Little boxes without topses… personality profiles

If you catch me on a bad day and ask me about personality profiles, you will trigger a rant. Personally, I don’t believe that you can sort humanity into 16 groups of personalities and end up with something useful. The instruments range from the downright shady to the more “scientific” ones — but all of them measure more or less previously determined constructs.

If you catch me on a better day, I will concede that personality profiles do allow teams to have a discussion on the value of different perspectives and diversity. It is easier to live with the quirks of another human being if you don’t hold them to the exact same standards as you hold yourself to. For example, if I know that it is hard for my coworker to organize her time and that this is not because she is mean and evil but because in a way, “she was born this way”, I can be more forgiving. That doesn’t mean that these constructs are in any sense of the word “true”, but they do help to understand that, well, people are different.

The big danger is that these constructs become self-limiting descriptions:

  • “I cannot present well, because I am an introvert”
  • “I am yellow, I can’t finish things”
  • “My inner driver is ‘hurry-up’ and therefore I cannot be careful and diligent when filling in forms“
  • Even worse when they become other-limiting descriptions:
  • “She does not have leadership potential, too much of an introvert.”

Whether or not a company or team wants to risk the stereotyping that can result from personality profiles is for them to tell. The good news is that there are a lot of things that you can do as a coach or team leader to mitigate these risks and to create useful conversations if such a test has been conducted. (Disclaimer: I would never initiate or suggest such testing — but sometimes that’s what a company wants to do.)

Ask for fit:

Before assuming that any kind of psychological instrument knows more about the client then they do themselves, it is good to ask them to which extent they think the description fits their own perception of themselves:

  • “Which of these descriptions make sense to you?”
  • “What you think does not fit very well?”
  • “What is missing?”

Focus on strengths:

  • “What does this profile say about your unique strengths and qualities?”
  • “How are you making use of these qualities in your daily life?”
  • “If you made more use of these, what would you be doing differently?”
  • “Who might notice you using your strengths even more?”

When talking about potential negative aspects make sure you get a coaching agreement before talking about them:

  • “Would you like to have a look at…?”

Also here, it makes sense to build on resources:

  • “How have you been able to cope so far?”

Sometimes, it can be useful to “externalize” a quality that is perceived as negative:

  • “So what is the impact of the P (the “last minute deadline loving”, “keeping all options open” aspect of MBTI) in your life?”
  • “What is it inviting you to do?”
  • “What kind of relationship would you like to have with it?
  • “What do you like about it?“

End on a concrete note:

  • “Now that we have discussed this profile, what is emerging for you?”
  • “Which insights would you like to carry into the future?”
  • “Suppose you carried this into the future, how would you notice?”
  • “What would other people be noticing about you?”
  • “How would they respond?”
  • “How would you respond to their response?”
  • “What might be first signs of you making the most of your unique talents and gifts?”

I hope this is helpful for all of you who are sometimes faced with these profiles.

Recently, I found a really fun and interesting one that is also free:

The nice thing about this one is that it not only  relies on self-descriptions but has two tests included:

An unconscious bias test (which I think, has also been questioned by science, but okay) and a pattern recognition test.

Let me know what you think.

If you want to discuss more about this please come to one of our weekly coaching meet up and exchanges. to register click here:


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