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Rethink Personality

Do personality tests prove themselves to be beneficial in the workplace? Some will argue yes, like this article from How Have Myers-Briggs Personality Tests Helped in the Workplace? Others like Dean Burnett, a contributor to in his article “Nothing personal: The questionable Myers-Briggs test”, will argue no.

Now Burnett’s arguing about the merits of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) used by countless organizations and industries, but there is a basic theme or resistance throughout most personality type tests. According to Burnett,

“The trouble is, the more you look into the specifics of the MBTI, the more questionable the way it's widespread use appears to be. There are numerous comprehensive critiques about it online, but the most obvious flaw is that the MBTI seems to rely exclusively on binary choices.

For example, in the category of extrovert v introvert, you're either one or the other; there is no middle ground. People don't work this way, no normal person is either 100% extrovert or 100% introvert, just as people's political views aren't purely "communist" or "fascist". Many who use the MBTI claim otherwise, despite the fact that Jung himself disagreed with this and statistical analysis reveals even data produced by the test shows a normal distribution rather than bimodal, refuting the either/or claims of the MBTI. But still this overly-simplified interpretation of human personality endures, even in the Guardian Science section!”

Yes, just like in real life, different people see the world differently and value, encourage and endorse different things. So let's address some of the opposing perspectives about personality tests.

Some people say the more basic four quadrant personality tests are over simplified, or argue like Dean Burnett they are too binary. They attempt to force people to be one thing or another. You must either be introverted or extroverted. You must either think with your head or think with your heart. You know, left brain, right brain thinking.

If personality tests are too long, difficult to fill out or challenging to understand, people argue that they bring little value to the work place because no one can even remember "what their personality is" or how to impact it either positively or negatively.

Some personality tests attempt to "tell" you who you are. But what if you use different personality skills at home than you do at work? Personality test often want to label you, but what if you don't fit nicely in the round or square hole? What if you are only a triangle at times, and not often, but every once in a while you squiggle? What then? Are you crazy? Do you have multiple personalities? Do you have a personality disorder? These are the kind of questions that have been posed to me when I am conducting personality seminars. These questions were in large part, the driving force behind me attempting to create a personality insight tool that did not attempt to define a person, pigeon hole them, or limit them in their personality tendencies.

What I realized is that people do have personality tendencies, but these tendencies can and do fluctuate in different contexts in their lives. Then we have extreme personality tendencies that often battle our more level-headed and considerate centered personality tendencies. With the Primary Colors Personality Insight Tools, my goal was to maintain the simplicity, while not over simplifying the sophistication of all that personalty encompasses in an individual’s life.

People are very complex, variable and challenging but none-the-less, if you really understand their personality profiles are blends of tendencies that adjust themselves to different contexts in their lives, you will also begin to see that they are predictable. Although we may have centered personality tendencies that people admire and are drawn to, we also have extreme tendencies that put people off and even frighten others sometimes. If you understand where a person has a tendency to go under stress, you will find that they predictably use certain extreme personality tendencies in these same contexts, repeatedly.

Many users of the MBTI, and other four quadrant personality type tests believe that a straightforward test can simplify people to the point where they can be managed, controlled and made as efficient and productive as possible. This might be true if people never got stressed, never miscommunicated, never got their noses out of joint, or never got angry, but as we all know that is not a possibility. I completely understand why businesses are, and certainly would be, keen to embrace a personality type test that could achieve that people work, communicate and interact from the best of their personality tendencies; in fact, any personality test would be the ideal tool if it could make people act decently, while using their best gifts and talents, working side by side with others.

Of course, this fantasy is not a reality. People are far more complicated, passionate, confused, sophisticated, insecure, untidy, mixed up and muddled for any basic yes/no, binary, four-quadrant, one-context test to easily interpret and define.

That is why the Primary Colors Personality Insight Tool is designed to be exactly that, an insight tool. It aids people in examining who they are in different context in their lives. What are their personality tendencies when they are happy? What are their personality tendencies when they are sad? What are their personality tendencies when they feel they have been betrayed? What are their personality tendencies when they are feeling inadequate, or confused? What are their personality tendencies when they are surrounded by power, money, and control? What are their personality tendencies when they are tired, hungry, exhausted and feeling misunderstood?

Do I believe that personality should be over-simplified? Heavens, no. But do I believe that understanding personality can be simple? Absolutely. I believe it is time to rethink personality.


Dawn Billings, creator and author of Primary Colors Personality Test and Insight Tools. Dawn is the founder of the Executive Training Resort in Mesa, Arizona, and does Couples Therapy Retreats that can save a marriage. Dawn is also the founder of The Heart Link Women's Network.

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