In my Typology 101 post, I provided an overview of the eight Myers-Briggs preferences (E, I, S, N, T, F, J, P). While the preferences can be helpful for determining your personality type and gaining a basic understanding of the types, they do not give us the whole story. It’s also critical to develop an understanding of the eight functions.
Up until about 2018, I exclusively utilized Carl Jung’s concepts (e.g., “Introverted Intuition”) when dealing with the functions. However, at some point I began to see the potential benefits of conceiving the functions in terms of their primary roles, which I have since come to call “Function Roles.”
The advantage of Function Roles is they deliver a wealth information in a single concept (e.g., Fi as “Valuing”). They can also be paired with symbolic images that quicken and aid understanding:
This approach isn’t without its drawbacks, however. If the name assigned to a Function Role fails to resonate, individuals may lose interest or associate themselves with the wrong type or function. Exclusive employment of Function Roles may also lead to the neglect of worthwhile details and nuances associated with Jung’s concepts.
We’re essentially dealing with a trade-off between the logical structuring of Jung’s terminology versus the immediate, holistic impression of the Function Roles; it’s a left versus right-brain dilemma. But since both approaches have their merits, I’m willing to grant each a seat at the table.
In this post, we’ll explore the essential features of the functions through both an analytic and holistic lens. Hopefully, this will furnish a more comprehensive and meaningful understanding of the functions than either approach on its own.
I. Analytic Approach to the 8 Functions
My understanding of the functions was largely built on intensive study of the analytic work and writings of Jung, Myers-Briggs, and their predecessors. So I’d like to start by offering a brief overview of what I consider to be the key conceptual categories that distinguish the eight functions. While valuable in its own right, this discussion will also serve as a necessary theoretical backdrop for understanding the Function Roles, which we’ll discuss later in this post.
Concealed or Expressed?
Concealed / Introverted Functions: Ni, Si, Ti, Fi
Expressed / Extraverted Functions: Ne, Se, Te, Fe
This distinction is fairly obvious and easy to understand. Extraverted (E) functions, by definition, are directed outwardly, while the introverted (I) functions are directed inwardly. Extraverted functions are more overtly expressed and readily observed. Introverted functions, in being largely concealed, are harder to discern from without.
As I’ve noted elsewhere, this can lead to misunderstandings about introverts since their dominant function, which is introverted in nature, isn’t readily revealed or discerned. Instead, what people typically encounter is introverts’ extraverted auxiliary function, which is neither their strongest nor most preferred function. At any rate, this is important to understand when engaging with and typing introverts.
Judging or Perceiving?
Judging Functions: Ti, Fi, Te, Fe
Perceiving Functions: Ni, Si, Ne, Se
The judging functions help us make decisions and draw conclusions. They involve a desire to control, predict, order, or otherwise shape the course of things. When using a judging function, we may close ourselves off to new information (i.e., shut down perceiving) in hopes of advancing toward goal, answer, or decision.
The perceiving functions are responsible for taking in or retrieving information. Observing birds, smelling flowers, reading novels, and recalling something from memory are examples of perceiving activities. The perceiving functions are less concerned with actively shaping or controlling and might thus be seen as more passive than their judging counterparts.
Judging and perceiving functions can be concealed (I) or expressed (E). Types with a judging (J) preference outwardly express judging through either Fe or Te and may thus seem more firm, serious, and forthright. Types with a perceiving (P) preference display Se or Ne and often appear more casual, open, and flexible.
Autonomous or Shared?
Autonomous: Fi, Ti
Shared: Fe, Te
This category is less frequently discussed than the first two, but relates to the age-old distinction between the individual and the collective. While the specifics will differ according to whether we’re discussing thinking or feeling, the underlying structure is the same.
Fi and Ti, used primarily by FPs and TPs respectively, are both autonomous functions insofar as their reasons (Ti), values (Fi), and methods are derived from within. Hence, their judgments may at times seem more idiosyncratic or unorthodox than those of Fe or Te.
As extraverted functions, Fe and Te, used primarily by FJs and TJs, are oriented to shared or collective norms. Fe aligns itself with F norms like social customs, manners, gestures, etc. Its judgments also have a stronger interpersonal bent than those of Fi. Te judgments are guided and informed by pre-established technical, scientific, legal, or organizational standards. Whereas Ti is inclined to invent its own standards and methods, Te generally trusts that standardized procedures are there for a reason, namely, that they have proven to be fundamentally sound and reliable.
In reading this, one might get the sense that Ti and Fi are a bit more rebellious, while Te and Fe are more conforming. I don’t think this is entirely wrong, especially if we’re careful to delineate the context in which this is true (e.g., Ti being more rebellious or “freethinking” in T matters, Fi in F matters). That said, when it comes to ideas, intuition (N) is strongly associated with originality and unconventionality, which means that NJs are also disposed to unorthodoxy, even if they don’t wear it on their sleeves.
Lastly, while there may be some ways in which the S and N functions are classifiable as autonomous or shared, this distinction is, in my view, more applicable to the judging functions. The perceiving functions are better described in terms of convergence and divergence, which we’ll now discuss.
Convergent or Divergent?
Convergent: Ni, Si
Divergent: Ne, Se
This category centers on the scope and duration of perception. Jung sometimes described the introverted approach as intensive and the extraverted approach as extensive. In other words, introverts tend to spend more time focused on one thing, whereas the extraverted focus is shorter-lived and more diversified.
Both Ni and Si excel at extracting from experience to form a consistent and reliable worldview. They winnow down their perceptions to achieve a coherent and convergent understanding. This understanding then serves as both a guide for living and a lens for interpreting new experiences. The convergent operations of Ni and Si may in some respects make them seem like judging functions. But this is only the case if we push the “closure equal judging” idea too far and fail to recognize that the underlying method of Ni and Si remains perceptive in nature.
On the flip side, Ne and Se are well viewed as divergent functions. They spread themselves thin across a variety of sensory experiences (Se) or abstract ideas / possibilities (Ne). Unlike Ni and Si, they are less concerned with or adept at winnowing down their perceptions. Instead, they are compelled by novelty, constantly expanding their bucket list of experiences or imagined possibilities.
II. A Holistic Approach: “Function Roles”
The analytic criteria for the functions we just discussed is the foundation from which my understanding of the Function Roles emerged. In addition, I used the following criteria in selecting descriptors for each function:
- The descriptor must be a readily recognized human role or activity.
- For the sake of theoretical parsimony, only one descriptor will be assigned per function.
- The descriptor will aim to capture what is most essential, significant, or distinguishing about each function.
It’s important to recognize that the functions don’t operate in isolation. Each personality type routinely uses all four of its functions. Because of these interactions, we often see similarities between types even though they’re using a different group of functions. Two (or more) functions can combine to produce an effect resembling that of another function (e.g., Ni and Se combining in a way that mimics Ne).
The following snapshots of the Function Roles should not be seen as a comprehensive description of the functions. For this reason, I included links below each description to pages containing additional details. My primary concern here is to help readers understand the rationale behind the descriptors and images.
Introverted Intuition (Ni): “Knowing”
Intuitive (N) judging (J) types employ Introverted Intuition (Ni) as either their dominant or auxiliary function. Malcolm Gladwell has cleverly described intuition as a process of “knowing without knowing” that is, of having the sense that we know something, but without a full understanding of how we came to know it. Such is the experience of NJ types, whom Ni perpetually imbues with a sense of “knowing” and insight into things.
As we discussed earlier, Ni operates convergently rather than divergently. Instead of creating an ever-expanding web of connections like Ne, it extracts core insights and develops convergent explanatory models. It’s a process of distillation, of distinguishing what’s lasting and essential from what’s arbitrary, fleeting, or anomalous.
In response to Ni’s convergent workings, NJs commonly report a strong sense of intuitive knowing and conviction. While their NP counterparts are inclined to see Ne’s ideas as potentially or provisionally valid, NJs experience Ni’s insights as self-evidently true and trustworthy.
The “mind’s eye” is a popular symbol for intuitive knowing and in-sight, which is why I chose the eye to represent Ni.
Extraverted Intuition (Ne): “Ideating”
Intuitive (N) perceiving (P) types use Extraverted Intuition (Ne) as either their dominant or auxiliary function. As we discussed above, Ne is a divergent form of intuition, specializing in generating lots of ideas, connections, and possibilities. Compelled to explore all the available options and possibilities, making firm and final decisions can be particularly challenging for NPs.
According to Wikipedia, divergent thinking is “a thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions.” Due to Ne’s ability to prodigiously make new and unprecedented connections, NPs outperform other types on several measures of creativity.
Merriam-Webster defines “ideating” as “forming an idea or conception of.” In art, ideation refers to the early stages of the creative process as explored through sketching, prototyping, or brainstorming. This seems to perfectly capture the role of Ne, which is to generate ideas and conceptual possibilities.
The verbal expression of Ne often resembles brainstorming aloud. When orating, NPs may not always seem to “have a point” as they meander from one idea to the next. To other types, Ne can seem random, distractible, quirky, or flighty.
Ne also enjoys imagining and speculating about what could be. Its interest in envisioning future possibilities gives NPs a good nose for fields like art, design, marketing, inventing, and entrepreneurship.
Introverted Feeling (Fi): “Valuing”
Feeling (F) perceiving (P) types use Introverted Feeling (Fi) as either their dominant or auxiliary function. As we discussed earlier, Fi is directed inwardly, navigating and managing personal feelings and values on a largely independent basis. While Fe relies on others for emotional support and kinship, Fi is more autonomous in managing emotional matters. When FPs do opt to express their feelings and values, they often do so indirectly—be it through active (S), creative (N), or rational (T) channels.
As detailed in my book, My True Type, each of the eight functions can be seen as having its own set of values. Nevertheless, I decided to describe Fi as “valuing” for a couple reasons. The first is that, more than any other function, Fi has a natural appreciation for life itself—especially things like nature, children, and animals. No one needs to teach FPs about the value and sanctity of life because they already feel it on a deep, innate level. Indeed, many common FP causes—child welfare, environmentalism, vegetarianism, animal rights, etc.—are merely extensions of their Fi core values.
FPs also use their personal values as a compass for navigating life. Although Fi values may overlap with Fe collective values, FPs will go against the cultural grain if something doesn’t sit right with them. Recognizing the importance of having the liberty to follow their own values, FPs are typically happy to extend the same freedom to others. They also tend to appreciate the diverse expressions and ways of life that emerge when individuals (and cultures) march to the beat of their own drummer.
Extraverted Feeling (Fe): “Connecting”
Feeling (F) judging (J) types use Extraverted Feeling (Fe) as either their dominant or auxiliary function. The extraverted nature of Fe is illustrated by the fact that FJs are the most emotionally expressive and communicative of all types.
As we touched on earlier, Fe is less emotionally autonomous than Fi. This is true in two senses. First, Fe is quicker to turn to others for emotional support. In many respects, simply talking about their emotional concerns feels therapeutic for FJs. Second, Fe always keeps a close eye on social norms to discern the “socially appropriate” words or emotions for the situation. They’ll often put their own emotions on the backburner (assuming they’re aware of them) to ensure they blend with the social context. While this may seem inauthentic or disingenuous to Fi types, it helps to establish the social cohesion and connections FJs care about.
In addition to calibrating itself to the social context, Fe excels at reading and mirroring others’ emotions. This makes it a powerful tool for achieving Fe’s foremost concern: establishing emotional rapport with others. Without solid interpersonal connection, the rest of Fe’s agenda—advising others, improving morale, building consensus, etc.—is apt to prove ineffective.
Fe also inspires FJs to notice and meet the needs of others. FJs want to know that everyone is getting along and is treated humanely and hospitably. They also enjoy offering counsel and advice, especially on spiritual, personal, or interpersonal matters
Introverted Thinking (Ti): “Reasoning”
Thinking (T) perceiving (P) types employ Ti as either their dominant or auxiliary function. It’s helpful to think of Ti as an innate proclivity for logical reasoning—be it spatial, mathematical, or otherwise. Readers who are school teachers are probably familiar with the notion of “number sense” and how it’s naturally stronger in some students than others. Likewise, logical thinking is second nature for TPs, allowing them to independently reason their way through logical challenges. TPs (especially ITPs) are your quintessential “Do-It-Yourself” or “Go-It-Alone” types, which is why, in our earlier discussion, I classified Ti as an autonomous function vis-à-vis Te.
“Reasoning,” per the Oxford dictionary, involves “thinking, understanding, and forming judgments by a process of logic.” Moreover, the term “reason” has long been associated with the discipline of philosophy, and many famous philosophers were likely INTPs. Philosophy has also served as a haven for “freethinkers,” for those brave enough to scrutinize the assumptions of even the most widely accepted beliefs or paradigms. This highlights the critical and probing nature of Ti thought (especially when partnered Ne), which I discuss at length in my two INTP books.
That said, we must be careful not to bias our view of Ti too far in the direction of NTP abstraction. The truth is that Ti is just as relevant and useful for engaging with practical (S) problems as it is for abstract (N) ones; STPs tend to focus more on the former, NTPs on the latter. STP athletes, surgeons, and mechanics, for instance, use Ti reasoning to make decisions about the concrete situation before them. NTPs apply Ti more abstractly—tinkering with ideas, theories, designs, etc.
Extraverted Thinking (Te): “Structuring”
Thinking (T) judging (J) types utilize Extraverted Thinking (Te) as either their dominant or auxiliary function. Interpersonally, Te involves the outward expression of rational judgments and assertions; TJs literally “think out loud.” Expressing themselves firmly and frankly, they’re your quintessential “straight shooters.”
Te aims to rationally understand external systems / structures, to diagnose their shortcomings, and to make them more efficient and effective. At home, Te may oversee activities like planning, labeling, organizing, and finances. In the workplace, it may be used to streamline and optimize processes, or even to restructure an entire organization. To do so effectively, Te draws on empirical data and established methods and procedures.
Unlike TPs, TJs prefer not to improvise, but would rather employ proven ways of doing things. That said, NTJs in particular will jettison or work to revise existing standards when necessary, but this is typically a product of their intuition more than Te.
Te’s proficiency with “structuring” activities contributes to TJs’ success in work that involves planning, organizing, mapping, or quantification. This may include careers in a broad array of fields such as law, business, finance, science, management, technology, etc.
Introverted Sensing (Si): “Stabilizing”
Sensing (S) judging (J) types use Introverted Sensing (Si) as either their dominant or auxiliary function. Si trusts what it knows. And what it knows is what it recalls from past experience—from memories, traditions, affiliations, established routines, etc. In contrast to the future orientation of Ne, the values and decisions of Si are guided by the past. Rather than trying something new, Si prefers to play it safe, sticking with established beliefs and behaviors. More than other types, SJs find comfort and pleasure in the known and familiar. As I observed in My True Type:
Growing attached to the routine, familiar, and expected, repetition plays a prominent role in Si. The more times SJs repeat something—eat a certain meal, listen to a certain song, etc.—the more likeable (or tolerable) it becomes… SJs also take a conservative approach to their beliefs and worldview. As adults, they often persist in the beliefs, percepts, and traditions of their childhood.
Familiarity confers a sense of safety and security for SJs. If they can perpetuate the past into the present and future, they know what to expect and can plan accordingly. Their preference for stability and predictability contributes to SJs’ loyalty and reliability in all aspects of life—whether as friends, spouses, parents, or employees. In the workplace, Si aids with attention to detail, adherence to established rules and procedures, and quality control. It’s particularly useful in legal, clerical, administrative, and related fields.
Extraverted Sensing (Se): “Experiencing”
Sensing (S) perceivers (P) employ Extraverted Sensing (Se) as either their dominant or auxiliary function. Commonly associated with the “five senses,” Se mediates our relationship to our physical surroundings. With its eye for details and quick instincts, it was surely (and literally) a life-saver in our hunter-gatherer days.
SP types are sensual, instinctual, and appetitive. They relish novel sensory experiences, material pleasures, and the thrill of action. Se is stimulated by ever-changing environmental circumstances and challenges. This is why many SPs enjoy athletic activities, which provide a steady stream of new and unpredictable challenges to perceive and respond to. SPs can also engage their Se through hands-on tasks and projects, as well as by experimenting with new things (e.g., recipes, furniture arrangements, fashions) and experiences (e.g., traveling).
Se’s aesthetic preferences often reflect what’s popular or trendy. Some SPs develop expensive taste, be it for food, wine, cars, or accommodations. Not only are these things pleasurable in their own right, but they can also serve as status symbols, which SPs tend to appreciate.
Due to their ability to observe and quickly respond to changes in the immediate environment, SPs tend to enjoy and excel at hands-on work: things like cooking, carpentry, auto repair, surgery, emergency response, personal training, cosmetology, etc.
For an in-depth look at each of the 8 functions, be sure to explore our latest eBook: