Theme: Personality; “what you might not know about yours and why it’s more flexible than you think.”
What is personality?
“Personality is the set of tendencies you carry with you, how friendly, assertive, hardworking, curious and anxious you might be from one situation to another.” (Grant, 2018)
The most common personality trait we tend to identify with is introversion-extraversion.
“Most people think about introversion-extraversion as where you get your energy, like extraverts get it from people, introverts get it from being alone.”
According to author Susan Cain, this is wrong.
“Everybody, whether you’re an introvert or an extravert, draws energy from other people […] Introverts just get overloaded more easily […] introverts aren’t antisocial, they’re differently social”
Many companies use personality tests in the workplace
Bain & Company uses personality tests to avoid mismatches in personality, which makes their teams work better while avoiding personal conflicts.
One of the tests they use is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. ,
According to ex-employee of Bain Conley Zani:
“[Personality assessments reveal] How you are energized, how you see the world and process information, how you make decisions, and last but not least, your lifestyle or work style”.
Personality tests are useful because they help people become aware of their differences and appreciate them, says Conley.
However, there is a negative side to personality tests, says English professor Merve Emre:
“Personality assessments can be very seductive because it gives us a way to define ourselves. It’s so much easier to say “I am an extravert, I am a thinker” than to navigate in the world constantly searching and defining who you really are.”
Adam gives a useful explanation:
“A personality test doesn’t explain why you are the way you are. It just describes what your traits are.” (Grant, 2018, emphasis mine)
What influences our personality?
‘Neurons and narratives’ – “the biological stuff and the stories we tell ourselves” – both influence our personality, says psychology professor Brian Little.
But there is a crucial 3rd element.
Studies have shown that personality, at least for some of us, shifts depending on the circumstance, the situation we’re in.
For some people, being adaptable is one of their traits. It’s called self-monitoring.
Self-monitoring is the ability to assess a situation and adapt to it. High self-monitors are what Little calls ‘stand-up chameleons’.
In the workplace, the evidence shows that high self-monitors are more effective on average.
“If I discover that I have a set of personality traits, like I’m an introvert, or I’m highly agreeable, am I stuck with those traits?”
No, according to Little. “There are fates beyond traits.”
To simply say you are an ‘extrovert’ or an ‘introvert’ isn’t entirely accurate; human personality is more complicated than that.
Thinking your personality is ‘fixed’ limits your ability to explore different facets of yourself. In a sense, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy; if you believe you are an introvert, you will act like one and over time, develop more and more introverted behaviors.
In other words, you will gradually fit into the mold you have constructed for yourself, when in reality the mold isn’t actually real.
This isn’t to say that any one personality or set of behaviors is ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’; rather, the point is that believing certain things about the way you are (i.e. personality is fixed and there’s nothing you can do to change it) may limit your true potential.
Brian Little has written about ‘acting out of character’: “Acting out of character is where you engage in action that runs counter to your disposition”. Our ability to act out of character proves that we are more flexible and less limited than we think.
Author Susan Cain put Little’s theory to the test, and obtained great results. “if you’re afraid of anything, the thing to do is to expose yourself to the thing you fear in very small and manageable doses”; it’s essentially exposure therapy.
The reality: we’re all somewhere in the middle
We’re all somewhere along the ‘personality spectrum’; some people tend to be on the introverted side more often, and others on the extraversion side. The majority of us, however, are somewhere in the middle, ambiverts.
According to Adam, “The goal is not to change your personality. It’s to expand your comfort zone. And that means sometimes you need to recharge. Brian Little encourages us all to find our restorative niches, places you can go or projects you can do to reorient.”
At work, we should all be helping each other find our restorative niches.
To do that, we need to understand more about each other. The more we know about our coworkers, the easier it will be for us to accommodate them and for them to accommodate us.
In other words, talk about personality with your colleagues.
Principal at Bain Or Skolnik asks his colleagues to describe his personality and the most effective ways to work with him. Before he starts any project, he gives to all his team members a 1-sheet personality overview, written entirely by the people he’s worked with previously. This sheet describes how Or works best, what type of worker he is, and what to avoid with him.
What if you tried that in your workplace?
“We can all have that discussion, not just to accelerate collaboration in new teams but to understand our current teams better. But if you’re not aware that your traits are flexible, they can become shackles. So often, we chain ourselves to who we were at summer camp or how we failed in middle school. I think personality should be more of an anchor. It gives you the freedom to pursue new possibilities without drifting too far away from your place. Your personality matters, but your ability to adapt matters more. Who you become is not about the traits you have. It’s about what you decide to do with them.”
Questions to think about
- What are your core personality traits?
- What is the reason for work conflicts, if any, in your workplace?
- How do you resolve these conflicts?
- “What can you do to better understand the personalities in your team—and help them understand yours? Have you ever tried explaining your personality to your colleagues? How did it go?”
- “If you were to write an operating manual for how to work with you, what would you put in it?”
- “If you asked your colleagues to write an operating manual for working with you, what do you think they would say?”
- “What are your restorative niches—the places, people, and projects that help you recharge and reconnect with your personality?”
Applications for business
- Talk about personality with your colleagues.
- Try using some personality tests with your employees. Remember: the goal is not to match people together who have similar personalities, but rather to make team members understand each other better.
- Try Or Skolnik’s strategy: allow people to write small comments on each other’s work styles (no more than 1 page), print them, and give them out to all team members before starting a new project (or even when a new hire starts working).
Grant, Adam. “Your Hidden Personality”. Audio blog post. WorkLife with Adam Grant. TED, March 21st 2018. Itunes App.