Tag Archives: personality tools

Personality, personal projects, place and well-being


By Elisabeth Goodman, 28th August 2019

Brian R. Little – Me Myself and Us. The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being

I have been enjoying Brian Little’s “Me , Myself and Us – The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being” over the summer.  It was recommended to me by one of my delegates (unfortunately I can’t remember who), and has proved very insightful.

Here are just some of the themes that particularly stood out for me.

Our personalities are shaped by three influences

Professor Brian Little is a psychologist, scholar, speaker, lecturer, fellow, researcher and more, operating between Cambridge, UK, the US and Canada – so I was particularly interested in his view that our personality is shaped by our:

  • Biogenics – our biological / genetic make-up
  • Sociogenics – the cultural codes, norms and expectations that shape us from childhood and through to adulthood
  • Idiogenics – the personal projects, plans, aspirations, commitments that are imposed upon us and that we choose to pursue (I’ll talk more about the personal projects in the next section)

Little explores a couple of personality tools in his book – primarily MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and OCEAN or The Big Five [see notes] and uses these as the context to discuss our ‘fixed traits’ and our ‘free traits’.

Fixed traits are determined by our biogenics.  They are what come to us most naturally: our preferred way of behaving. Free traits are the ones that we might choose to use and might be described as ‘acting out of character’ in doing so.  They will typically take more effort and active learning and development to perform.

Sociogenics determine the extent to which we are expected to use, or feel comfortable in using our fixed or free traits.

Brian Little references the work of Susan Cain for example, in society’s often frequent expectation for people to conform to extraverted behaviour at school and in the workplace, whereas academic behaviour lends itself more to introverted behaviour.

Patterns of behaviour in our homes might also influence the extent to which we use our fixed or free traits to fit in, or to rebel!

And in ‘idiogenics’ we might choose to pursue personal projects that comfortably sit with our fixed traits, or challenge us in the use of our free traits.

personal projects range from routine tasks to life changing pursuits

Apparently we are typically engaged in up to fifteen personal projects at any point in time.  Some will be fairly small, others will be a major or core part of our lives.

What personal projects have in common is that they are something significant (salient), are more than momentary (are a set of actions), require some level of skill and perseverance (have some context).

They may include some aspect of personal development (intellectual or emotional skills), be health related (exercise or diet), recreational / hobbies, work or academically related.  The web site http://www.stickk.com (a modern version of 43things.com) has some good examples of personal projects and how people motivate themselves or have the support of others to achieve them.

What is interesting about personal projects, from a personality and well-being perspective, is that they may require us to use our free traits more (those that are different from our more natural, fixed or preferred traits) to achieve them.

The right personal projects are therefore potentially a route for learning and development, a source of enjoyment, and a means to achieving well-being.  Typically the ‘right’ projects are those that are self-initiated and are under our control, are meaningful (supporting a cause or values that are important to us), and have some chance of success!

Where the projects require us to use our free traits, act out of character, for some period of time, they could exhort a toll on us physically and / or mentally, so that we will need to make sure that we have the space, time, opportunity to recuperate.

So for example an introvert engaged in a work activity that involves a high level of interaction with others, will need some quiet personal time (or a private niche) to recoup.  Someone with an ‘intuition’ (big picture) preference on the MBTI tool engaged in a hobby requiring close attention to detail, will need opportunities to gaze out into space.  Or somebody with a ‘disagreeable’ preference on The Big Five tool who is required to be sympathetic during a funeral, will need a physical or verbal outlet where they can be combative!

Place also has a high relevance for personality and well-being

Recuperative ‘niches’ can be physical or in cyberspace as well as in time.

We already know that the workplace could be better designed for extraverts as well as introverts (see references to workplace design here: http://riverrhee.com/neurodiversity).

Brian Little explores this topic further in terms of how well architecture, geographical environments, and even cities can lend themselves to different personality types.  He also explores how cyberspace can work differently for different reasons.

In all these contexts, what makes a place more comfortable for one person than for another is the extent and nature of personal interaction, and the exposure to or sharing of ideas that they lend themselves to.  So they play on several of the personality traits as described by personality tools.

conclusion

Understanding our fixed and free traits will help us to make conscious decisions about our home and work environments, which of our traits we use for personal development and challenge, and how we ensure that we rest and recuperate and build our well-being.

Notes

Brian Little questions the reliability of MBTI (the extent to which people get the same result each time they complete the questionnaire).  He also suggests that its validity (the extent to which it measures what it claims to measure) is adequate but not exceptional.  However he does refer to the insights that we can gain from it at some points in the book.

OCEAN is an acronym for the personality traits that The Big Five evaluates:

  • Openness – the extent to which we are open to new ideas and experiences
  • Conscientiousness – how much we tend to persevere in getting things done and to a certain quality
  • Extraversion (and introversion) – defined in a very similar way to how they are defined in MBTI
  • Agreeableness (and disagreeableness) – our tendency to be mindful and accommodating towards others, their feelings and their points of view
  • Neuroticism – how alert we are to potential dangers and set-backs

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Dealing with the dark side of our personalities!


By Elisabeth Goodman, 9th November 2017

Current approaches to management put emphasis on identifying and developing our strengths.  And rightly so.  Our individual strengths give us the opportunity to make significant contributions in our home and work lives.  The diversity of strengths within a team contribute to the success of organisations.

Personality tools such as Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and others likewise put an emphasis on understanding and developing our strengths.

However, we also have a “dark side” to our personalities!

In Belbin language these are our “allowable weaknesses”, in MBTI language it is our “blind spots”.  The Hogan Development Survey (HDS), described by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic in the September-October 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review (see note 1 below), focuses entirely on eleven of these “dark side” traits.

From weaknesses and blind spots to the dark side…

The HDS survey is based on the work of Robert and Joyce Hogan, two psychologists who, about 20 years ago, identified aspects of personality that, if unchecked, can derail interactions at work, individual careers, and the effectiveness of teams and organisations.

Dark side traits taken from the Hogan Development Survey

The eleven traits are categorised under three headings:

  • Distancing traits – ones that push people away by making it hard to build trust
  • Seductive traits – ones that pull people in but, if overdone, can then have negative or destructive consequences
  • Ingratiating traits – that can impress others, but result in self-harm through being too submissive

It can be difficult to know where to focus our attention with so many personality tools out there.  The HDS traits have some echoes of the Belbin Type Roles and their “allowable weaknesses”, and of the MBTI personality types and the “blind spots” that people might experience.

Word cloud generated from words used to describe Belbin “allowable weaknesses”

But the most important take-home lessons from all of this are probably to:

  1. Be aware of when the “dark side” of your strengths may be having a negative impact on yourself or on others
  2. Develop some strategies for minimising these negative effects

Strategies for minimising the negative effects of our “dark side”

The Harvard Business Review article references a few strategies which could apply to any definition of personality weaknesses.

The first thing is to be aware of our actual or potential negative traits and the impact it may be having on others.

Resources available to us are:

  • Reflection on situations that did not work out as well as we would have liked and whether our own behaviour triggered that
  • Ad-hoc feedback from others
  • More formal feedback e.g.
    • 360 degree questionnaires
    • Observer input available through Belbin questionnaires
    • The HDS survey

The MBTI personality type descriptions also provide a rich source of information about some negative characteristics that might emerge when we are feeling mildly stressed or severely so (“in the grip”).

All of these are ways to build your emotional intelligence (self and social awareness) about yourself and your interactions with others.

Identify and practise some new strategies to help you deal with your “dark side”

As with all endeavours to do something new or different, it’s a good idea to start small and build from there.

Pick something you feel most motivated to do something about, and something you can relatively easily put in place.

So, for example, using some of the words above, if you have a tendency to:

  • Be overly sceptical (an HDS trait, the allowable weakness of a “Monitor Evaluator” in Belbin Team Roles and a characteristic of MBTI “extraverted thinking” types). The impact of that on others is that they may feel discouraged or defensive about sharing ideas with you.  You may want to choose an area of your work, or a specific occasion, to deliberately demonstrate greater openness to others’ views.
  • Lose touch with reality (Belbin “Plant”, HDS “Imaginative” trait), MBTI “extraverted intuition”).  The impact of that on others is that they may get impatient with you, or not pay attention to you. You could identify a typical situation when this might happen, perhaps a weekly team meeting, and focus on demonstrating greater collaboration with others.

You could also ask a helpful colleague or friend to alert you when they see you demonstrating one of your negative traits, and support you in whatever corrective action (“self-management” or “relationship management”  in emotional intelligence terms) you’ve identified.

Don’t be shy about asking for help from others

There are a few suggestions above about how feedback and support from others could help you detect and address your “dark side”.

Coaching is also an option.  The MBTI coaching and emotional intelligence resources are rich with tips on how to deal with “blind spots” and developmental challenges associated with the MBTI Types.

Notes

  1. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic.  Could you personality derail your career?  Harvard Business Review, September-October 2017, pp.138-141
  2. About the author. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.) Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. 

    She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Exploring personality tools to enhance the diversity within our teams


By Elisabeth Goodman, 17th May 2017

My RiverRhee Associate, Liz Mercer and I have been doing a fair amount of reading and reflection to support our new course on Transition to Leadership.

The March-April 2017 issue of Harvard Business Review (HBR) gave us plenty to think about, as it explored some of the personality tools available to us to understand the diversity of the people within our teams.

HBR Mar-Apr 2017

Exploring biological systems to help us understand personality traits

“If you understand how the brain works, you can reach anyone” (pp.60-62) is the record of a conversation between Alison Beard, one of HBR’s senior editors, and Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist.  The latter has developed a personality questionnaire (on match.com and chemistry.com) based on her understanding of brain chemistry and others’ neurological research.  She also used brain functional MRI to validate the questionnaire.

Helen Fisher reminds us that personality is based on culture (nurture or upbringing) and temperament (nature or the influences of our genes, hormones and neurotransmitters).

She suggests that four biological systems are linked to personality traits:

  1. Dopamine and norepinephrine – which correlate with curiosity, creativity and risk-taking amongst other behaviours
  2. Serotonin – which correlates with greater adherence to social norms, and to tradition
  3. Testosterone – which correlates with tough-mindedness, directness and assertiveness
  4. Oestrogen and oxytocin – which correlate with intuition, imagination, empathy and trust (see previous blog on oxytocin and trust)

Helen Fisher suggests that some of the biological systems have analogies with and support some of the MBTI preferences.  So for instance the Thinking / Feeling preferences might equate to numbers 3 and 4 above.  And Judging / Perceiving might equate to 2 and 1.

She challenges some of the MBTI tenets in ways that MBTI practitioners would not agree with – for instance she suggests that Introverts cannot be “chatty”.  Whereas the MBTI definition actually includes the notion that Introverts can become quite talkative on topics that are important to them.  (See more about MBTI in one of my earlier blogs.)

Otherwise, Helen Fisher’s conclusions echo those for other personality tools:

  • You can benefit from collaborating with others whose strengths are complementary to your own
  • You can interact more effectively by adapting your style to match others’
  • If you have to act, on a long term basis, in a way that is different to your authentic style, it will be a strain
  • You can use your understanding of others’ strengths to build diversity into your team

The range of personality tools available to us

In “A brief history of personality tests” (p.63) Eben Harrell, another HBR senior editor, takes us quickly through MBTI, the five-factor model (or “big five”) and Strengthsfinder 2.0 (from Gallup).

[The article does not mention the wide range of other tools available to us such as Belbin Team Roles, Colours / Insights, NLP Representational Styles, Emergenetics and more…]

The five-factor model is apparently one that is “widely accepted by academics as the gold standard”.  It is based on a statistical study of words used to describe psychological characteristics across cultures and languages, with the following resultant list:

  • openness to experience
  • conscientiousness
  • extroversion
  • agreeableness
  • neuroticism

It may well be that I am mis-interpreting these words, but they seem to suggest that it would be a good thing if you demonstrated the first four behaviours.  Whilst it would ‘not be a good thing’ if you demonstrated the opposite of any of the first four, and also demonstrated the fifth!

However, if we choose to value the opposites that these terms suggest, as strengths, as other personality tools do, then they can also provide us with the basis for creating a richly diverse team.

Reading this issue of HBR was also very timely as it coincided with my reading of Claudio Feser’s new book on Inspirational Leadership, which also includes a section on the five-factor model.   The book explores, amongst other things, how an inspirational leader can adapt their influencing style to reflect the different personality types in this model or tool.

[There are a couple more articles in this issue of HBR that explore other personality tools, and how leaders are using them to enhance their understanding and how they can work more effectively with others.]

Closing thoughts

How we inspire others as leaders depends to a large extent on our ability to balance our emotional intelligence (EQ) with our intellectual intelligence (IQ).

Personality tools contribute to our EQ by helping us to better understand our own style of leadership and how we interact with others – our preferences and defaults.

That understanding will enable managers and leaders to clarify what strengths in others will most complement their own so that they can actively nurture diversity within their teams.

How will you enhance your understanding of personality types, or how have you done this already?  How will you / or have you applied this to enrich the diversity of your team?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We use training, facilitation, coaching, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  

RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  

She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she is a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.