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What is Personality? And Who Cares?

by Melanie Gallo, PhD  

Original publication June 19, 2018

Updated June 15, 2021


Ok Doc... So what is it?

Broadly speaking, personality is defined as “the psychological processes that determine a person’s characteristic behavior and thought”. Personality psychology is a discipline that focuses on the measurement and analysis of our individual differences in social behavior. Personality starts in our subconscious mind at birth then evolves to guide our thoughts and our actions. It is a reflection of our individual characteristics, motives, and attitudes. 

At some point you may have learned about the early personality research of Sigmund Freud and his theory of the id (instinct) / ego (conscious decision-making) / superego (social influences). Freud taught that these were the components that combined to make up our personalities. 

Today, real-world applications of personality focus more on the genetic predispositions and stable traits that guide our thoughts and behaviors.

Who cares?

Individuals, teams, and entire organizations need to care. The study of personality is important because having an understanding of it not only helps us to understand our own thoughts and behaviors, but it helps us to better understand the thoughts and behaviors of others. In the workplace, personality tests were first used for the purpose of aiding in personnel selection, but are now used more widely in developmental areas of HR such as coaching, educational leadership, team and organizational development, and management training.

In my practice, I use a tool that allows us to pull your information from several well-know personality assessments into one “ME Dashboard”. So instead of being a PDF you forget about, it creates a dynamic dashboard with digital coaching tips and curated content for you to learn more about how to actually use your strengths and do your best work. Plus, it’s innovative team dashboard can be leveraged to boost productivity, improve communication and impact performance.

How do we measure and study personality?

As it relates to the workplace, specialized tests called psychometric assessments (more “metric”...not so much “psycho”) are used by researchers, HR professionals, coaches, and consultants to measure the personality preferences of individuals. In fact, psychometric tests have been designed to scientifically measure many different aspects of the human experience including achievement, behavior, development, relationships, intelligence, aptitude, neuropsychology, and sensory-motor skills to name a few. However, in the workplace, the most widely used types of psychological tests are those that assesses personality and behavioral preferences.

What makes the different personality tests, different?

Personality tests are generally classified as either trait tests or type tests.

Trait-based tests, which are frequently used by psychologists and in academic research, can measure a variety of key personality elements such as: introversion, extroversion, neuroticism, emotional stability, warmth, intellect, aggressiveness, liveliness, dutifulness, social assertiveness, sensitivity, abstractness, anxiety, open-mindedness, independence, authoritarianism, ethnocentrism, and so on. Among the most widely used trait - based tests is The Big Five Inventory (BFI) which uses a scale to measure how much of five key traits a person has. These are openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. 

Type-based assessments use a limited number of distinct, non-overlapping personality types to describe an individual’s different dimensions of personality. Instead of measuring how much of a particular set of personality characteristics a person has, it is used to give a big picture view of what their characteristics look like.

Assessments such as the 16 Types Assessment, DiSC Assessment, and Enneagram are often used in the workplace for selection and professional development. Plus, since one of the main aspects of how a work environment operates is its culture, tools like the Culture Pulse assessment are used to understand how the workplace’s culture controls the way employees interact both within, and outside the organization.

For example, when using The 16 Types assessment, people are not “scored” on how much of each type they have. Instead, they are asked to identify their preference in each of 4 pairs of opposites. The 16 Types uses:

  • The extroversion vs. introversion dimension to describe opposite ways people prefer to direct and receive energy (I vs.E)

  • The sensing vs. intuition dimension to describe opposite ways of taking in information (S vs. N)

  • The thinking vs. feeling to describe opposite ways of making decisions and coming to conclusions (T vs. F)

  • The judging vs. perceiving dimension describes opposite ways of approaching the outside world (P vs. J)

According to the assessment company Cloverleaf, “The Enneagram has been described as a GPS of wisdom and a tool for compassion. The Enneagram can improve interpersonal skills and communication and is also used as a personal growth tool to better understand yourself and others in your life.” Unlike the 16 Types which focuses on energy, information, and decision-making, Enneagram goes a little deeper and focuses on fears and challenges by uncovering our:

  • strengths

  • automatic habits

  • motives

  • …and blind spots

The DISC assessment, although it is considered to be a personality assessment tool, actually focuses more on behaviors. The DISC assessment measures how one responds to favorable and unfavorable environments. It is centered around behavioral tendencies and can be very easily applied in the work setting. DiSC allows you to:

  • Explore the different environments in which your dominant characteristics will either help you thrive or cause you challenges.

  • Understand your internal and external motivations along with your limits so you know how your work inspiration is fueled.

  • Learn about the wants and needs that you have that drive you in your work and can keep you on track with what you value as important. Dominance, influence, steadiness, compliance.

The Culture Pulse assessment measures values, norms, beliefs, and behavior, and demonstrates how culture controls the way employees behave amongst themselves as well as with people outside the organization. This is important because having an understanding of how people operate culturally, will ensure that you are creating an environment that is comfortable for each employee. The Culture Pulse uncovers your cultural anchors in terms of:

  • Management Philosophy: Support (staff is valuable) vs Performance (goal is valuable). How do you motivate people to get best results?

  • Organizational Control: Loose (unpredictable and innovative) vs Strict (planned and efficient. How do you control outcomes?

  • Organizational Effectiveness: Means (enjoys the process) vs Goal (enjoys the end result). What facet of the task at hand motivates you to continue?

  • Audience Orientation: Internal (driven by own beliefs) vs External (driven by others’ beliefs). How do you react to your customer/client/audience?

  • Personal Approachability: Approachable (shares personal info) vs Guarded (closes off personal info). How do you react to personal questions or stories?

  • Group Identity: Community (identifies with the people) vs Professional (identifies with the work/profession). What makes you a group?

So how do you know which assessment to take?

A good coach can let you know. It really depends on your personal and professional development goals and challenges. Regardless of which assessment you take, it is best to follow any assessment with a coaching or debriefing session conducted by a trained professional.

In my practice, I provide my clients with the ability to take to take multiple, well-known, scientifically validated assessments and each assessment is followed by a review session. Then, instead of being sent away with a PDF report you forget about, we pull all your results into one, interactive “ME Dashboard“. That way, you are able to receive ongoing digital coaching tips and curated content for you to learn more about how to leverage your strengths, create new habits, and do your best work. Plus, it can also be leveraged to boost productivity, improve communication and impact the performance of teams. This has proven to be a gold mine of information for people as it relates to:

  • managing change

  • communication style

  • conflict triggers

  • personal development

  • motivations

  • persuasion

  • and work style

What a reliable, validated personality test is NOT:

  • It is not, and should not be used as a way to group people into categories.

  • It is not a labeling tool.

  • It is not a gotcha tool. There are no right or wrong answers.

  • It is not a fortune telling tool.

  • It is not a horoscope.

  • It is not meant to be administered by just anyone. Of course my preference is someone like myself who has a background in psychology and specializes in the selection, administration, and interpretation of assessments for the workplace.

  • It is not meant to be administered without follow up coaching or consulting.

  • Again... It is not a labeling tool.

Developing an understanding of personality in your personal and professional life can lead to a greater understanding of human behavior—both yours and the behavior of others.   

Watch your thoughts for they become your words. 

Watch your words for they become your actions. 

Watch your actions for they become your habits.

Watch your habits for they become your character. 

Watch your character for it becomes your destiny. - Gandhi

What we think, we become...and our personalities help to shape it all. 

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