fear of failure (a weakness). They view success and perfection as a big part of their identity, so even small mistakes can be emotionally crushing for them, and they tend to dwell on past mistakes for a long time.
Constant Improvers are also very sensitive, which again can be a strength and a weakness. As a strength, they are great listeners and friends. As a weakness, they get insecure over other people’s opinions; 96% of Constant Improvers say that they feel misunderstood. To excel, Constant Improvers need to learn to trust themselves as much as they trust other people’s opinions. They hope to get rewards, awards, recognition, and positive feedback for their good work.
Social Engagers have the extraverted and turbulent traits. They tend to act fast with their gut feeling and then think about it later. They enjoy social status and being the center of attention. They are energized by interacting with others and they love it when they help make other people’s day better.
Social Engagers are strong at helping others and being bold. One weakness is that Social Engagers might hide their true selves and pretend to be someone else to impress others.
The interesting thing about Social Engagers is that their extraversion and turbulent traits kind of go against each other. Extraversion brings confidence and boldness, whereas Turbulence brings self-doubt and caution. When Social Engagers get better at using managing themselves, they can use their extraversion to get over self-doubt, and they can use their turbulence to be more careful.
Part 5: How I’ve Used 16 Personalities in My Own Life
I’ve used 16 Personalities to
Better understand myself
Improve harmony with others
Quickly learn about new people I meet
Better Understand Myself
Before I took personality tests seriously, I wasn’t crystal clear on my strengths and weaknesses. I remember preparing for interviews, and one of the questions that I had to prepare an answer for was “Tell me about your strengths and weaknesses.”
I knew I’m very hardworking, but I also felt like everyone is hardworking. I also knew I’m logical. That’s about it. As for weaknesses, it was very hard to think of any. I was like most people, unaware of my weaknesses.
After I learned that I’m ISTJ-T, I learned that my strengths are honest and direct, strong-willed and dutiful, very responsible, calm and practical, orderly, jack-of-all-trades. When I read the list, I thought, “Oh yeah that’s really true!”
Then I read my weaknesses: stubborn, insensitive, always by the book, judgmental, often unreasonably blame themselves. When I read the list, I thought, “Oh actually a lot of people have told me I’m stubborn. I used to think others are illogical so I kept trying to rationalize with them. I guess that’s why they see me as stubborn and insensitive. I am quite by-the-book. I do get annoyed by people a lot and can’t understand them. I do blame myself a lot.”
Now that I know my strengths, I focus on them. I tell my manager and colleagues that I’m very dependable and hardworking. Before, I felt like it was pointless and empty to say such a thing because I thought everyone tries to be dependable and hardworking. But now I realize that my personality type is especially dependable and hardworking, much more so than the other personality types. So I feel very comfortable and even obliged to make my strengths known so that I can contribute my best to the team.
Now that I know my weaknesses, I try to catch myself falling prey to them. For example, if someone starts disagreeing with me, before I would have instinctively started debated logic with them. But I’ve now practiced focusing on harmony over being right. In fact, I adopted the motto that harmony is always right. That comes naturally to a Feeling-type. I’m a Thinking-type, so I had to practice it to be able to do it consistently. I’m also a turbulent type so I’ve had to learn and practice creating a stable self-esteem.
For example, I’ve had to learn and practice to focus on effort and growth instead of results. I’ve had to learn and practice getting clear on my values and judging myself on my values instead of by what others think of me. Whereas an assertive type naturally doesn’t worry too much about what others think.
That brings me to another point. When reading my personality profile, I got clear on some of my natural values. Before doing this personality test, I set some values for myself like respect, excellence, growth, responsibility and service. Then I read that Sentinels value cooperation, practicality, stability, wisdom, kindness, carefulness, and planning ahead. I thought, “Oh wow. True. I didn’t think of those when making my list, but I do indeed care about those a lot.” The values that I set actually match the values of Sentinels really well, and that’s not a lucky coincidence.
I think many people are not clear on their values, so knowing which role and profile you are is a great tool to help you get clear on them.
Increase Harmony with Others
It’s not easy to guess someone’s personality profile, so you’re better off just asking them to do the survey, which only takes 10–15 minutes anyway.
A lot of conflict happens in relationships because of unrealistic or ungrounded expectations for each other. For example, a Sentinel type might get unhappy at an Explorer type for not being reliable and staying true to their word. An Explorer type might get unhappy at a Sentinel type for being too rigid and by-the-book. Once we understand that our brains are wired differently, resulting in different personalities, with different strengths and weaknesses, we stop expecting others to be someone they are not.
Below are some examples of people who I’ve analyzed and had a better relationship with as a result. I could list many examples, but I think three should be enough.
Example 1: Turbulent Advocate (INFJ-T) Family Member
A family member often clings to past disappointments and exaggerates the emotional impact of those events. I got annoyed that this person kept doing it. Then I read the person’s profile: INFJ-T. The profile literally says:
“Turbulent Advocates are more willing to exaggerate the impact of something that bothers them or hurts the people they care about. People with this personality type often interpret things as being far worse than they are. But such exaggeration is rarely on purpose or about dishonesty. It’s more a reflection of their tendency to hold more negative views of things.”
Wow. Before, I thought, “Why is this person always bringing up the past and making it seem like such a big deal?” Now, I think, “Oh look, it’s that weakness of the Turbulent Advocate personality. It’s not right or wrong. That person has strengths that go along with that weakness. That person is altruistic and creative and passionate.”
Example 2: Turbulent Debater (ENTP-T) Friend
This friend often seeks social activities, which I never understood until I learned about introversion versus extraversion. As an introvert, I can stay at home alone for a week with no problems. But now I know that extraverts would find that extremely stressful. They seek social contact and external stimulation to keep their batteries charged.
This friend also always has many ideas, and he loved debating the pros and cons of different ideas. But he’s very slow to act on his ideas. He also gets bored easily. Later, when I read his profile, it literally says
“Very Argumentative — If there’s anything Debaters enjoy, it’s the mental exercise of debating an idea.”
“Can Find It Difficult to Focus — The same flexibility that allows Debaters to come up with such original plans and ideas makes them readapt perfectly good ones far too often, or to even drop them entirely as the initial excitement wanes and newer thoughts come along. Boredom comes too easily for Debaters, and fresh thoughts are the solution, though not always a helpful one.”
Funnily enough, when I told him about his personality characteristics, he literally started debating about whether those are true or not.
From reading his profile, I also became more aware of his strengths. He’s very fast thinker, energetic, and charismatic. These are all traits I don’t have, so when we work together, we can complement each other, especially now that I’m aware of our different strengths and appreciate them.
Example 3: Turbulent Adventurer (ISFP-T) Colleague
This colleague often attended informal workplace social events even when he didn’t want to. I couldn’t understand. He also often cancelled plans last minute or invited me to last minute plans. When I found out about his personality profile, I understood:
The Turbulent aspect makes him care a lot about what other people think
The Explorer aspect makes him seek fun and novelty
The Prospecting aspect makes him very spontaneous and unpredictable
By reading his profile, I also became more aware of his strengths: artistic (he sings and writes songs), charming, and imaginative. These are all weaknesses for me, so we complement each other well.
He also often talks about doing things like opening a hammock café or making a career out of voice acting, which is his hobby. As a Judging type, I keep trying to get him to make a plan or schedule for when he will get into voice acting. But he’s a Prospecting type, so it’s not very useful for me to keep pushing him to plan. Now that I understand these differences between our personality, I don’t have any ungrounded expectations for him.
Part 6: Frequently Asked Questions
Question 1: When I do the 16 Personalities test multiple times, I get different results. Can I be fall into multiple profiles?
The short answer is no. The longer answer is, most people fit firmly into one profile, while some people might have some characteristics of a second profile.
Firstly, it’s very important that you answer the questions honestly and not answer what you think you should say or what you ideally want to be. Just be completely honest. I actually suggest doing the test multiple times and see how consistent your results are.
Secondly, people exhibit characteristics of their profile to different degrees. For example, let’s say Person A is 51% Introverted, 51% Observant, 51% Thinking, and 51% Judging, and Person B is 88% Introverted, 88% Observant, 88% Thinking, and 88% Judging. Both of them are ISTJ, so both of them are Logisticians. But Person B exhibits the characteristics of Logistician much more.
Now, most people will probably be obviously more dominant in most of the 5 traits, but perhaps in 1 or maybe 2 of the traits, they’ll fall closer to the 50/50 split.
Question 2: The personality profile result I get doesn’t seem to accurately describe me. Is the test wrong?
It’s probably not the test that is inaccurate but more likely your answers were inaccurate. People might get inaccurate results because they misunderstood questions in the test, which then resulted in them picking answers that doesn’t truly reflect themselves. If your results don’t seem accurate, try to do the test again and go slower, making sure you understand each question.
Other times, people might choose an answer that they think should be the answer rather than just being completely honest. In that case, re-do the test and just be completely honest with your answers.
Also, if any of your 5 traits fall close to the 50/50 mark, try looking at the other profile. For example, if you are INFJ, but you are 55% I and 45%E, and you feel like the INFJ profile doesn’t fit you, try looking at the ENFJ profile. That one might fit you much better.
Question 3: Can people’s personality change over time?
Most likely not. People can compensate for their traits, but they can’t change their inherent nature. For example, someone who is a Thinking type can learn emotional intelligence, but they are still naturally a Thinking type; their first instinct is to use logic. Another example: someone who is an introvert can learn social skills and appear to be an extrovert, but at the end of the day, they will get drained by all those social interactions and need alone time to recharge.
Question 4: So, if I know someone’s 16 Personalities profile, does that mean I know pretty much everything about their personality?
No. While 16 Personalities is comprehensive, it doesn’t tell you everything about them. To get an even better understanding of people, you should learn about their values. For example, a Debater who values being of service to others will behave differently from a Debater who values looking smart.
Another useful personality framework I use in conjunction with 16 Personalities is the Four Tendencies. That framework looks specifically at how people respond to expectations.