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Why You Aren’t Understanding Personalities In The Workplace

As much as we'd like to think these personality tests help us and allow us to build a more cohesive team they are in fact setting us up for failure.  It's as if instead of building a bridge of trust paved with understanding with these tests, we're actually strapping some C4 to the foundation of that bridge. 
Why You Aren't Understanding Personalities In The Workplace

If you go into any professional workplace setting you’re bound to take the test.   The personality test.   Yes, I’m aware that many of the proponents of this test prefer behavioral assessment, but employers don’t use it that way.  As much as we’d like to think these personality tests help us and allow us to build a more cohesive team they are in fact setting us up for failure.  It’s as if instead of building a bridge of trust paved with understanding with these tests, we’re actually strapping some C4 to the foundation of that bridge. 

The problem with most personality tests for companies is that they use the test as a classifier or a hiring filter but never validate the findings.  The value of these assessments comes from the validation, NOT the classification.

The profiles are very, very similar but come in a wide variety.   From the popular enneagram to the classic Myers-Briggs there’s usually one that can fit your company.    Most of the profile tests pull form the greek philosopher Hippocrates’ work in psychology.  His theory was that there were 4 core personalities or temperaments based on bodily fluids.   Can you imagine discussing your “black bile-ness” or talking through your life a “phlegmatic” person in the boardroom?   The history of how these came about and the research behind all of them is fascinating.

In every instance, I’ve researched they all come back to these 4 core personalities.  There’s the driver or the aggressor, the socialite or influencer, the calm and steady person and the perfectionist or compliant person.    Some times people can be 1 of these personalities but more often they are a combination of two or more characteristics.   In addition, the more intelligent a person is the more likely they are to be adaptive.  This means that it can be hard to “test” people’s personalities because they are often having to alter their behavior to match the environment.  This is why using this as a hiring filter is a bad idea.

Our brain is wonderful at categorizing things.  These tests help us do that.  It gives us a reference point for people.   There is a word for categorizing people.  Stereotyping.

When we use this test to temper our communication to be more effective it’s wonderful.  However, the gain from these tests, a greater understanding, and better communication, are the only good things that happen.   What tends to happen at most companies is that these tests define people.  Assumptions are made based on the personality profile and not the person’s talents and giftings.   At toxic organizations, hiring and job placement is defined by the profile alone.

There is a better way.

Imagine for a second you give a test to a “perfectionist” and hire them for your administrative job immediately without validating it.   After months, you notice errors in this new hire’s work.   On the exit interview, you finally talk to this failed hire and say, “I thought you were a perfectionist, why are there all these errors.”   The perfectionist then says, “my view of perfection is getting the job done on time and as fast as possible.”  It sounds like an amazing team member in the wrong role.

The Solution

A better solution for you and your team is to get your team’s personal perspectives.   This means asking them some questions about their past and see how it shapes how they see the world.   In Patrick Lencioni’s book, “The Five Dysfunctions Of A Team” he explains that the foundation of a successful team is trust.   In order to build trust, he suggests using this exercise and asking these questions.

  1. Where did you grow up?
  2. How many siblings do you have and where do you fall in that order?
  3. Please describe a unique or interesting challenge or experience from your childhood.

That last question opens up so many new opportunities for conversation.   When I’m asked, I get to share how growing up in a single-parent home was like.  It explains why I’m sometimes too independent and often have a hard time delegating.  Sure, getting a high “driver” type on a test might clue you into that tendency but it’s not going to explain to you the why.   When you ask about someone’s life you get more about the why behind the behavior.  It’s only then that you can understand how to help put that team member or new hire in a place to succeed.

It’s not that the profiles are bad, in fact, I think they can be very good if done in the right environment.  An environment where your team discusses what’s right and wrong with these assessments.  When it comes to your team members,  the “test” is not end of the conversation. Without any trust, there isn’t the ability to learn from these profiles.

In regards to new hires, the process of validating the results with the person is crucial.  Asking them questions like, “in what way do you disagree/agree with this assessment?  In addition, you should role-play with new hires to have them act out in a scenario for the job role.  Then you can use the profile as a tool.

 

 

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