Where do we draw the line with personality tests?
Ah, personality tests. We have all heard of them, and most of us have taken them as part of a team building activity at some point - whether it was the Enneagram, Myers-Briggs, DISC, 16Personalities, or any of the other tests out there that attempt to inform us of our personality constructs. In most cases, they are fantastic tools for building self-awareness and extending empathy to our peers. They provide us with useful language to describe both the positive and negative attributes of our nature. Additionally, they have the capacity to help us understand the motivations and internal drivers that push us and our teammates, which can then create space for healthy rapport on our project teams. However, when we begin to employ the results of these tests as a means to project our own thoughts upon the behavior of others, we run the risk of making hasty generalizations and fallacious assumptions. There is a fine line between empathy and obtrusion when it comes to analyzing our peers based on their personality type.
It has become commonplace for people to inquire about each other’s personality types to build a sense of camaraderie with one another. Though the intention is oftentimes pure, it can sometimes spark an unruly complex when people begin to feel like they must dig into this vulnerable topic with someone else. I use the term vulnerable quite deliberately here, as personality tests gives each party leverage not only to learn about that individual’s strengths, but to also form premature presumptions about their weaknesses. Moreover, it opens the door to “bucketing.” For instance, if someone mentions that they are a ‘Type One’ on the Enneagram - the type that is commonly associated with an acute drive toward perfectionism - one might jump to the conclusion that they are inflexible and therefore difficult to work with. Thus, they have impetuously judged them based on their own limitations of knowledge or projected a bias on them based on their personal experiences with other ‘Type Ones’. In other words, they have bucketed them into a category that might not accurately or fully represent who they are.
Though psychometric tests can be highly informative, they do not offer the secret potion that can help us “unlock” people, and they should never be treated as such. Rather, they offer small facets of understanding into the vast sea of properties that make up a human being. In addition, they do not account for the personal growth people go through in order to improve their weaknesses. For instance, if I am a ‘Type One,’ perhaps I have received feedback earlier in my career that my tendencies toward tackling project work MY way have often times resulted in dismissing the ideas of others. Consequently, I have recognized my weakness and have since taken steps to ensure I do not let my behavior negatively affect my colleagues. However, when one of my coworkers hears that I am a ‘type one,’ they may assume my weaknesses are inherently part of my nature and that I am unable to change. Thus, they do not have the context to craft a holistic view of me and as a result, they may jump to assumptions or judgements based on what they know of that particular Enneagram type.
Alternatively, there may be situations in which people feel entitled to analyze others based on what they know of their personality types. I recently found myself in a situation where someone was vocally predicting my behavioral-patterns in a specific situation because of their knowledge of my personality type. I felt frustrated because there was little room for me to voice my thoughts on the matter without seeming overly sensitive or defensive. It felt like a personal boundary had been crossed - particularly because I was not asking to be analyzed. In this case, that individual’s attempt to predict or formulate my behavior was received as obtrusive, resulting in a feeling of undesired intrusion of my personal space. It can make people feel uncomfortable when others project their personal analyses onto them non-consensually. It is unfair to presume that we have our colleagues “figured out” from a fifteen-minute personality test.
Overall, I am not contesting the value of personality tests in the workplace; rather, I am cautioning against becoming overly reliant on them to understand and in some extreme cases, “diagnose,” the unfavorable behavior of our peers. It is naive to assume that these tests will help us navigate the complex nature of human personality constructs. Equally important to note, there are a number of benefits that arise from exploring our personalities with our coworkers. However, rather than initiating these conversations with a tone of normalcy, we ought to first receive consent from our peers to dive into these conversations with them. After all, no personality test should inform our human-to-human interactions with people, nor should they form the foundation of our perception of them.