In many life situations, much of our success depends on our ability to understand and act on the personality dynamics of situations. If I am working as part of a team towards a goal, how I work as part of the team depends largely on how my personality fits in with other team members, and how I modulate my communication and actions based on the personality of others. If I am trying to sell someone a product or an idea, my success depends largely on how I pitch to their needs and personality. Because of this, there have been several personality tests developed by various researchers, each with their strengths and weaknesses. Since I plan on using a personality assessment in my work with individuals and teams, I did some research into the most popular assessments and in this series of articles, I'll explain more about the one that I chose and why.
The assessment that I chose is called the Big Five, which began in 1936 as a challenge to the psychological community by German researchers Allport and Odbest, to determine the minimum set of descriptors that separate the personality of one person from that of another, starting from a list of over 4,500 words. Researchers all over the world worked at this challenge for many years using factor analysis, which is a statistical method used to determine which variables or factors are the most significant in an experiment. In the middle part of the 20th century, this analysis had to be done by hand and was very laborious, which limited progress. In 1961, with the help of the supercomputers, U.S. Air-force researchers Tupes and Christal came up with the Big Five as they are known today. It has since been validated by many other researchers.
Being a scientist by training myself, I like that the Big Five assessment is the result of a broad collaboration from those who study psychology, and not from just one research group. I recognize that there is not one answer here, and that other assessment have their merits, but given my goals, I have chosen to use the Big Five.
The Big Five are described by five letters, each of which an individual can score Very High, High, Moderate, Low, or Very Low. I've summarized the Big Five below based on definitions I found in The Owners Manual for Personality at Work, by Pierce J. Howard and Jane Mitchell Howard.
N - Need for Stability: People who are high in N tend to be reactive and prefer low stress environments. People who are low in N tend to be very calm, even in stressful situations.
E - Extroversion: People with high E like to be in the thick of the action and are outgoing. People with low E tend to be reserved and like a quiet environment.
O - Originality: People high in O love new ideas and tend to enjoy artistic endeavors. People low in O prefer familiar environments.
A - Agreeableness: People with high A tend to accommodate the needs and desires of others over their own needs. People with low A tend to put their own interests ahead of those of others.
C - Conscientiousness: People with high C tend to focus on a goal or goals. Those with low C tend to like spontaneous pursuits and can get distracted easily.
If you would like to take a free Big Five assessment, you can find one here:
Researchers are quick to point out that the human personality is very complex, and the fact that at one mating, any one man and one woman can possibly produce one of 52 trillion distinct individuals, proves that no person can be perfectly described by five factors. Rather, the Big Five factors can be useful in understanding our tenancies and the tendencies of others so that we can be more effective in our interactions.
In my next post, I'll explain how the factors can be used in understanding situations, so that we can respond in more productive ways.