Personality Assessments are everywhere, from the usual DISC or Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to less known assessments like Highlands, CVI, Kolbe, Birkman, 12 motivators, HBDI, Strong Interest Assessment, and many more.
These assessments can give us indications on our tendencies, our values, our ways to operate in the world and put the light on some aspects of our personality we didn’t really see. They can help us understand others a little better, maybe adapt our communication style and ways to interact with them.
But there is a downside to these assessments, at least if we are not careful.
- First, they give some indications based on the answers given in the test. That’s it. And as so, they shouldn’t be seen as the ultimate truth about ourselves, just the interpretation of a set of answers, at a certain time.
- They tend to put us in a box and reinforce our self-image, our sense of being X or Y and if we are not careful, they might reinforce a fixed mindset (we are born with some traits and can’t evolve, we are good at this and bad at that, etc…) as opposed to a growth mindset (we can evolve). And whatever it is we believe to be true, we will create that as our reality.
- We are more complexes than that. I personally have a hard time fulfilling these tests, especially now that I have transitioned from an engineering/project management job to a coaching career, as a business owner and engaging into a personal development journey that makes me pause, reflect, be more present to some of my core values, realize the way I operate in the world and choose differently. The answers to some assessment questions, and therefore the results, might depend on whether I think of a situation in my past career or a present situation.
- They also give us way out to not confront what is scary. We may use this to justify why we don’t do what we are afraid of. And they limit our ability to expand our range. As an example, my default mode is to overthink, plan, create a strategy, and this is great. But I would miss so much by not expanding my range, which I have done in the last couple of years. Practicing stepping in the unknown without any clear plan, instead of justifying that I couldn’t do something because I didn’t have any data to make a decision, has significantly moved me forward. It has not become my default mode and natural tendency but I can now tap into that way to operate when necessary.
- Eventually, these assessments might decrease our curiosity, which is actually an alternative tool better than an assessment. As Peter Bregman writes it in “Leading with emotional courage”, a book I highly recommend to leaders of any sort:
- Personality assessments simplify complexity. They offer the illusion of understanding at the coast of truth and freedom.
- As soon as we label something, our curiosity about that thing diminishes. Once we know something, we are no longer curious.
- But it’s hard to let go of the comfort that comes from thinking you’ve figured someone out.
- Even more than a skill, curiosity is a way of being in the world. Curiosity asks us to stay, often longer than is comfortable, in the place of not knowing.
As one of my mentor coaches who use assessments say: it’s not about the wand (the assessment), it’s about the wizard (the coach/consultant). What you’ll get from an assessment depends on the reflection you will have rather than the results themselves. If you do an assessment, reflect on what surprised you, what you think makes sense, what doesn’t seem true, what you liked about the results, what you didn’t like, what are the benefits, what are the costs, what you want to do with this, etc…
As a conclusion, personality assessment are useful tools that should not be considered as the absolute truth, an ending point with a fixed conclusion about ourselves or others, but rather as a starting point leading to further reflection, further curiosity, further personal and professional growth.