What’s the difference between Birkman and Myers-Briggs?

Most people give me a puzzled look when I tell them I’m a Birkman Consultant. I usually immediately follow that up with “It’s like Myers-Briggs on steriods.” It’s like the MBTI’s bigger, scientifically-backed older brother. If you’re not that familiar with the MBTI either, it’s the one about Extroverts vs. Introverts. People describe themselves with four letters, “I’m an ENFJ” or “ISTP.” Here are just a few differences between the Birkman and Myers-Briggs:


MBTI measures only four scales: Extrovert/Introvert, Intuitive/Sensing, Feeling/Thinking, and Judging/Perceiving. This only gives you 16 personality types total. These scales are binary or either/or choices. The Birkman measures nine different behaviors and four perspectives or attitudes on a continuum so that you can understand the differences between highly intense, strong and moderate displays of the behavior.

Bottom line: The MBTI is less nuanced while the Birkman provides deeper insights because it acknowledges greater human complexity.

Self vs. Others

The Myers Briggs asks only for your own self-perceptions. This can help them describe your usual behavior but not much more. The Birkman on the other hand, asks you questions about yourself and about other people. This way Birkman is able to assess your usual style and what you expect from your environment. Our typical behavior can be substantially different than what we need from other people so this kind of information really helps people understand how to communicate and work together more effectively. In other words, it’s information you can actually apply!

Bottom line: The MBTI measures your usual style but the Birkman measures your usual style, your needs and your stress behaviors – information that is much more useful!

Validity & Reliability

The Myers-Briggs has poor reliability and validity. Up to 75% of people get a different type the second time they take it. And it turns out that only the Extrovert/Introvert measurement has much validity. A researcher at The Birkman on the other hand, has 60 years of testing and retesting to make sure their results are both reliable and valid. Most people don’t see their report scores change much over time.

Bottom line: The MBTI is a great conversation starter but the Birkman beats it on scientific credentials.

If you want even more details how how they differ, Birkman International has a whole white paper on the topic that you can download here!

myers-briggsConclusion: Myers-Briggs vs. The Birkman

Imagine you were given a beautiful potted plant. People seem to love Myers-Briggs because it’s easy and quick. It’s like getting a nice little label with the name of your plant. Unfortunately, most people aren’t really quick easy reads. While knowing the name of the plant is nice, it doesn’t help you take care of it. The Birkman is a much more comprehensive look at humans. It allows us to resist labeling and move toward really understanding. It’s like getting that plant label AND getting a whole bunch of useful tips about what kind of light and temperature and nutrients it needs. Your Birkman reports can help you in any situation where you have to deal with people who are really different than you (wait, isn’t that EVERY situation?!) allowing both you and others to flourish.

If you want to get your Birkman report today, you can go here!

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Birkman Tour Part 4: Strengths and Needs Graphs

The Strengths and Needs Graphs are probably my favourite part of the Birkman. On the Lifestyle Grid, you get a diamond for usual style, and a circle and square for needs and stress behaviors. You get some bullet points about each of them but the really in-depth look comes in these graphs. This is where you really drill down into the more complex aspects of behavior and it’s much more personalized than the basic bullet points.

The Strengths and Needs Graphs go through 11 behavioral components with three graphs on each page and an arrow marking your score on each graph.

strengths and needs graphs example

  • The top graph shows you your usual style – aka your strengths! Usual styles are always: Productive, beneficial, and visible. You might consider it your external or public self.
  • The middle graph describes what you need from others and your environment in order to maintain your usual style. Needs are often invisible and not obvious from observing usual behaviors. Some people consider this their internal or private self.
  • The bottom graph describes possible stress behaviors you might exhibit if your needs go unmet. These behaviors may also be visible, but unproductive and potentially damaging. They may not be visible if you have developed strategies for managing these behaviors.

The 11 behavioral components measured are:

  • Esteem – Relating to Individuals
  • Acceptance -Relating to People in Groups
  • Structure – Planning and Organizing
  • Authority – Directing and Controlling
  • Advantage – Your Approach to Incentives
  • Activity – Preferred Pace of Action
  • Challenge – Your View of Yourself
  • Empathy – Emotional Expressiveness
  • Change – Dealing with Change
  • Freedom – Personal Independences
  • Thought – Reflection in Decision Making

The information in these graphs helps people:

  • own their strengths
  • name and understand their needs
  • acknowledge their unproductive stress behaviors

The Birkman Method gives you a neutral platform and a common language around all these behaviors so that discussing them with your spouse or your colleagues at work becomes a little easier and hopefully less tense. It can help couples or work teams appreciate the diversity of usual styles and the strengths that come with those. It helps you give more weight to you needs as something legitimate and hard-wired. And you become more aware of how you can mitigate your stress behaviors.

Some notes:

LOW and HIGH are not good or bad in this report. They are simply opposite ends of a spectrum. It’s not better to have LOW needs or worse to have HIGH needs – they are just describing two very different sets of needs. There is no ideal score for any of these behavioral components.

These behavioral component scores should never be taken as a license to make excuses for your behavior, “See, I’m just hardwired that way.” While our needs are generally “hardwired” we are totally capable of learning to flex our usual styles. We can also learn to manage our stress behaviors. Throughout our lives, there will be times when we have to learn to flex into very different styles that what we’re usually comfortable with, in order to meet other people’s needs.

The Strengths and Needs graphs provide a huge boost in self-awareness and allow you to communicate who you are more effectively.

Birkman Tour Part 3: Career Management Report

Today’s Birkman tour takes us through the Career Management Report. This is a great tool for people who need some more options to explore, such as high school seniors who are debating their next steps or college grads starting careers. It’s also helpful for mid-career people who are wondering about career changes.

The Career Management Report can help you determine if your job satisfaction will be determined more by the actual tasks you get to do or by the environment you are placed in. Some people would be happy anywhere as long as they get to do a specific set of tasks. Other people couldn’t care less what the tasks are as long as the environment suits them.

There are two parts to the Career Management Report: Job Families and Organizational Focus

Job Families

Career Management

I find this one fascinating because it shows you how similar you are to satisfied people within various job categories by comparing your responses on the questionnaire. Birkman uses the Department of Labor’s O*net database to categorize and label Job Families and links to it so that people can explore things like education needed, job growth forecast, salary expectations etc.

Birkman doesn’t include every job family from the Department of Labor though. The ones listed in the Career Management report are limited to the jobs with large enough sample sizes in the Birkman database for accurate comparison. Within each Job Family, job titles are also ranked from most similar to least similar.

A few notes:

Birkman emphasizes that this report should not be used to exclude job options. If you are a strong match to a certain job, it does mean that you could have higher job satisfaction in that role, but it is totally possible to succeed and be successful in jobs that you don’t match very much. High matches mean you have the same types of characteristics as people who are satisfied in that field. However, you could have very different characteristics and still do the job well and enjoy it. You might bring a whole new valuable set of skills to the table. It also means you might likely face some steeper communication challenges with teammates who might assume you’re like them.

Organizational Focus

The Organizational Focus scales are deceptively simple. It’s about the way we view and relate to an organization.Career Management

Long bars mean you identify strongly with that work environment. Short bars means you don’t identify strongly with the set of work tasks or functions in that category.

Career Management

It’s especially important for business leaders to be aware of what aspects of their companies they’re naturally more focused on. The tendency can be to channel most of your energy and resources into that one area, which can be potentially damaging for long term business success. In order to build a strong organization, it’s important for leaders to balance out their leadership team and make sure all aspects of business are given adequate resources.

Again, as with the Job Families, if your green bar is super short, it does not mean you shouldn’t pursue a position in the Sales and Marketing division of a company. It just means you probably will be unique compared to most of their other sales people. That may be very effective for you or it can be a problem. The key is to be aware of this so you can make a better decision about what challenges you want to take on.

That’s it for now! Next part of the tour takes us into the heart of the Birkman: Strengths and Needs. If you have questions or thoughts, I’d love to hear them so feel free to use the comments below!

A Guided Tour of the Birkman Method

The most common response I get when I tell people I’m a Certified Birkman Consultant is a perplexed face, followed by, “A what?!” Maybe it’s just my friend group, but in order to reduce this reaction, I wanted to give you a guided tour of the Birkman Method and the kinds of reports you would get if you took the assessment.

But first, since we were just talking about values last week, I want to talk a little bit about the principles and values that the Birkman is founded on.

a guided tour of the Birkman Method

The Birkman Credo

We believe:

  •  in emphasizing the positive aspects of personality
  • individual differences allow creative options
  • differences relate to personal, social, and occupational behavior
  • individuals can manage and strengthen positive behaviors
  • in providing opportunities for personal, team and organizational growth
  • every organization has its distinctive culture which needs to be acknowledged

People often talk about differences negatively as if we’re normal and others are not. The Birkman Method is founded on the idea that human diversity is healthy and beneficial. There is no one “normal” or “ideal” behavioral style. There are also no “wrong” or “bad” personalities. Instead there are usual productive behaviors and there are unproductive stress behaviors. This means that we don’t have to feel defensive when exploring our differences.

The Birkman is all about combating the assumptions that there’s only one right way to do things or that everyone wants to be treated the way we want to be treated. Instead of operating on assumptions about others, we can learn to appreciate different styles and understand where others are coming from.

Here’s a great video with a little bit of Dr. Birkman’s life story (he was the founder of the Birkman Method). If you start watching at 4:00 minutes, you’ll see his hope for each generation to accept diversity. He developed the Birkman Method to help us do just that.

Pretty inspiring right? Next week in our guided tour of the Birkman Method, we’ll talk about the Lifestyle Grid. It provides a quick snapshot or personal summary of your interests, usual style, needs and stress behaviors so stay tuned!

Why you should take a personality test

personality testI don’t know about you, but a personality test is often irresistible to me, no matter how unscientific or ridiculous. I see an new online personality test on Facebook nearly every day and each one looks like fun. I guess most people love to know more about themselves even if the information is completely useless. Who cares what Disney princess I am or what my pirate name should be?

Sometimes, though, it might feel easier to take a personality test about which animal you would be, than to take a personality test that would give you real information about yourself.

The process of self discovery can be scary. The word “test” can make it seem like there is a correct score. Maybe you struggle with self-acceptance and wish your results were different.

Or you might be concerned with how the information will be used if you’re taking a personality test during an interview. TIME magazine recently did a cover feature on how much personality testing is now part of the hiring process.

Still, raising your own self-awareness and understanding others is a valuable endeavor. A well-crafted, scientifically established personality test (I actually prefer the term “behavioral assessment”) can:

  1. Identify & validate your strength behaviors
  2. Show what kind of environment is best for your success
  3. Explain your stress behaviors and how to manage them
  4. Confirm your interests and organizational focus

At the same time, an assessment like the Birkman helps you understand that other people are different and that this is positive. This allows you to develop better communication and teamwork. Dr. Birkman’s priority in developing the Birkman Method was to help us appreciate diversity and overcome underlying assumptions like:

  • I’m normal – it is other people who are not normal.
  • Other people experience/perceive things the same way I do.
  • There is one best way to accomplish something.
  • The way someone behaves is how they also wish to be treated.

These assumptions are hurdles in every relationship and the Birkman is like a road map that helps you effectively navigate these hurdles. That’s something we can all benefit from.

What do you like or dislike about personality tests? Tell me about your experiences in the comments!

Calling & A Meat Marination Stick

You’ll probably laugh about how much I thought about this story over the weekend! I read this NY Times piece on Thursday about a Christian lady who credits her invention of a meat marination stick to God. You should read it. And also watch the video of Mary describing her product. Go ahead, take a break, I’ll be here with my thoughts when you get back.

meat marination stick
Image Source: Cuisine Noir

Now if you’re like me, your first instinct when you hear someone say “God told me” is to tense up and wait for the crazy. And in fact, I likely read the entire article with a skeptical face. Sometime later in the evening, I realized I should know better by now. I’m always ranting and raving about how diverse our callings can be and about how we need to quit making secular/spiritual divides. I thought I’d already learned to appreciate how often God uses the material and the physical things of this world to shape, grow and bless us.

And I started thinking, What if God really gave her recipes? What if he really did give her a vision for this meat stick? Why not? I thought about heaven and considered the possibility that God uses material tools to create his feasts there even though I always picture it all appearing like magic. But what if God loves the process of cooking? What if he gave this lady a little gift from heaven to bless her family and church? Why not?

Maybe all that thinking is too crazy for you, but it totally reminded me again again that we tend to carry around assumptions and expectations about what makes a calling, or what work God is really trying to do, or how he wants people to serve each other. And these assumptions and expectations can blind us from seeing the work God is already doing in ours and other people’s lives. We can be so busy looking for what we think should be there, that we miss what really is. It’s another part of the reason, I really prefer to say that we recover our callings rather than discover them. Our callings are already present in our lives. Whether we can see them or not is the real question.

Have you had an experience like this?

How do we discern our callings?

I’m excited to be guest-speaking next week at a friend’s church on the topic of how we discern our giftedness and callings. So I’ve been digging through my research and it’s turning up so many gems that it’s hard to even know how to start! Today I wanted to link you up to some of my past posts on these topics in case you’re interested in a little refresher course:

The process of recovering a sense of calling in our lives involves raising self-awareness (Who did God design me to be?) and listening (Hello God, where are you leading me?).

We can’t just start with finding something to do – we have to start with who we are because God designed us uniquely and has unique purposes for each of us. In Listening to God in Times of Choice, Gordon Smith quotes Ernest Larkin on discernment, “Basically the difficulty in all discernment is personal inauthencity. If you are not in touch with yourself, if you don’t know what is going on, you cannot hear the ‘other’ even when the other is God.”

Smith writes, “If we do not accept who we are, and more, actually like who we are, we will probably not be able to meet God freely and respond to that encounter. We will always be attempting to be someone other than who we are; we will be living a lie.”

Often, understanding who God created us to be means first accepting who he did not create us to be. It means letting go of our own expectations and parental or family expectations and maybe even community expectations. It means evaluating all our previous assumptions about our lives and work. It means double-checking how we define calling, spiritual gifts, success and failure.

The outcome of this kind of work should be a new sense of freedom, responsibility, humility and gratitude.

Tell me about times in your life where you’ve struggled with discernment. What was the process like for you?


The Birkman Method Book & Free Personal Report

The Birkman Method Book and Personal ReportSo I’ve been doing this small series (see here, here and here) on how the Birkman Method plays out in our lives in order to get you excited about reading this book. The current CEO, Sharon Birkman Fink, recently published a book appropriately titled, The Birkman Method: Your Personality at Work and it includes a free personal report (I believe it’s a condensed version). I was sent a free autographed copy in exchange for a review. Since I already have my own report I would like to give this copy away to a reader! Now is a good time to be excited.

The book explains each of the eleven behavioral components that the Birkman Method measures as well as the interest scores. It gives you many great stories and examples of how people have used the information in their reports to solve problems and work more effectively. Even though I have my certification as a consultant, I found the illustrations so helpful in broadening my understanding of how this tool can be put to good use. For those who are unfamiliar with the Birkman Method, it is a great overview and introduction to the material and what you can do with it. You’ll find that it’s a quick, easy read.

I think my favourite takeaway from the book was a point repeated once at the beginning and once at the end:

While certain unique behaviors and customs are taught in different cultures, the more important underlying motivation and needs that drive people are shared around the globe. In other words, we humans are more alike than we realize, more similar than we are different. There is consistently more diversity within any one group than there is among groups (p. 10).

The difference among individuals in any particular nationality are much greater than any differences among nationalities (p. 155).

This is such an important truth for us to absorb as our communities and workplaces become more globalized and culturally diverse. It’s something we need to remind ourselves of, whenever we feel tempted to think in “us vs. them” terms. Underneath the cultural differences in behavior we might see, we are much more similar in our motivations and needs than we think. And that means that no matter how strange it might feel, it is possible for us to relate and connect with people anywhere on earth. In fact, we should seek to find those common bonds wherever we can.

If you would like to win my free copy of The Birkman Method and get your free personal report, all you need to do is leave a comment that interacts with this blog post. I will select a winner out of a hat and send you the book! If you would like to get a full Birkman report and enjoy a consultation with me, then check out my services page and contact me. You can also continue reading more about The Birkman Method on this page. You can also check out the beautifully redesigned Birkman website for more info.

UPDATE: Forgot to mention I am giving this book away on Monday the 30th! So you have until Monday lunch to leave a comment that will be entered into the drawing.

Dependable Strengths or Motivated Abilities Exercise

I recently got to attend a great seminar on finding your “Dependable Strengths.” It was interesting to see that the core exercise was very similar to the Motivated Abilities Pattern that Arthur Miller suggests in his book The Power of Uniqueness. Today I thought I’d repost an exercise I blogged last year with a couple updates to the instructions from this seminar.

“The surest way I have found to unlock the essence of a person is to look at what he likes to do and do well.” – Arthur Miller


Jot down at least 10 experiences you can remember that satisfy the two criteria: things you enjoyed doing and things you did well.

Be specific about these experiences. List as many details as possible about what you were doing, how you did it, who else was involved and what you felt throughout the process. Here’s a handy acronym to help you:

  • S – Situation
  • T – Task(s)
  • A – Action(s)
  • R – Result(s)

These experiences don’t have to be from a job or school. If building sandcastles as a child was something you enjoyed doing and did well, then write about that! Cleaning your closet, dancing, leading meetings – it really doesn’t matter what realm of life your accomplishments come from or how tangible/abstract they are.

When you’ve written out these ten things that you enjoyed doing and did well, you want to look at the patterns. Even if the activities themselves are widely diverse, there will probably be things about each one that are the same.

Here are some questions to help you:

  1. Do your experiences all fall into one or two general categories of interest? If not, are there other things that each experience has in common?
  2. Did you see patterns to the situation, tasks, actions you took in each scenario?
  3. Look carefully at the results you wrote down. What do they tell you about your motivations?
  4. What did you enjoy most about each activity – your actions, the social factor, the environment you were in?
  5. If you had a hard time coming up with ten things you liked doing and did well, why do you think that was?
  6. Did anything surprise you?

If you try it, I’d love to hear what you uncovered about yourself!

Believing in Your Uniqueness!

If you’re like me, you get a little cynical sometimes about statements like, “Always remember you’re unique” and you add the “just like everyone else!” with heavy sarcasm.

But, no matter how much sarcasm you pour on, the truth is you are unique.

As teenagers, we didn’t necessarily want to be  unique because it meant we didn’t fit in with the people around us. Our uniqueness felt more like a liability than an asset.

Maybe by now, though, we’d like to be unique, but we think we don’t have anything new to offer. A deadly habit of comparing ourselves to others becomes ingrained and we begin to think it’s all been done before.

Either of these two mindsets can keep us from acknowledging and pursuing our callings.

While I think we overcome our overwhelming need to fit in as we grow up, the second mindset that we don’t have anything to offer is much harder to overcome. In The Circle of Quiet, Madeleine L’Engle writes,“If I thought I had to say it better than anybody else, I’d never start. Better or worse is immaterial. The thing is that it has to be said; by me; ontologically. We each have to say it, to say it in our own way.”

And T.S. Eliot referred to this problem in his poem “East Coker V”
“And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.”

It’s encouraging for me, as writer, to know that even these remarkable literary greats battled comparison. As both of them show, the point is that there is no competition. When we start focusing on comparison, we stop believing we’re unique. The point is that we need to try. If we don’t try, we waste the opportunity to make something from what we’ve been given.

Believing in uniqueness helps you accept that you have something to offer the world; it helps you to embrace your calling. So it’s time to put away your cynical sneer and think about some ideas or interests you’ve abandoned because of “it’s all been done before” reasoning.

If it wasn’t a competition and you couldn’t compare yourself to anyone, what interests, activities or ideas would you pursue?