By Dr. A.J. Drenth
“ESTP” is one of sixteen personality types. While some estimates suggest ESTPs comprise only 4% of the general population, my research and experience suggests that estimates of 7% (or higher) are likely to be closer to the mark. ESTP males are thought to outnumber females at a clip of two to one.
As is true of the ESFP, ESTPs’ personality traits include being fun, active, and charming. Because ESTPs’ Thinking function is introverted in its direction (Ti), it often goes unnoticed by outsiders. What others tend to see is ESTPs engaging in action (Se) or with people (Fe). Their tertiary function, Extraverted Feeling (Fe), contributes ample affability and personableness to their outward presentation.
ESTPs typically display conventional, even stylish, forms of dress. While their Ti is concerned with functionality and practicality, their Extraverted Sensing (Se) and Fe functions are attuned to the trendy and popular; social status is often a high priority for ESTPs.
Since their dominant function (Se) is a Perceiving function, ESTPs are naturally more concerned with experiencing the world than they are with structuring or controlling it. And as Extraverts, the outside world serves as their primary source of stimulation. This makes ESTPs the most action-oriented and task-oriented of all types. Without a task or something novel to experience, they can quickly become bored and restless. With adequate stimulation, ESTPs act and respond quickly, making things happen and getting things accomplished. They are “doers,” men and women of action.
Like the ISTP, ESTPs display great kinesthetic intelligence. They are athletic and mechanically-inclined, endowed with ample dexterity and hand-eye coordination. In contrast to the ENTP, who exhibits a preponderance of mental energy, the ESTP exudes great physical energy. ENTPs use Ne to explore new ideas or hypotheticals. ESTPs employ their bodies and senses to explore and manipulate the physical world (Se). Therefore, ESTP careers-seekers commonly pursue work that allows them to explore sensory novelties and use their practical intelligence to solve concrete problems (i.e., Holland “Realistic careers). They make excellent chefs, athletes, chiropractors, physical therapists, surgeons, etc. They can also make great performers. Their sense of style and presentation, combined with their kinesthetic capacities, allow them to excel as actors, musicians, and the like.
Because of their preference for hands-on activities, ESTPs may underperform in academic settings. This may not be due to a lack of ability per se, but to a lack of Se stimulation. As is true for all SPs, the most concrete of all the personality types, being forced to deal in abstractions for too long can be draining for ESTPs. Their impatience with abstractions may also explain why they are more apt to be diagnosed with ADD or ADHD than some of the other personality types.
ESTPs are generally open and adaptable to new experiences. Despite their status as Extraverts, they often prefer “doing” more than talking. While they may be chatty at times, neither Se nor Ti is a highly verbal function. Thus, ESTPs first instinct is to express themselves via action rather than words. Their relationships are generally built around a breadth of shared activities (Se) rather than extensive, in-depth conversations. But since status and reputation are important to both their Se and Fe, ESTPs may be far more talkative at work or in public settings. In the public arena, they may quickly shift into “schmoozing mode.” This can differ dramatically from their private persona, where they can seem more independent and aloof. The ostensible disparity between their public and private personas may at times lead their intimates to consider them narcissistic or hypocritical.
As we’ve seen, ESTPs’ public actions are driven by a need to be admired and respected. This stems, in large part, from their tertiary Fe, which combined with their Se concern for appearances, prompts them to take their social obligations quite seriously. Since their public actions affect their reputation, ESTPs are careful not to act in ways that could jeopardize their social standing. In attempting to maintain a strong public image, they may be particular about punctuality, dressing appropriately, and behaving according to social expectations. This image-consciousness contributes to their tendency to score high as Enneagram Threes.
ESTPs’ public conscientiousness may lead them to mistype themselves as ESTJs. But ESTJs, whose dominant function is Extraverted Thinking (Te), tend to be far more blunt and unapologetic in their assertions than ESTPs. ESTPs exude an affability and personableness that is clearly distinguishable from the take-charge, “to-the-point” persona of ESTJs. In social settings, ESTPs can blend and engage with people far more effortlessly than is typical of ESTJs. While ESTPs put people at ease, ESTJs are often uncomfortably direct or opinionated.
Like other Perceivers, ESTPs can have a propensity for acting passively or passive-aggressively in their relationships. Because their Ti precedes their extraverted Fe in their functional stack, ESTPs are more apt to internalize (Ti) or act on (Se) their frustrations than openly talk about them (Fe). This can be frustrating for partners who would prefer to dialogue about their concerns rather than ESTPs taking matters into their own hands. This can be complicated by the fact that, because of their tertiary Fe, ESTPs may prefer to avoid conflict and function, to some degree, as people-pleasers. Hence, ESTPs can find themselves caught between wanting to please their partner, on the one hand, and wanting to convey their frustrations, on the other. This can lead to a situation in which ESTPs are being outwardly compliant while furtively engaging in duplicitous or passive-aggressive behaviors.
ESTP Personality Type Development & “Functional Stack”
ESTPs’ functional stack is composed of the following functions:
Dominant: Extraverted Sensing (Se)
Auxiliary: Introverted Thinking (Ti)
Tertiary: Extraverted Feeling (Fe)
Inferior: Introverted Intuition (Ni)
ESTPs’ personality type development can be broadly conceived as consisting of three phases:
Phase I (Teens-20s)
This phase of development is characterized by the emergence of Extraverted Sensing (Se) as ESTPs’ dominant personality function. Phase I ESTPs are fun-loving and free-spirited. They enjoy being active and drinking in all the experiences life has to offer. Since their foremost concern is absorbing and experiencing the world, they tend not to take themselves or life itself too seriously. Phase I ESTPs may also show some degree of development in their auxiliary function, Introverted Thinking (Ti).
Phase II (20s & 30s)
While the inferior function is not entirely dormant or inert in Phase I, the tug-of-war between the dominant and inferior does not come to the fore until Phase II. Once ESTPs’ dominant Se reaches a certain threshold of strength and dominance, their inferior function, Introverted Intuition (Ni), begins to assert itself and play a more significant role. This can be somewhat confusing since Ni is not next in line in ESTPs’ functional stack, but can be understood as deriving from its bipolar relationship with their dominant Se. Phase II ESTPs also show increasing use and development of their auxiliary Ti, and may even begin to tap into their tertiary function, Extraverted Feeling (Fe).
Phase III (30s, 40s, & Beyond)
If all goes well and they are fortunate enough to enter Phase III, ESTPs become increasingly aware of the insidious ways of their inferior Ni. As they become more aware of their inferior and learn to function more healthily as ESTPs, they experience greater balance between their Se and Ni, as well as a long-awaited sense of peace and wholeness.
ESTPs’ Dominant Function: Extraverted Sensing (Se)
There are two varieties of Sensing: Introverted Sensing (Si) and Extraverted Sensing (Se). While Si is conservative with respect to the material world, Se is more liberal and novelty-oriented. Se involves the perception of information through the five senses (i.e., sight, smell, touch, sound, and taste). It is sensual, instinctual, and appetitive. Se types love novel sensations, physical thrills, and material comforts. They are “sensation-seekers,” relishing novel experiences and the thrill of action.
Se attunes to the concrete details and sensory data of the present by way of the five senses. ESTPs naturally scan the environment for interesting sensory novelties, noticing details that other types might miss.
As a child, I would occasionally go on long car rides with my ESTP father. He loved driving because it provided him with the constant change in scenery needed to stimulate his Se. It was a rare occasion that he failed to “spot” something to bring to my attention: a deer prancing through a distant field, a rare sports car, or a hawk scoping out its prey from above. Only occasionally could he be found directly attending to the road ahead, since he was always on scanning for something novel and interesting.
ESTPs commonly enjoy hobbies that capitalize on their keen powers of observation. My father has always enjoyed keeping his cars in immaculate condition, washing them by hand twice a week. The notion of “detailing” a vehicle aptly describes a primary purpose of Se, involving close attention to the details of the immediate environment.
Se also contributes to ESTPs’ love of sports, food, sex, and physical action. As we’ve seen, ESTPs love working with their hands and quickly responding to environmental demands.
ESTP’s Auxiliary Function: Introverted Thinking (Ti)
As dominant Perceivers, ESTPs are naturally disposed to taking a less intentional approach to life. Like other EPs, they are content to remain in an open mode of Perceiving until life demands a response or judgment. When ESTPs are compelled to make judgments a la their auxiliary Ti, they become more inwardly focused and intense, similar to the typical mode of operation for ISTPs. But because Ti is introverted in its direction, onlookers may fail to notice this more serious side of the ESTP.
Ti involves the application of logic and reason for the sake of understanding a given situation, system, or problem. Ti also works to bring structure and order to the inner world. This inner structuring grants ESTPs a good sense of inner control. Inwardly, ESTPs are self-disciplined, working to independently manage their thoughts and objectives.
Ti might also be viewed in terms of fluid intelligence, whereas Extraverted Thinking (Te) seems more related to crystallized intelligence. Ti is more intuitive, contextual, and right-brained, whereas Te is more abstract, procedure-oriented, and left-brained. The fluid nature of their Ti, combined with the keen observational powers of their Se, contributes to ESTPs’ acumen as practical problem solvers. ESTPs can analyze a situation, diagnose the problem, and then determine how to fix it.
The difference between Ti in ESTPs versus ISTPs is its place in the functional stack. For ISTPs, Ti comes first, which makes them characteristically more serious, focused, and quicker to judge. ISTPs then use their auxiliary Se to open up and further explore their initial judgments. For ESTPs, the order is reversed. They do not start with an initial judgment or presumption like ISTPs, but approach things through the open eyes of their Se. They then employ their Ti to evaluate, structure, and order their Se observations. Their Se dominance also makes ESTPs more open to “playing” or perceiving for its own sake.
ESTPs’ Tertiary Function: Extraverted Feeling (Fe)
ESTPs’ tertiary function is Extraverted Feeling (Fe). Fe is the most interpersonal of all the functions. It strives to promote interpersonal peace, harmony, and understanding. This involves attending not only to what is said, but also how it is said. It allows ESTPs to quickly establish rapport and connections with others.
Fe also involves a desire to be socially understood and validated. Although ESTPs may not connect with others on a deep level of feeling, their Fe still desires the sense of affirmation and validation that comes from engaging with people. So even though they are Thinking types, ESTPs need a certain degree of social engagement. As we’ve seen, they particularly enjoy engaging with others in the public arena.
We can also approach ESTPs’ Fe more theoretically. Namely, since Fe serves as their extraverted Judging function and falls lower in their functional stack, they are generally less comfortable extroverting judgments (Fe) than they are keeping their judgments to themselves (Ti). This can lead ESTPs to habitually defer to others’ wishes rather than asserting their own, functioning to some extent as “people-pleasers.” But because ESTPs have fairly independent minds (Ti), they may eventually grow resentful of others who they may see as trying to control them. This can result in ESTPs functioning unhealthily in what is sometimes described as a “co-dependent” fashion. On the one hand, they feel reliant on their partners for Fe support, while on the other, they feel the need to be unfettered (Se) and independent (Ti).
ESTPs’ Inferior Function: Introverted Intuition (Ni)
As is true of other types, ESTPs can be easily blinded to the degree to which their inferior function impacts their decisions and behavior. Without sufficient awareness and integration of their inferior, ESTPs will continue to feel incomplete and be prone to unwise decision-making in their lifestyle, careers, and relationships. Consequently, ESTPs seeking self-knowledge and personal growth must work to understand the ways their inferior function, Introverted Intuition (Ni), manifests in their personality.
ESTPs’ inferior Ni may manifest as a desire to be seen as profound or insightful with respect to abstract topics, such as politics or religion. So by asserting and defending certain dogmas or ideologies, ESTPs can experience a strong, even if unhealthy, sense of ego validation.
Since Ni is a fairly convergent function, it may inspire ESTPs to latch onto a single theory, worldview, or plan for their lives. So instead of going with the flow and allowing life to come to them (Se), they may try to force-fit life into a preformed Ni plan. This of course goes against their most natural (and healthy) mode of Se functioning, making them susceptible to unwise decision-making in their careers, relationships, and otherwise.
Healthy functioning for ESTPs, as well as other personality types, involves the development and regular employment of their dominant and auxiliary functions. ESTPs must realize that their best insights and decisions will not come from their immature Ni, but will emerge primarily from gaining a breadth of experiences (Se), combined with rational analyses of those experiences (Ti). When ESTPs extend much beyond their own experiences, they are prone to much greater error and are more likely to fall into the grip of their Ni ego.
For a more extensive look at each of the ESTP’s personality preferences and functions, be sure to explore my latest eBook:
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