Myers on Introversion: The Allegory of the General and the Tent

This post is about Introverts and Extroverts in the MBTI system. If you don’t know you type, here is a free MBTI test.

If people do not realize that there is a General in the tent who far outranks the Aide they have met, they may easily assume that the Aide is in sole charge. This is a regrettable mistake. It leads not only to an underestimation of the introvert’s abilities, but also to an incomplete understanding of his wishes, plans, and point of view. The only source for such inside information is the General.

A cardinal precaution in dealing with introverts, therefore, is not to assume, just from ordinary contact, that they have revealed what really matters to them. Whenever there is a decision to be made that involves introverts, they should be told about it as fully as possible. If the matter is important to them, the General will come out of the tent and reveal a number of new things, and the ultimate decision will have a better chance of being right.” – Isabel Myers, Gifts Differing p. 13

Now, as Isabel Myers explains, a person deals with the outside world by calling on the extroverted function out of one’s two top functions which are to be conceived as the ‘General’ (dominant) and his ‘Aide’ (auxiliary). When the extroverted function is dominant, the General stands out in the open, ready to do business in direct interaction with the world, relying on the help of the Aide sitting and working inside a tent. When the introverted function is dominant, the General sits inside the tent himself, not to be disturbed unless there is something outside the tent which the Aide cannot handle. So an ESFP and an ISFP will both use Extroverted Sensing when engaging others, while Introverted Feeling will be something they are aware of on the inside. The question is which function is the General and which is the Aide.

When it is the Aide who is extroverted (standing outside the tent), it tends to be obvious that the Aide is not as important and efficient in dealing with the outside world as a General would be. The Aide does not have authority to act very much, but continually has to go into the tent to ask the General for authorization (and sometimes the General does not want to bother with the matter, or otherwise the moment has passed, and the people who wanted to do business are gone by the time the Aide gets back out there, so the Aide frequently ends up not having anything to offer the outside world).

The point is that the extrovert does not have the same kind of gauge for the effectiveness of the activity inside the tent. He does not have access to other people’s psyche and does not know how much more a General in the tent gets done than the Aide in his own tent. And because the Aide frequently has important information for him, he tends to respect and value his Aide. What he takes for granted is the effectiveness of his dominant function – the General.