How Understanding Our Personality Can Help Us Get Unstuck and Move Ahead
Three ways we can become more aware of what motivates us, what we do to belong and strive, and how we get distracted from being at our best in the long term.
“So what you are saying is that it’s my being reserved and a bit strict under pressure with my teammates makes them want to avoid any projects with me? That’s crazy, but I see how it can be true”, my friend told me upon debriefing on her personality assessment results.
In the beginning, she was a bit skeptical: she couldn't see how a psychological test can identify complex areas of her concern for her professional and private lives, let alone suggest ways to improve them. As we went through her personality map, she got to a couple of major insights that made her see her territory from a different angle.
What Understanding of Our Personalities Can Do For Us
In a nutshell, understanding our personality can help us with three things:
- Give us a good idea of how others see us (reputation = doesn’t change that much), not just how we see ourself (identification = quite dynamic self-image).
- Provide us with the map of our strengths and weaknesses, including combinations of those, that make us realize where we can’t really get ahead or get along with others.
- Create an awareness of our values, motivations, and unconscious strategies for getting what we want, which helps us see how we get something in the short term, but miss the mark in the long term.
Wait, Why Don’t They Teach Us That at Schools?
Great question. I have no idea – because they should!
Personality assessments have been with us since ancient times. In the 3rd century BC, Hippocrates used four personality types to map his recurring patients. Similarly, Carl Jung used to assign each of his therapy clients a set of binary behavioral inclinations — which marked the beginning of MBTI, probably the most well-known personality assessment to date.
What’s different with personality assessments of the XXI century is that they are well-researched, scientifically valid, and lead to a reputational understanding of one’s personality.
What do we know about the science of personality
Dr. Robert Hogan, who spent 30 years applying statistical models to map personalities, and has a few hints:
- People often try to imagine themselves be one way or another. However, our own perception of who we are doesn’t necessarily mean we behave and are seen by others in the same way.
- We always strive to belong (get along with others) and strive to influence (get ahead). Understanding how we do that is crucial to getting what we want.
- What we value and what motivates us on the deep level is what creates long-term satisfaction for us. Search for meaning is a very common thing for humans, yet it’s only through the understanding of what really makes us tick that we tend to live a meaningful life in the world that lacks meaning.
Let’s look at three core ideas that Dr. Hogan developed to help us thrive by being more aware of who we really are.
In 2015–2016, Cambridge Analytica used so-called Big Five Model of Personality Traits to map core personality traits of 87 million of Facebook users to target them with ads and to swing their votes in a certain direction. As we know, the strategy proved to be fairly successful.
Big Five personality traits deal with the extent to which we can be:
- emotionally stable under pressure (vs. emotionally volatile);
- sociable and extraverted (vs. introverted);
- agreeable (vs. angry);
- open and curious to new experiences and possibilities.
Various tools built on top of Big Five, such as HEXACO and Hogan Personality Inventory, suggest that people have different capacity to show:
- drive, energy, confidence, and ability to bounce back;
- readiness to communicate with others and build relationships;
- approaches to problem-solving, learning styles, and execution of tasks.
Knowing those capacities helps us see what we do well, where we can improve, as well as what kind of tasks and projects we should seek, and what things we would be better off outsourcing. It also shows us the natural side of self, something that creates a reputation for us and drives us to make decisions in certain ways.
When we are under pressure and stress, in complete ambiguity or bored, we tend to employ certain strategies to get what we need. Those are frequently associated with the sympathetic nervous system, preparing us for the fight, flight, or freeze responses.
The strategies we adopt range from emotionality, withholding, being passive-aggressive to arrogance, seeking attention, manipulativeness to perfectionism and completely getting along with circumstances.
We usually pick those strategies in early childhood, in the time we don’t even remember anymore. The problem is that these strategies might get us what we want now, but don’t get us what we want in the long term.
An example would be someone enthusiastic, fiery, and driven — to the extent that might make other people perceive them as volatile, impatient, and overly emotional, and make it harder for connection between people to happen.
Another example would be someone mischievous, charming and pleasing, to a point where they don’t notice how they become misleading or manipulative.
As these strategies help in the short term, they also might derail people’s relationships and careers in the long term.
Values are the DNA of personality. They determine our motivations, our views on the world, who we choose to be close with, and how we make decisions.
Knowing our values allows us to see what relationships and career opportunities might not work for us long term, even if we try really hard to make it work in the short term.
There is a saying by Will Rogers: “It’s not what you don’t know that’ll hurt you, it’s what you do know that isn’t true.” Values can be perceived as those things we know for sure, but might not be true.
The moment we become clear on what our values are, we can create more freedom to make decisions according to what really resonates with us. We start to see our biases differently, and we start to understand our decision-making process in a new way. We also get to know what organizations we are drawn to, and what kind of people really make us tick.
One of the most valuable things we can learn about ourselves is how our reputation, behaviors, and tendencies structure our everyday life and affect our communication.
Knowing ourselves creates an opportunity for change. Once we have this opportunity, we can move towards flourishing.