Many psychologists have tried to explore personality traits and to categorize all of mankind into groups. One of the most popular theories is the Big 5 which includes Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism. Here is a quick breakdown of what these are:
Openness: your willingness to learn new things and desire for new experiences
Conscientiousness: your ability to be thoughtful/mindful, control over your impulses or adopting a goal-oriented mindset
Extraversion: refers to your social preferences and how you ‘recharge’
Agreeableness: how warm you are as a person, related to trust, cooperativeness and altruism
Neuroticism: refers to your emotional resilience
Although this is one of the most reliable theories, some have also questioned its universal application. More importantly, an overdependence on using personality tests as a measure (for relationships or work) can potentially lead to damaging results.
Many media platforms have jumped on this hype and romanticized the idea of a ‘soulmate’ based on your Myers-Briggs type. For example, some suggest that ISTJ & ESTP types are meant to be together - according to the ‘opposite attracts’ law.
When you have a crush on someone, and he/she so happens to be ‘the one for you’, this information can build up a lot of hope or even false hope (remember how in high school you would add your name + your crush’s name together and calculate your alphabets into some type of percentage? Good times!). However, when the reality is different from what you have imagined, there is a lot of disappointment due to the unrealistic expectations that have built up.
On the other hand, you also limit your choices because you are not opening yourself to different ‘types’ of people. Or, it causes a lot of harm if you continue staying in a relationship (that you know is bad for you) solely based on your personality matches.
Instead, be open to meeting people that come from different backgrounds and be conscientious by being a dependable partner. It is important that you continuously work towards being better versions of yourselves, and not hide behind the excuse of “this is just my personality”. Of course, personality tests are fun to an extent and it is exciting to know yourself or your partner better, but it should not act as a manual or rule and you can invest your time, hope and energy in other areas.
Personality Tests in Your Workplace
Personality tests are sometimes used in the recruitment process, often related to ‘cultural fit’. In terms of group dynamics, we sometimes also rely on these tests to determine ‘the right matches’ for certain projects. Without us realizing, this process cultivates a certain dynamic or relationship in each team that can sometimes be a form of discrimination.
An overdependence on using personality tests to measure a candidate’s value poses harm to an organisation. Firstly because most of these tests were not created for such a purpose, so they may not offer a good correlation or results on what you are trying to measure. Some may have been designed to understand how individuals learn and might reap benefits in terms of training, but they were not designed for hiring or to determine if a person ‘fits the company culture’. Judging a person’s character or assuming their quality of deliverables exclusively based on these questionnaires not only dehumanizes a candidate but also limits the company’s potential by rejecting diversity or inclusivity. Instead, if recruiters spent a bit more time getting to know candidates better, they would realize their drive, passion, dreams, or attitudes a lot more than what can be derived from a questionnaire.
When it comes to group dynamics, there is a perception that candidates who portray strong leadership personalities or characteristics are better team-players. However, if every single individual in the team is opinionated and strong-headed, there will be a lot of clashes and interruptions. A recruiter or a manager’s role then isn’t to cherry-pick who they think is the best, but creating an environment where everyone can work together towards a collective goal. Therefore, personality tests can just be a fun subset of the entire recruitment process to identify a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses or preferences, but never as a judging criterion.
Personality Tests for Children
Not all parents make their children fill in a personality survey, but some often make assumptions about their child’s personalities based on observation or through conversations. Some traits can be easily identified through obvious behaviours, for example, some babies make a lot of noises (even before they learn words) or would wave to strangers - which are hints of their extroversion; whereas some children take time to warm up to new faces or prefer reading.
It is important that as parents, you don’t try to ‘force’ a preferred personality onto your child. Children grow up happier when parents are not exerting too much control over their children’s behaviour. Of course, discipline is necessary, but it is important to engage your child in the process and to tell them the ‘why’ behind the ‘what’. As such, there is no need to intentionally cultivate a personality just because of the perception that some personalities are “better” than others. For example, a child’s fear towards reptiles cannot be equated to their lack of “openness to experiences” and trying to force them to confront it might cause more trauma. Setting unrealistic expectations based on your assumptions about their personality, rather than engaging them to understand further, would make them feel like they are never good enough.
As for teenagers and young adults, it is important to give them the space to explore their personalities and to understand that they are continuously growing or evolving. It is also crucial to be accepting of their changes, for example, if your teenage son has been going out a lot more often (could be because of openness or extraversion), there is no need to use their past preferences against them (“you should just stay home and read like you used to”).
On the other hand, if there were sudden and drastic shifts, such as from extreme extraversion to extreme introversion, do intentionally connect with them to ask if anything bad has happened. As parents, it is important to remember that these measures of personalities are not a score or a reflection of your success as a parent.
Personality tests are not fundamentally wrong, but how we use it, what we use it for or how we interpret its results might cause harm not only to ourselves but also to those around us. As humans, we are all unique, diverse, complex, or multi-dimensional. We are made up of many parts and our personalities are just one part of who we are. As such, viewing individuals solely based on personalities is like looking through a peephole - it is often blurry and disproportionate. So, the next time you want to whip out a test and categorize someone based on these personality ‘types’, put the survey away and engage them in a conversation instead.