Whether it’s a quick, free quiz that matches you with a like-minded literary character or an extensive questionnaire with research-backed results, there’s something undeniably appealing about personality tests. After all, what could be more fascinating—and fun to share���than an assessment that reveals something about us?
When properly applied, personality tests can prove incredibly useful in the workplace, too. Our inclinations, both positive and negative, affect our relationships with significant others, family, and friends; naturally, they also impact our relationships with our colleagues, with whom many of us spend at least 40 hours a week.
So how can these tests and the truths they illuminate about the human person transform the culture and morale of your team at work?
Here are five personality assessment tools—and how they can improve your office dynamics.
01. For work culture: The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator
MBTI personality types were developed by Isabel Briggs Myers with her mother, Katharine Cook Briggs, and they are based on the work of Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. Four categories represent different preferences, with sixteen possible combinations in total:
- Favorite world: Introverted or Extroverted (I, E)
- Information: Sensing or Intuition (S, N)
- Decisions: Thinking or Feeling (T, F)
- Structure: Judging or Perceiving (S, P)
One of the most helpful MBTI lessons for an office lies in the “I” versus “E,” or the introvert-extrovert spectrum. This preference—whether one recharges in solitude or with others, or put another way, is internally or externally focused—can have a profound effect on who we are at work. In her book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, author Susan Cain writes that one third to one half of the workforce is probably introverted.
Cain argues that Western society is biased toward extroverts and chronically undervalues the contributions of introverts. To combat this, she advises supervisors to recognize introverts’ typical strengths, like deep, strategic thinking and the ability to solve complex problems. She also encourages bosses to first ask staff members for ideas or input electronically or in writing instead of at a group meeting. Furthermore, even the office layout matters; many introverts find the open-office floor plan too stimulating.
Conversely, extroverts might feel isolated in a work environment that lacks collaboration or built-in social time. Balance—and maybe regular check-ins with people of both personality types—is the surest way to success.
Of course, the MBTI can help us understand more than our introversion or extroversion. Further study of the sixteen personality types it delineates can yield a deeper understanding of ourselves and our colleagues. The more we know, the more we can cultivate positive team dynamics.
02. For conflict resolution: The Enneagram
For all its current popularity, the Enneagram may be the oldest personality test.
Its origins are unknown, but some trace it back to a Christian monk named Evagrius, write Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile in The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery. The personality typing system, which uses a nine-pointed geometric figure called an enneagram, became more widespread in the 1970s when a Catholic Jesuit priest was introduced to the system and began teaching it to seminarians and priests.
There are nine personality types, represented by numbers. Each type has “a distinct way of seeing the world and an underlying motivation that powerfully influences how that type thinks, feels and behaves,” Cron and Stabile explain. While some personality tests put individuals firmly in different categories, the Enneagram takes a more fluid approach: Each type is connected in varying ways to the others.
This feature makes it especially helpful in conflict management because it breaks down very precisely the type a person might resemble in both the best and worst situations—which, in turn, can predict how a colleague may react under stress or in conflict.
03. For strengths and weaknesses: The Four Temperaments
Temperament theory is rooted in the work of Greek physician Hippocrates, who believed that imbalances in four bodily fluids affect human mood and behavior. The basis of temperament theory is that there are four fundamental personality types: sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic. Most individuals have two primary temperaments that are exhibited more frequently than the other two.
Understanding the four temperaments can be especially helpful in highlighting strengths and weaknesses. These are particularly important to be aware of in a strong, collaborative team. For instance, people who are sanguine tend to be strong interpersonal communicators and exhibit high levels of self-confidence, but may be prone to distraction. Melancholic people, who tend to be excellent critical thinkers, may struggle with indecision and perfectionism.
In The Temperament God Gave You, Art and Laraine Bennett describe how temperaments also shed light on what motivates people and what they most value when making decisions. Sanguine and phlegmatic people, for example, are typically adaptable and cooperative because they place a high priority on making others happy and avoiding conflict. Cholerics and melancholics, however, are more inclined to value goals and ideals in the decision-making process rather than being concerned with pleasing others.
04. For constructive criticism: DISC
Psychologist William Moulton Marston developed DISC in his 1928 book Emotions of Normal People, in which he argued that people demonstrate their emotions using four behavior types: Dominance (D), Inducement (I), Submission (S), and Compliance (C). While he didn’t outline a specific way of determining these types, others have created DISC assessments since then. Individuals have a dominant and secondary type, represented by two letters.
Recently, I brought up personality tests with a friend who immediately started raving about DISC. She grabbed a pen and drew a circle on a napkin, explaining what the different letters mean. She said that assessing her team’s DISC profiles at work helped her to become a more effective leader.
The assessment tool and a corresponding course used by the team pinpointed how best to give feedback to staff members in light of their primary and secondary letters. Depending on whether someone is conflict-averse (I) or conflict-prone (C), she said she can decide whether negative feedback should be forward and authoritative or more affirmative (for example, using the sandwich method of compliment/criticism/compliment). Because she learned that people receive and process feedback in different ways, she now tailors her constructive criticism to the individual instead of using a blanket approach.
05. For productivity: The Four Tendencies
Gretchen Rubin, the well-known author of The Happiness Project, created a personality assessment revolving around the question: “How do I respond to expectations?” As Rubin explains in her book The Four Tendencies, the way we answer the question reflects a small but important aspect of our characters: why we act and why we don’t act.
Rubin found that people fit into four types—or “Tendencies”—depending on their typical response to outer (external) and inner (self-directed) expectations:
- Upholders respond well to both outer and inner expectations.
- Questioners question all expectations.
- Obligers respond well to outer expectations, but struggle with inner expectations.
- Rebels defy all expectations.
Understanding this framework is key in a work setting for engaging and motivating others, as well as delegating work effectively. For instance, while the why behind a task’s necessity would be essential for gaining a Questioner’s full cooperation, according to Rubin, external accountability would more likely propel an Obliger to action.
Recognizing the value—and limits—of personality assessments
Critics of personality tests argue that they don’t sum up the whole of a person, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t illuminate pieces of what make up a person’s thoughts, behaviors, or tendencies. And while no acronym can represent a lifetime of values and experiences, personality tests can still be incredibly valuable in cultivating a well-functioning team at work.
Next time there’s an office lunch or happy hour, consider inviting colleagues to complete a personality test and share the results if they are willing. Your conversation may help team members gain insight into other personalities and temperaments, acknowledge what they have in common and what they don’t, and foster positive relationships in the process.
As Isabel Briggs Myers said,“When people differ, a knowledge of type lessens friction and eases strain.” And, perhaps most importantly, she observed, such knowledge “reveals the value of differences.”