One of the tools I strongly suggest for those on the path of personal growth and self-discovery are personality assessments. For as significant an element as our personality is, I am amazed at how few know of these resources, understand them, or make use of them. Although I believe it is our deep rooted beliefs that lie deep in our subconscious that have the biggest impact on our behaviors, fears, levels of happiness, etc., our personality characteristics are integral to our preferences and tendencies. Just like cognitive therapy and other tools can help us become aware of our deep rooted beliefs and their impact on our actions, the use of personality assessments can help us to become more conscious of why we think, act and behave like we do. They are another piece of the puzzle, or as I refer to them, a tool for self-discovery. Remember, change begins with awareness!
Because of my work in the area of leadership development and organizational development I have become well acquainted with many of these assessments. They are often used to help participants understand their preferences and tendencies, and in particular to use this information to consider how best to work with their teams and others. We all tend to prefer to act in our comfort zone which is developed in part based on our personality type, however, when working with others, leading others, and developing relationships, it is essential to understand our individual differences and learn how to accommodate these differences in order to work together more effectively. In other words, we learn how to modify our behaviors and expectations in order to better accommodate other personality types, and hence improve our working relationships. I share an example below of how I used one particular assessment to improve my effectiveness with my direct reports.
Another key benefit of personality assessments is the ability to understand how others perceive us to be, so that we can see ourselves from other’s perspectives and contrast this with how we see ourselves. The Johari Window is an excellent model for understanding the impact of this. Assessments that provide the opportunity for others to respond to the same questions we do (often anonymously), in order to compare and contrast our perceptions.
We can identify areas that we both see (i.e. I am friendly or I react too quickly before understanding the facts), which is window # 1 in the above diagram. We can also identify areas that others see and we do not (window # 2) representing our blind spots. Their feedback to us can help us to learn how others perceive me to be and bring new awareness to me. For example I learned that others perceived me at one point as a “yes man.” I was devastated by this at first until I later realized that they were spot on. This feedback provides me with the opportunity to understand why and then consider ways to modify my behaviors and beliefs. Window # 3 represents aspects we know but that we conceal to others. An example of this was my past which was a primary cause for many of my core issues which I masked well to others. And finally, window # 4 are aspects of ourselves that neither we or other’s see. This represented for me the use of cognitive therapy to understand how my past had a significant impact on who I was at that time.
I like to share my experience of using the LifeStyles Inventory assessment which became pivotal for me for both personal and professional growth. I share this story in greater detail in Part 1 of my book and in the section on Personality Assessments.
My direct reports and manager took the same assessment I did. It asked questions and mapped the responses to 12 characteristics. The report I received included a chart with my results compared to an average of the responses by my direct reports. It was the differences that caught my attention first. I was forewarned about how we tend to react to these results. We may first experience a surprise to these results, and then move into anger if we don’t like what we see. We can then attempt to rationalize these results to minimize the impact (i.e. they really don’t understand me, or, I knew they didn’t like me). The goal is to review and accept this data for what it is, without blame or judgement. Then we can begin to grapple with what this means. We often need assistance with this since our nature is to distort information we do not like. There were significant differences in two of the elements measured. I went through the stages as just described. I will never forget my comment to my manager when he asked me about one of these elements. I said to him, “Don’t they (my direct reports) understand what I am trying to do?” I would come to later understand how I was unable and unwilling at first to accept any other style or way other than my own.
The second factor that had a significant impact on me was comparing my results to a list of charts in the assessment guide. I looked for a chart that mirrored my results as close as possible. I found a near identical match. As I read through the description I was shocked when it related these preferences to a heart attack victim. Needless to say it caught my attention. It was the wake up call I needed at that point for me to understand what this all meant. I wanted to look under the hood, my hood, to see why this was. This eventually led me into cognitive therapy where I would discover what was behind this (window # 4 above).
The more I took different personality assessments, the more I was able to understand myself. They were each like taking a photo of myself from a particular angle. When combined with the other assessments, I was able to form a collage which represented my personality. It was a major ah-ha as my behaviors and tendencies made more sense. I was able to understand my preferences along with realizing their strengths and weaknesses. This became the basis of personal growth and development activities, in order to learn how to tweak and modify my behaviors as needed to build more effective relationships.