Invariably, program participants tell us they’ve already taken all of these kinds of tests and that this is nothing new. Many of them have taken the Myers-Briggs or the DISC test. There are literally thousands of these tests on the market today. Most are based on preferences – you know the types of questions – would you rather read a book or sail a boat? For people with low self-awareness, this can be very informative and fun, but most of these tests are rather limited for detailed, personal development.
For those who are somewhat self-aware, these tests are merely confirmations of what they already know. In fact, the common response is, “Yep, that’s me. So what?” It is my belief that personality tests, without some kind of context, are limited in their application to personal development. When you take a personality test, you put yourself in some general state of mind. But the choices that you make on those tests may change based on the circumstances. I may be more of an introvert in my personal life, but at work, I’m an extrovert. So how do I answer those questions? Sometimes I would rather be the center of attention, and sometimes, I would rather be alone. They very rarely capture the true nature of the person. These tests simply can’t capture the complexity of a human being.
This approach to development using personality types is very prevalent in the training industry. Participants take a test to find out their “type”. Usually there are three other “types”. You are either a color or a number or a quadrant or an animal. Then, they teach you about the other three “types” and how to get along with them. This approach is limited at best and can be dangerous. First of all, human beings are far more complex than a single “type”. Second, unless you carry the tests around for everyone to take, it takes empathy to determine what the other person’s “type” is. And empathy is not our best emotional competence. In fact, for most groups, it is the lowest score. Third, for some people, this is a real copout. They will stereotype people into whatever “type” they determine and treat them a certain way, which may or may not be correct.
Once you develop your emotional skills, you will be able to deal with any type of person in any situation. You will have the self-awareness to know how you are feeling and how you are being perceived and the empathy skills to know how they are feeling. These situations are dynamic. They can come up in an instant. Isn’t it better to have good fundamental emotional competence to work from rather than rely on a set of “rules” for certain “types”?
A construction company I worked for used the DISC profile for all of its employees. DISC is a test that indicates the following personality archetypes:
¥ Dominant tends to be direct and guarded
¥ Interactive tends to be direct and open
¥ Steady tends to be indirect and open
¥ Compliance tends to be indirect and guarded
As it turned out, 80% of the people in our construction company were “Dominants”. What does that tell you? Most people in the construction business have a dominant style. They tend to be direct and guarded. Didn’t we know that already?
Myers-Briggs, another personality test, indicates the following traits:
¥ Extraversion versus Introversion E or I
¥ Sensing versus iNtuition S or N
¥ Thinking versus Feeling T or F
¥ Judging versus Perceiving J or P
When you take the test, you are given a Myers-Briggs Personality Type. But what are you supposed to do with that information? There are some Myers-Briggs modules on team-building and how to deal with other Myers-Briggs types, but how do you know the personality type of everyone you encounter? One company made everyone put their Myers-Briggs profile on their coffee cups, but this concept was a miserable failure.
Let’s a look at another case study, a thirty-year-old financial consultant who could not keep a job. She was a top of her class MBA from an Ivy League school and her IQ was 138. Most of the time, she was hired on the spot. But she went through six jobs in four years. One of her clients actually brought a lawsuit against her.
Her EQ-i® (Emotional Quotient Inventory) showed “a very high independence score and a very low interpersonal relationship score suggests that she is a loner, perhaps due to a serious inability to relate to others. Moreover, her difficulty in empathizing with others contributes to this inability to relate to people and to feel part of the larger social context.”
When this woman took the Myers-Briggs, she was an ESFJ (Extraverted Feeling with Introverted Sensing). But the results of the Myers-Briggs gave her little information about why she could not hold a job. After taking the EQ-i®, she could target specific areas for development that helped in her pursuit of a career.
With personality tests, your results rarely change throughout your life, and if they do, it probably has more to do with the context in which you took it. You may shift slightly as you age. The other problem is that there is no clear path to development. If you are an ESFJ, do you want to become an INFT? And how do you do that exactly? What are the development strategies to get you there? There are none. Simply knowing yourself better does not create behavioral change that you need to be able to attain your goals. We say it over and over in our courses: Awareness alone will not change behavior!
The EQ-i® is a very different tool. It measures specific competencies such as empathy, assertiveness, and problem solving skills. It is very dynamic and reflects what is going on in your life and work at the time. If you are going through a difficult time, it will be reflected in the scores. This is much more valuable information. And when you look at that snapshot and where you want to be in the future, it becomes extremely practical. Then you choose areas to develop, and a detailed development plan is created utilizing specific development strategies. There is practical application, measurement, and improvement. This creates fundamental behavioral shifts. Personality tests simply do not do that.