Published on October 23rd, 2013 | by Joanna Holman

Debating the Value of Personality Typing

If you want to see people get opinionated, raise the topic of personality types.

Many people have very strong opinions (pro and con) about the usefulness of personality typing systems such as Myers-Briggs, DISC, and Enneagram.

There is certainly a need to be discerning when engaging with ideas about personality types and differences. No personality typing scheme can fully capture the nuances of human personality nor does a personality type excuse bad behavior.

Some would take these limitations to mean that we shouldn’t bother understanding and accommodating personality differences. However, whether you use a formal classification system or not, understanding how personalities differ and accommodating those differences is important for your sense of identity, your emotional health, and the health of the groups you belong to.

In this article, I’ll be focusing on how these issues apply to introvert/extravert differences; however, the ideas are applicable to other dimensions of personality as well.

Negative impacts of ignoring or denying personality differences

Sometimes a denial of the legitimacy of personality differences can take the form of deliberately trying to force a particular way of being and doing. Sometimes people in power have a very specific idea of the personality of a good team member or follower.

Insisting people conform to a certain type can be common in families too. I suspect most introverted children of extraverted parents have been told many times that they need to be more social. For many extraverted children of introverted parents, they hear that they should not spend so much time socialising!

The dominance of a particular personality type to the detriment of people wired differently can be accidental. Leaders can innocently slip into creating settings that work well for them, never realising that what they’ve found helpful isn’t universally helpful for others. An introverted boss may assume that because she finds working quietly on her own to be effective, solitary work is the best way to structure the workload she gives her staff. If she is leading a team of extroverts, what they may need could be chances to discuss and collaborate.

Whether it happens intentionally or accientally, situations that are structured in favour of certain types can become unhealthy for those who aren’t of that type. Everyone has to occasionally push themselves outside their comfort zones, but it isn’t healthy to function outside of natural type or preference for long periods of time. Doing so takes substantial mental and emotional energy. The individual functioning long-term out of type can suffer emotionally, mentally, and even physically through exhaustion, stress, and burnout.

Groups can suffer because the people with the rejected types are having to devote energy toward straining to fit in rather than toward doing great work. The group can also suffer through not attracting talented people from non-dominant personality types, as people tend to gravitate toward and recruit people who are like themselves if they don’t make an effort to do otherwise.

Positive impacts of recognising and accommodating personality differences

In addition to avoiding the dangers I’ve discussed, working to understand and embrace differences in personality can have a positive impact by empowering people to act proactively to enhance their own well-being and the effectiveness of their interactions.

For me, learning about introversion helped me more effectively work with the aspects of introversion that can create challenges in certain settings. For example, I sometimes find myself in situations that involve multiple days in a row of interacting with people for most of my waking hours. For me, these situations are most often conferences or volunteering projects. Learning about introversion didn’t cause me to withdraw from these intensely social situations. Rather, it helped me work out how to use the little snatches of time when people-contact isn’t necessary in ways that energise me. This enables me to engage more deeply and productively in interactions with others the rest of the time.

Practical applications of personality differences for individuals

  • Try a few different personality tests. In addition to countering the imperfections in every test, you might gain new insights by combining the results of tests that look at different aspects of personality.
  • Create action plans. If you know you’ll need to be in a setting that is hard work for your personality type, plan ahead about how you can engage in a way that is as healthy and productive as possible. If you are an introvert, the book Networking for People Who Hate Networking (affiliate link) is helpful for situations that involve meeting new people.
  • Suggest new options for getting things done. If you can make the case that having the option to do tasks in a way that’s more compatible with your personality type will improve your performance, your leader/boss will likely be willing to listen.

Practical applications of personality differences for leaders

  • Observe how your team members act on their own. You may find your team members naturally gravitate toward ways of working and communicating that are not what you’d expect.
  • Ask people what stresses them out. Their answer to this question will probably tell you a lot about their personality type, but it is unlikely they’ll tell you unless you ask.
  • Be aware when making plans for other people. If you are responsible for planning an extended event or activity that involves others, be mindful of what personality types different from yours will find energising or draining. This is particularly important in cases where there isn’t much room in the schedule for free time.

To comment on this article or to get links to various personality tests online, see the blog post What’s Your Type?

Photo by Clinton Cardozo.

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