We Need To Stop Simplifying Personality

In recent weeks, I’ve been talking a lot about personality assessments. I attended the WIFS National Conference in Minnesota and have facilitated a number of client workshops. During these conversations, I have been surprised, and just a little bit frustrated, by the lack of awareness around personality assessments and the science (or lack thereof) behind them. Now, I don’t usually like to rant, but as a coach and trained business psychologist, I feel almost duty-bound to use my platform to set the record straight.

Beware simplistic labels

Many people out there think they’ve completed a comprehensive personality assessment, and have a solid grasp on their traits and behaviors and how it impacts their work and relationships. The reality is, many of them may as well have completed a quiz in the back of a gossip magazine. There are a lot of assessments out there that are all style and no substance. Reducing a personality to a set of letters or colors is tempting because of its simplicity. It’s catchy; easy to digest and understand. But therein lies the danger. By boiling down something as nuanced and complex as a personality, you’re doing nothing but creating labels – and labels can very quickly become self-fulfilling prophecies, or a crutch on which we can lean to avoid changing our behavior.

Picture the scene: a manager and a subordinate both take the same, simplistic personality test. Their scores are revealed, and they are both stamped with their own label. It becomes apparent that the manager and the subordinate have opposing labels: according to the test, they will not work well together. Now what? It may be true that they each have personality traits that are not naturally compatible. But when they reach a point of conflict, the first thing they will do is reach for their label: “well, what can you expect, they’re an ABC and I’m an XYZ, we’re never going to get along.” There is no incentive for change, and no tool provided to work through the conflict. They both just assume it’s a relationship that is never going to go well. That kind of closed minded approach isn’t good for anyone.

Beware models that haven’t adapted over time

Some of the personality tests that are still popular in business today were developed in the 1920s. It’s great to be nostalgic about the ‘good old days’, but we know so much more than we did 100 years ago, so why settle for archaic methodology? You wouldn’t accept the performance of a Model T Ford today – it had a top speed of 45 mph. It was an impressive innovation in its day, but would pale in comparison to the cars on the road today, because our knowledge and technology have evolved significantly. We have learned from the early models, adapted to improve performance, and new research has revealed new ways of doing things. Similarly, our knowledge of psychology, and personality specifically, has evolved over time. We have learned from a huge range of in depth studies, and the best personality assessments and development tools have adapted in response. So, why are some learning and development teams still driving the Model T Ford of personality assessments?

You’re at risk of alienating your employees

Times are changing, and people are pushing against the concept of generic, catch all labels. Your employees, particularly younger generations, are no longer going to accept being put into a box and treated accordingly. Just as ‘millennials’ don’t appreciate being called ‘millennials’, they also won’t stand for being typecast based on superficial classifications. If businesses don’t adapt, and don’t start embracing the diversity and complexity of their employee base, they will be left behind.

Embrace complexity with trait based personality assessments

Focusing on the complexity of personality, using trait based personality assessments like Lumina Spark, will help you to build an inclusive culture. These in-depth assessments teach us to see the unique set of complex qualities in the individual. They identify strengths, enabling managers to see how the strengths of individuals in their team could be leveraged to the benefit of the business, and similarly, to identify potential points of conflict between colleagues, and reveal tools and techniques to mitigate the impact of that tension.

I like to practice what I preach, which is why I’m such a strong advocate of Lumina Spark, and why I use it in my own business. With Lumina Spark, you are investing in a model that doesn’t reinforce stereotypes, instead measuring contradictory and competing aspects of personality, taking context into account, and examining how external forces can influence behavior. It’s born of the digital age, results are rooted in evidence, robustly validated and based on solid data, and the technique itself has been developed from the very latest theories and research in the field of personality.

So, if you’re a learning and development manager looking to make a change to your tools, or a business manager looking to advocate for a change within your business, embrace complexity and contact us to book an introduction to Lumina Spark today.