[Prometheus Nemesis Book Company, 350 pages]
Please Understand Me II details David Keirsey’s complex four-type personality system. Rooted in philosophy, literature and behavioural psychology, the system is based on the popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.
Readers start by either taking the 70-question Keirsey Temperament Sorter II, a personality test that will tell you your four-letter personality type, or the shorter test at the back of the book called the Keirsey Four Types Sorter.
After the test, Keirsey describes the historical frame of reference for his personality typing system. He highlights similarities between his four personality types and the four types of man described in past philosophy, literature, and behavioural science. He also raises psychological theories that are not in agreement with his. Keirsey describes how he has based his 16 four-letter types on those of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. As a former philosophy student, I found his connections with the four types of citizens featured in Plato’s The Republic interesting; I’ve read parts of The Republic, and noted Plato’s various types of citizen, but I hadn’t connected it with any modern personality typing system on my own. I respect the fact that Keirsey brought up theories that didn’t match his, and answered those by explaining that the theorists believed one type to represent a higher level of human development than the others, while Keirsey sees all of the types as different but equal.
The book continues with a chapter on each of the four main categories of personality, describing each category’s typical word usage, tool usage, interests, worldview, self-image, values, and social roles. There are also brief descriptions of the four out of 16 types that fit into each main category. Keirsey follows these chapters with three chapters on the different categories’ mating patterns, parenting styles, and leadership/working styles (including the type of intelligence that’s common to individuals in each category).
I’ve read this book about 10 times, and I have to admit it was a difficult read the first time around. Keirsey himself is a self-proclaimed NT “Rational” type, so he tends to be rather abstract in his descriptions, and he also uses advanced vocabulary. The author eased comprehension by inserting quotes from fictional and non-fictional figures whom he believed to represent each of the four main types. Once I read the book a second time, the descriptions became clearer and I started connecting them with people I encountered in everyday life. My four-letter type is INFJ, so the main category I fit in was NF “Idealist.” As I was reading the Idealist section, I started noticing some of my major traits and behaviours being described. It was interesting to read a rationale of why each type does some of the peculiar things that they do. While typing doesn’t excuse bad behaviour, learning that I was in a category representing only 12 percent of the population somewhat justified my common decision not to “follow the crowd.” I tested some willing friends after reading the type descriptions and hypothesizing about what their types may be, and usually they ended up being in the category that I’d guessed; this indicates that Keirsey’s test is congruent with his type descriptions.
While this is now one of my favourite books, and its Intelligence/Leading chapter is especially excellent for one to learn more about the different thought patterns and behavioural styles within a workplace, I wouldn’t recommend it to someone unfamiliar with personality. When I read it for the first time, I’d already read several other books on personality psychology that were easier to understand. Since Keirsey’s system is based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, it would be best to read a simpler book on the MBTI before delving into Keirsey. I’d recommend Type Talk by Otto Krueger and Janet M. Thuesen or Do What You Are (which deals with type and careers) by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger. After getting to know the basics of personality, reading Please Understand Me II will offer that additional understanding of the self—a strong desire of the NF “Idealist” type!