Using personality tests – may be good for you, good for your business

I recently received an intriguing email invitation to try out a new personality test that was being promoted, with the suggestion that I might like to blog about it.  Many of you will have heard of some of the well-utilized personality tests such as Myers-Briggs and True Colors.  Possibly, many of you have taken one or more of these tests.  The question is whether they make a difference, either for individuals or for a business.

The majority of personality tests are designed to determine how you think (process information), how you act (interact with others), and how you make decisions.  There are a number of them available, and these days there are easily-accessible lite versions on the Web, including:  Myers-Briggs, True Colors, Four Colors, and Big Five.  To give them a try, just Google them.  They all attempt to evaluate where you fit along the spectrum for a select number of personality traits, and most of them are based on fairly solid psychological principles, having been validated by significant statistical testing.  The Myers-Briggs test could be considered the granddaddy of all personality tests – or more appropriately the grandmother of all personality tests, since it was first worked on by Katharine Briggs in 1917 and then by Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers.  This test has been widely used by personnel professionals since the 1940s.

To give a flavour of the kind of categories being evaluated in these tests, let’s look at the Big Five and Myers-Briggs as examples.  The Big Five test uses your response to their online questions to measure where you place on the scale in five categories, in relation to everyone else who has taken their test.  Their five categories are: Openness to experiences; Conscientiousness; Extraversion; Agreeableness; and, Neuroticism.  Myers-Briggs uses four categories, or as they think of it, four pairs of dichotomies: attitude (Extraversion (E)/Introversion (I)); information-gathering or perception (Sensing (S)/Intuition (N)); Decision-making (Thinking (T)/Feeling (F)); Relating to the outside world (Judging (J)/Perception (P)).  Depending on how you are evaluated within each category, you will be assigned four letters, such as ENFJ or INFP.

If you haven’t gone through this process before now, it may sound like so much gobbledegook.  Actually, even if you have gone through, it probably sounds like so much gobbledegook!  The value comes from the interpretation of your results and how you make use of the interpretation and recommendations.  It’s important to understand that there are no right and wrong results; they are simply giving you some insights into how certain of your personality traits may impact on your contributions at work.  It’s about self-awareness.

Why might these tests be useful to employees and to organizations?  For the same reasons that for many years I used a simplified version of the Myers-Briggs test with my students studying systems analysis and design.  Just learning about the fundamental theory of personality traits and differences helps people understand that they have inherent strengths and weaknesses they bring to their job (or relationship), and just as importantly, so does everyone else.  Not everyone processes information the same way, not everyone communicates the same way, and not everyone is motivated by the same things.

These are important concepts to understand when working in teams, working with clients, participating in effective meetings, and ensuring that everyone is encouraged to participate using their strengths. For example, 75% of North Americans are in the Extravert (E) category, as opposed to the Introvert (I) category.  This means that most of us are likely to answer a question before we have formulated a well-considered response, doing our thinking as we speak.  Meanwhile, the remaining 25% percent may well have the best ideas to contribute, but by nature don’t speak up until they have thought it through, by which time the talkers have moved on.  If we don’t appreciate these differences, we can easily miss the most useful contributions.  If you are a team leader or chairing a meeting, it is especially important to keep this in mind.

The new personality test that was introduced to me through the email invitation – Fascinate – is a bit different.  Fascinate, or Fascination Advantage, claims to assess the way you “fascinate” – or are viewed by – others.  I am undoubtedly not a typical candidate for this test, since I have come to it with the perspective of a completed career.  However, I admit to being intrigued.  The Fascinate developer, Sally Hogshead, has come up with 7 “triggers”, or  lenses through which others see us: Power, Passion, Mystique, Prestige, Alarm, Rebellion, and Trust.

The only experience I’ve had with this approach is taking the on-line test, so I can’t make any claims about its effectiveness one way or the other except for ruminating on my results.  Those of you who know me will be able to say whether there is any credence to this result or not!  Apparently, I am a Maverick Leader, along with only 3% of others who have taken this test.  My primary trigger is Rebellion, which means others see me as pioneering, irreverent, and entrepreneurial.  I have to admit to liking the irreverent part!  My least likely trigger is Mystique, which means that, unlike having mystique, I am seen as being straightforward and as not hiding my emotions or opinions, and, as well, people feel they know where they stand with me.  That part is dead on, for better or worse.

There are a number of personality tests from which to choose.  There are free, less-detailed tests that can be accessed on-line, as well as full, formal versions with extensive explanations of results and aids for how to use your results to full advantage, for a fee of course.  Are they useful?  Probably not for cynics, but for the rest of us, I believe they are a viable tool in the toolkit for individual and organizational success.  My own experience has been that they have the potential to enlighten people as to where their individual and interpersonal strengths lie and where they could work harder – maybe to be more assertive or to stop and listen more often.  These test results can also help us work more effectively with teammates, clients, or employees, taking into account their strengths, knowing that they may differ from our own.

If you haven’t been exposed to a personality test before, or haven’t done one for a while, why not give one a try right now?  Maybe you’ll be surprised!

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4 Responses to Using personality tests – may be good for you, good for your business

  1. snowbirdpress says:

    Hi, Jane, This post reminds me of my Grandfather. Before the great depression in the 1930’s he was a very wealthy man. After the depression, he lived on selling his wife’s jewelry. He decied to take a personality test (they even had them back then!) and he found out a lot about himself and by the time I knew him he was back to being very successful…(if not quite the millionaire he had been!)

  2. jane tims says:

    Hi Jane. I am a big fan of Myers-Briggs. I was evaluated several times and always came out with the same letters. I like the prayer for my ‘type’ “I will finish what I sta…” It perfectly describes my love of beginning and my lack of caring if I ever finish. Knowing helps me conquer my weakness and I do complete projects from time to time!!! Jane

    • Jane Fritz says:

      I’m glad to hear you also like the lessons we can learn from Myers-Briggs, although I have trouble believing you struggle with finishing what you start given the focus and consistency of your blog. Perhaps you just try to start more than it is possible to finish! 🙂

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