Pondering on personality

Monday, 28 November 2011 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Personalities of people play a pivotal role in both their personal and professional fronts. The Oxford Dictionary defines personality as the visible aspect of one’s character as it impresses others. Today’s column is an exploration as well as an explanation of the aspects of personality.

Details of personality

One may look at Arnold Schwarzenegger and say that he has “a very good” personality. In contrast, a thin and skinny person may be viewed as one without “a personality”. Is it personality what really means? The answer is “no”.

The term personality originates from the Latin word, persona, which means a mask. In ancient Latin theatres, a mask was used to represent a character. In other words, it is what you show to the world, by way of your words and deeds.

There are a variety of ways of looking at personality. According to Wikipedia.org, it is the particular combination of emotional, attitudinal, and behavioural response patterns of an individual.

Santrock (1996) enlightens us by defining personality as enduring, distinctive thoughts, emotions, and behaviours that characterise the way an individual adapts to the world. The key highlight here is the adaptation. From the womb to the tomb, it is a journey of adaptation, with constant interaction with the surroundings.

Robert (1997) adds to it by stating that personality is the sum total of characteristics that differentiate people or the stability in a person’s behaviour across different situations. For the same situation, one may fight and the other may flight. The response reveals their personalities.

Determinants of personality

Behavioural scientists state that there are three key determinants of personality. They are heredity, environment and situation. What do we mean by heredity? It is what we got from our forefathers. In essence, the genetic influence matters. We’ve heard the statement, “like father, like son”. It applies to personality as well.

The second determinant is environment. It is all about nurture more than the nature. There was an interesting story published by the Time magazine sometime ago. It was on the whereabouts of twins who were adopted by two families.

Out of two sons born to a poor family, one was adopted by a very rich business family. The other child was adopted by a middle income family. The first son got all the comforts and benefits and ended up running the multi-million dollar family business. The second son got exposed to the illegal drug trafficking and was very much involved with it. It all ended up in a long-term jail term in an isolated prison cell.

Time magazine interviewed both the twins and asked the same question. “What made you to come to the point where you are now?” Surprisingly, both gave an identical answer. “Given the environment, what else you would expect me to be?” The point here is the environmental influence for personality.

It also reminds me of a Jathaka story. Two parrots were for sale and were bought by two families. One parrot was exposed to gentle, soft and polite way of speaking and it did respond exactly to that. The second one was surrounded by ones who frequently used filthy words and foul language. The parrot did demonstrate exactly the same. However, whether parrots have personalities or not is a separate issue.

The third determinant of personality is situation. To be precise, it refers to critical incidents. We have seen in Asian politics how many widows came to limelight from nowhere in the event of their husband’s demise. That critical determinant even impacted their personality.

Measuring of personality

A variety of attempts have been made to measure personality in a scientific manner. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment is the most popular personality measure in the world. It is a psychometric questionnaire designed to measure psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions.

The foundation for MBTI came from the original work by a veteran psychologist, Carl Gustav Jung. He published these details in his 1921 book titled, Psychological Types. Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, worked on Young’s findings in developing MBTI.

They began creating the indicator during World War II, believing that knowledge of personality preferences would help women who were entering the industrial workforce for the first time to identify the sort of war-time jobs where they would be “most comfortable and effective”.

CPP Inc., the publisher of the MBTI instrument, calls it “the world’s most widely used personality assessment,” with as many as two million assessments administered annually. The CPP and other proponents state that the indicator meets or exceeds the reliability of other psychological instruments and cite reports of individual behaviour. Some studies have found strong support for research parameters such as construct validity, internal consistency, and test-retest reliability, although variation was observed.

MBTI in action

As a personality type diagnostic instrument, it Indicates one’s communication style, decision-making style, attitudes towards time, goals, conflict and also social preferences.

“Whatever the circumstances of your life, the understanding of type can make your perceptions clearer, your judgments sounder, and your life closer to your heart’s desire.” So said, Isabel Briggs Myers (1962). It points to the need to be aware of your personality type with its associated strengths and shortcomings.

MBTI approach presents four personality dimensions, and categorise people into four pairs.

1.Based on social orientation: Extravert (E) vs. Introvert (I)

2.Based on information gathering method: Sensing (S) vs. Intuitive (N)

3.Based on information evaluation method: Thinking (T) vs. Feeling (F)

4.Based on information gathering speed: Judging (J) vs. Perceiving (P)

Accordingly, there can be 16 different combinations of MBTI personality types such as ESTJ. Let’s take it as an example to expand. ESTJs are regarded as guardians. According to www.perosnalitypage.com, ESTJs generally have the following traits:

Natural leaders: They like to be in charge, value security and tradition, loyal, hard-working and dependable, athletic and wholesome, have a clear set of standards and beliefs which they live by, no patience with incompetence or inefficiency, excellent organisational abilities, enjoy creating order and structure, very thorough, will follow projects through to completion, straight-forward and hones, driven to fulfil their duties.

ESTJs have a lot of flexibility in the types of careers that they choose. They are good at a lot of different things, because they put forth a tremendous amount of effort towards doing things the right way. They will be happiest in leadership positions, however, because they have a natural drive to be in charge. They are best suited for jobs which require creating order and structure.

The following list of professions is built on research findings of careers which would be especially suitable for an ESTJ. It is meant to be a starting place, rather than an exhaustive list. There are no guarantees that any or all of the careers listed here would be appropriate for you, or that your best career match is among those listed: Military leaders, business administrators and managers, police/detective work, judges, financial officers, teachers, sales representatives

Similarly we could look at all 16 different types to see the emergent profiles.

Use of personality awareness

Work environments influence how comfortable you are at your job. Someone with a preference for introversion, for example, who is required to do a lot of detailed work or think through a problem, may find it disruptive to be in an environment that is too loud or where a lot of interaction is required. When you know this about yourself, you can make arrangements to do your work in a more suitable location or at a time when there is less activity and interference.

Even when circumstances make it necessary for you to do work that you have not chosen or which you must do as part of your overall job description, knowledge and understanding of type can help you discover and use your strengths to accomplish the work. When you find an unsatisfactory job fit, you can examine the reasons and seek solutions based on your preferences.

When you do have an opportunity to take a new path in your work, type can help you analyse the fit of your type with your past work and consider what new direction can best fit with your preferences.

Bouquets for Big Five

Personality researchers have proposed that there are five basic dimensions of personality. These are often referred to as the Big Five. This is a round number. Previous trait theorists had suggested a various number of possible traits, including Gordon Allport’s list of 4,000 personality traits, Raymond Cattell’s 16 personality factors and Hans Eysenck’s three-factor theory.

Today, many researchers agree that they are five core personality traits. Evidence of this theory has been growing over the past 50 years, beginning with the research of D. W. Fiske (1949) and later expanded upon by other researchers including Norman (1967), Smith (1967), Goldberg (1981), and McCrae & Costa (1987).

The ‘Big Five’ are broad categories of personality traits. While there is a significant body of literature supporting this five-factor model of personality, researchers don’t always agree on the exact labels for each dimension. However, these five categories are usually described as follows:

  • Extraversion: This trait includes characteristics such as excitability, sociability, talkativeness, assertiveness and high amounts of emotional expressiveness.
  • Agreeableness:  This personality dimension includes attributes such as trust, altruism, kindness, affection, and other pro-social behaviours.
  • Conscientiousness: Common features of this dimension include high levels of thoughtfulness, with good impulse control and goal-directed behaviours. Those high in conscientiousness tend to be organised and mindful of details.
  • Emotional stability: Individuals high in this trait tend to experience greater control of their emotions such as anger. It involves an individuals’ steadiness of mood, their ability to withstand minor setbacks, failures, difficulties, and other stresses.
  • Openness to experience: Openness involves active imagination, aesthetic sensitivity, attentiveness to inner feelings, preference for variety, and intellectual curiosity.

The above five dimensions represent broad areas of personality. Research has demonstrated that these groupings of characteristics tend to occur together in many people. For example, individuals who are sociable tend to be talkative. However, these traits do not always occur together.  These are not “types” of personalities, but dimensions of personality. So someone’s personality is the combination of each of their ‘Big Five’ personality characteristics. For example, someone may be very sociable (high extraversion), not very friendly (low agreeableness), hard working (high conscientiousness), easily stressed (low emotional stability) and extremely creative (high intellect).

Way forward

It was Thales, the first philosopher in Greek tradition, who said, “Know thyself”. Being aware of your personality is one sure way of discovering you better. Such awareness can also be extended to areas such as recruitment to ensure a proper person-position match. It also helps to enrich our relationships both in personal as well as professional fronts, in knowing someone better.

The fundamental message here is to ensure the match between “who you are” vs. “what you do”. Satisfied and fruitful carriers are built around people handling things in the areas where they have a flare. What it says is simple: “Do what you are”.

(Dr. Ajantha Dharmasiri is a learner, teacher, trainer, researcher, writer and a thinker in the areas of Human Resource Management and Organisational Behaviour. He can be reached on [email protected].)

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