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Using personality assessments to elevate culture, communication and collaboration

Personality tests continue to grow in popularity as a workplace tool—not only in how they’re used, but also in the number of assessments available. The more common ones include DiSC Behavior Inventory, the Big Five, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), Occupational Interest Inventories and Situational Judgment Tests.

While each has its strengths and limitations, they all can provide actionable value for businesses, helping enhance company culture, communication and collaboration. (However, I’m not a fan of using them to screen job applicants, and thankfully only 13% of companies use them for that purpose, according to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management and Mercer.)

I prefer to use personality assessments to help us understand each other and work together better—in other words, for team-building. Because when team members understand each other’s communication styles, approaches to work, and how they’re alike and different, they respect, appreciate and interact with each other better and are more productive and collaborative.

For example, knowing each other’s “MO” can help make partnerships more effective—and more joyful and pleasant, as well, because it allows us to plan for how we’ll partner with each other. It can be as simple as being aware that you’re what the MBTI identifies as a “thinker” and you’re teaming up with a “feeler.”

It also helps to remember that even though we’re looking at the same information, we might interpret and understand it in different ways. Keeping this in mind can help mitigate potential conflicts and clashes. As Isabel Briggs Myers, author of Introduction to Type and the MBTI Manual, said, “When people differ, a knowledge of type lessens friction and eases strain. In addition, it reveals the value of differences. No one has to be good at everything.”

So if you’re a manager, when you understand each team member’s interaction style and personality type as it relates to being part of a team, you can assign roles in a way that harnesses strengths and shores up gaps. Who’s going to review the work? Perhaps someone whose personality score suggests they’re an “analyst” or “decision-maker.” Who’s going to keep the project on track? Perhaps the person identified as a “motivator” or “coach.” Who should present the work to your customer or client? Most likely the person who ranks high as an “actor” or “persuader.”

Results should empower, not pigeonhole

Clearly there’s a business value to using personality tests in the workplace. But what about for the individuals taking them? Are there any caveats? Is there anything we should be concerned about when asking our team members to take them? Well, yes. We certainly don’t want people worrying about their responses and results. And we don’t want them to think their results will limit or cause them to lose opportunities.

While it would be ludicrous to dismiss someone based on the results of a personality test, the host of the TED podcast “Work Life with Adam Grant” cautions those who take personality tests not to “fire yourself for having the wrong personality.”

What Grant means is that he knows people who have written off entire careers because of the outcome of their personality test. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, based on how their score defined their personality, they figured they weren’t analytical or gregarious or judgmental enough to work in accounting or sales or law. Or that they were too emotional, intuitive or “thinking” to be a physician or judge or artist. Basically, they ruled out anything that required characteristics that didn’t fit into their personality “type.” Not only is that crazy, it’s dangerous, frankly.

To avoid that self-limiting outcome, I encourage team members to use their results to understand their tendencies, traits, communication style and working preferences, and to become aware of who they are in a deeper sense. And then they can decide when it makes sense to push themselves beyond their natural traits and when it makes sense to stay within their comfort zone, maximizing their innate gifts.

Because even though we have certain characteristics, thought patterns, behaviors and ways of being, we also have the power to adapt and stretch. In fact, most people who are successful in the workplace do just that: They monitor situations and adapt to “rise to the occasion” or provide what is necessary to be effective and perform at a higher level.

I think we don’t give ourselves or each other enough credit. I mean, we’re not locked into our personality type. We have the power to flex. We can stretch and grow and act in ways that don’t come naturally. It doesn’t mean we have to change who we are or alter our personality. It just means we have the opportunity to expand our capabilities and areas of comfort.

Sure, it may never feel natural, perhaps, for an introvert to go out and drum up new business, but we can get used to and comfortable with practicing and adopting different personality traits for periods of time to get the job done.

Susan Cain, author of the book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” says introverts often don’t land leadership positions or apply for them in the first place because of the simple fact that they’re introverts. Even though introverts can make great leaders — often getting better results than extroverts because of the way they allow the people around them to showcase alternative ideas.

Cain mentions Eleanor Roosevelt, Rosa Parks and Gandhi as examples of introverts who pushed themselves outside their comfort zones when the job at hand required them to do so. And she tells a story I absolutely love about her grandfather, who was a rabbi and an extreme introvert. He lived alone and loved nothing more than being alone in his apartment reading. But he also loved his congregation and gave brilliant, engaging sermons throughout his 62-year career.

Cain says people came from all over to hear him speak; he was such a popular, riveting public speaker. And yet he was so introverted he had difficulty making eye contact with his congregation both on and off the podium. But when he passed away, so many people came to the services they had to close down the streets!

So I think of that story every time a team member tells me, “Oh I could never be a leader (or presenter, manager, director or account executive) because I’m too much of an introvert.”

Baloney. Most of the time, I think they’re selling themselves short. Which is why we need to make sure our team members understand that our scores on personality assessments are merely lenses to help us see where we might focus our energy as we continually grow and improve.

We all can continue to evolve and explore while remaining grounded in our true selves. In fact, the more we understand about who we are, the freer we are to jump off from there saying “OK, this is my personality. Am I going to fall back on it or spring forward from it?”

Lauren Dixon is CEO of Dixon Schwabl Inc., a New York marketing communications firm, which has been honored as a best place to work.

About Lauren Dixon