Myers Briggs: Get to Know Your Characters

A little over a year ago, I put Ziva through a Myers Briggs test just out of curiosity and was shocked to find that she has the same MBTI type as I do (ISTJ, for the record). I mean, I had always recognized certain parallels in our personalities, but I definitely hadn't expected the results to be the same. Still, even among the "official" 16 personality types, there are numerous variations and roles, so two people with the same type could still seem pretty different. I followed that experiment up with a blog post highlighting some of my favorite parts from the write-up that came with the test results (the test I used in that particular instance can be found HERE).

But I remembered another test I'd taken before that had a more in-depth graph displaying the results, and I finally found it again not too much later. This time, I put both Ziva and Aroska through it; Ziva got the same ISTJ result, and Aroska came out as ESFJ. We'll take a closer look at their graphs in a moment, but I just thought it was really neat to look at their results, read the write-ups, and see how well those personality types actually matched up with the characters. At the time, I was only about 33% done with the first draft of Ronan, so it was not only encouraging to know I'd done a good job staying true to the characters, but it also helped me continue staying true to them throughout the rest of the book. As a writer, having an actual psychological/scientific understanding of your characters' personalities can definitely help you make (and keep) them more realistic. 

I thought it was cool that both characters ended up with _S_J results, because that's realistic based on their line of work. Sure, it has been established that the field ops and spec ops divisions are responsible for very different things within HSP, but it has also been established that their training and tactics overlap to an extent. According to this second test (called 16Personalities), the second trait -- the S, in this case -- has to do with how a person sees the world and processes information. This test associates the S with Observation, though most Myers Briggs tests say it stands for Sensing. 

"Observant individuals are highly practical, pragmatic, and down-to-earth. They tend to have strong habits and focus on what is happening or has already happened."

A realistic cop mindset, no? The opposite of S is N (Intuition), which has more to do with imagination, curiosity, and focusing on more abstract things. Their other shared trait is J (Judging), which has to do with a person's approach to work, planning, and decision-making.

"Judging individuals are decisive, thorough, and highly organized. They value clarity, predictability, and closure, preferring structure and planning to spontaneity."

Again, pretty realistic considering their line of work. The opposite of J is P (Prospecting), which has to do with improvising, taking opportunities, being flexible, and keeping options open. That's not to say these characters are incapable of being flexible; we've seen them improvise multiple times throughout the series. But their preference toward organization and structure is a lot higher. 

Both characters also share the same Identity (A for Assertive), which deals with how confident someone is in their abilities and decisions. According to the results, an Assertive person is "self-assured, even-tempered, and resistant to stress. They refuse to worry too much and do not push themselves too hard when it comes to achieving goals." That one is DEFINITELY important in their line of work. The opposite of Assertive is Turbulent (T); these people are more self-conscious, sensitive to stress, and more likely to experience a wide range of emotions.

The 16Personalities test can be found HERE, and a breakdown of all the types can be found HERE. I encourage writers of any genre to try it out; take the test as if you were your character, and see what result you get. The design of the result graphs has changed a little since I did this experiment last year, but I just put both Ziva and Aroska through the test again and got the exact same results (#winning). The write-ups for each of the overall personality types are identical, but the results shown on the graph vary by person. Ziva and Aroska's results are as follows.


First, let's address Ziva's role. A role is defined as something that determines a person's goals, interests, and preferred activities. Ziva's role is a Sentinel, which is a result of having the Observant and Judging (_S_J) types. 

"Sentinels are cooperative and highly practical, embracing and creating order, security, and stability wherever they go. People belonging to one of these types tend to be hard working, meticulous, and traditional, and excel in logistical or administrative fields, especially those that rely on clear hierarchies and rules. These personality types stick to their plans and do not shy away from difficult tasks -- however, they can also be very inflexible and reluctant to accept different points of view."

Now, obviously not all of that applies directly to Ziva. She's not cooperative in the sense that she's good at working with other people; she's cooperative in the sense that she plays her part in the hierarchy at HSP. In other words, she understands that she's part of a larger picture and she knows how she fits into that picture. I love the bits about not shying away from difficult tasks and being reluctant to accept other points of view. She's stubborn and she can be almost arrogant, but that confidence helps her get through some very difficult situations...

...which brings us to the next point: strategy. Ziva's strategy is listed as Confident Individualism, which is a result of the Introvert type and the Assertive identity. As soon as I saw that, I was thinking "Oh yes, that's Ziva."

"Confident individuals prefer doing things alone, choosing to rely on their own skills and instincts as opposed to seeking contact with other people. They know what they are good at and have high self-confidence. These personality types firmly believe that personal responsibility and trust in yourself are very important values. Confident individuals do not pay much attention to other people's opinions and prefer to rely on themselves."

See what I mean? But that confidence and personal responsibility are incredibly important in order for her to function; when she's on a mission, second-guessing could mean death. Yes, she knows how to work with a team, but she also believes that the only person she can ever truly rely on is herself.

Here are some snippets from the ISTJ write-up that I thought were particularly applicable:

  • People with the ISTJ personality type enjoy taking responsibility for their actions, and take pride in the work they do -- when working towards a goal, ISTJs hold back none of their time and energy completing each relevant task with accuracy and patience.
  • ISTJs don't make many assumptions, preferring instead to analyze their surroundings, check their facts, and arrive at practical courses of action. ISTJ personalities are no-nonsense, and when they've made a decision, they will relay the facts necessary to achieve their goal, expecting others to grasp the situation immediately and take action. ISTJs have little tolerance for indecisiveness, but lose patience even more quickly if their chosen course is challenged with impractical theories, especially if they ignore key details -- if challenges become time-consuming debates, ISTJs can become noticeably angry as deadlines tick nearer.
  • Combining laziness and dishonesty is the quickest way to get on an ISTJ's bad side. Consequently, people with the ISTJ personality type often prefer to work alone, or at least have their authority clearly established by hierarchy, where they can set and achieve their goals without debate or worry over others' reliability
  • Dependency on others is often seen by ISTJs as a weakness, and their passion for duty, dependability, and impeccable personal integrity forbid falling into such a trap.
  • To ISTJs, honesty is far more important than emotional considerations, and their blunt approach leaves others with the false impression that the ISTJs are cold, or even robotic. People with this type may struggle to express emotion or affection outwardly, but the suggestion that they don't feel, or worse, have no personality at all, is deeply hurtful. 
  • ISTJs would rather run themselves into the ground with extra days and lost sleep than fail to deliver the results they said they would. Loyalty is a strong sentiment for ISTJ personalities, and they fulfill their duties to the people and organizations they've committed themselves to. 
  • ISTJs are proud repositories of knowledge, though the emphasis is more on facts and statistics than concepts and underlying principles. This allows ISTJs to apply themselves to a variety of situations, picking up and applying new data and grasping the details of challenging situations as a matter of course. 
  • While not intentionally harsh, ISTJs often hurt more sensitive types' feelings by the simple mantra that honesty is the best policy.
  • ISTJs often unreasonably blame themselves.... Since they've heaped the responsibility on themselves, ISTJs then believe the responsibility for failure is theirs alone to bear.
  • People with the ISTJ personality type can get so caught up in the belief in their correctness, in "winning" arguments they thought were about facts, that they don't realize their partner may have viewed things from a perspective of consideration and sensitivity.
  • Partners who share the Observant (S) trait are the best fit for ISTJ personalities, with one or two opposing traits to create balance and to expand ISTJs' sometimes overly-isolated world, such as partners with Extraverted (E) or Prospecting (P) traits.

HMMMMMMM. Shipping it. #Ariva5eva


Aroska also has the Sentinel role, though he's clearly more cooperative from an interpersonal standpoint. I'm not sure if he's quite as extroverted as this graph shows (the percentage on the old version was lower), but he's definitely more people-friendly. He works just as hard as Ziva, but in a different capacity. He too knows his place in the overall hierarchy at HSP; he respects authority, but he is also an authority figure to be respected (or at least he was before the events of the books, back when he was leading his own team). 

Like Ziva with her Confident Individualism, I agreed immediately when I saw that Aroska got the People Mastery strategy. Field operations is a much more people-oriented sphere of HSP than spec ops. While the spec ops agents work behind the scenes, field ops agents are kind of the "face" of the agency, maintaining order and carrying out investigations in plain view (for the most part, anyway -- I've always pictured spec ops being like the CIA and field ops being more FBI-ish). They establish relationships with civilians and fellow HSP agents alike. 

"People Masters seek social contact and tend to have very good communication skills, feeling at ease in social events or in situations where they need to rely on or direct other people. These types are confident in their abilities and do not hesitate to express their opinions. Playing an active role in the society and knowing what makes other people tick mean a lot for People Masters; however, they are not too concerned about what other people think about them."

I loved that description. Aroska has never struck me as someone who would really go out of his way to be social, but he has no trouble adapting to social situations. He's a good teammate, but he also thrives when placed in a leadership position. But I especially loved the "knowing what makes other people tick" part. Yes, it's his job as an investigator to understand people, but he's also very in tune to other people's emotions. It's mentioned a number of times that he wants to know what's going on inside Ziva's head, and it's revealed in Ronan that that -- among other things -- is why she has tried so hard to maintain the barrier between them. I got really excited when I read that description because I knew I'd done a good job keeping him in character. 

Here are some snippets from the ESFJ write-up that I thought were particularly applicable:

  • ESFJs are altruists, and they take seriously their responsibility to help and to do the right thing. Unlike their Diplomat (NF) relatives however, people with the ESFJ personality type will base their moral compass on established traditions and laws, upholding authority and rules, rather than drawing their morality from philosophy or mysticism. 
  • ESFJs love to be of service, enjoying any role that allows them to participate in a meaningful way, so long as they know that they are valued and appreciated.
  • The best thing for ESFJs to do is to do what they do best: be a role model, take care of what they have the power to take care of, and enjoy that so many people do appreciate the efforts they make.
  • People with the ESFJ personality type have a strong sense of responsibility and strive to meet their obligations, though this may sometimes be more from a sense of social expectations than intrinsic drive.
  • Valuing stability and security very highly, ESFJs are eager to preserve the status quo, which makes them extremely loyal and trustworthy partners and employees. ESFJs are true pillars of any groups they belong to -- whether it is their family or a community club, people with this personality type can always be relied upon
  • Everything about ESFJs' relationships is based on satisfying mutual needs, from creating understanding early on to building mutual respect and support for each other's opinions and goals. 
  • Loyal and warm, ESFJs are known for standing by their friends no matter what, and providing a constant source of emotional support and encouragement. 
  • Because ESFJs' traits are so strongly expressed, leading with practical sense and social vigor, the careers they find most satisfying usually revolve around making the best use of these qualities. ESFJs are well-organized, enjoying bringing order and structure to their workplaces, and often work best in environments with clear, predictable hierarchies and tasks. 
  • ESFJs enjoy the responsibility that comes with organizing social situations, and the enjoyment they feel in managing other people translates well into management positions. As team leaders, ESFJs find ways to make everyone feel involved, uniting people and smoothing relations in order to get things done. 
  • ESFJs have specific needs for their relationships, and certain personality types are best able to meet those needs. In general, partners should share ESFJs' Observant (S) trait, but it can also be useful to develop a sense of introspection that Introverted (I) partners can provide, with maybe one more opposing trait to help ESFJs focus on logical decisions when appropriate, or to be more open-minded in new situations. 

Mmmmmm yep, still shipping it.

Have YOU tried putting your characters through a Myers Briggs test? What results did you get? Were you surprised, or did you recognize some of your characters' traits in the results? I think this can definitely be a valuable exercise, whether it's just for fun or used as a legitimate character development tool. 

Learn more about Ziva and Aroska in the Ziva Payvan series, available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback formats. You can find excerpts from the books here on my site.