Understand Personality to Redesign Team Relationships
Part 1: Interpersonal dynamics
There is an increasing trend at innovative companies towards hiring for behaviors, rather than for experience or acquired skills.
So why does your LinkedIn profile still labor over all your prior work experiences (that you don’t want to repeat) and the skills that you acquired (but don’t necessarily want to be expected to use)?
I first wrote about this in Hire For Aptitude, Pay for Performance. The idea is that the skills for true entrepreneurship, in the sense of Peter Theil’s Zero to One (2014), aren’t acquired in the University, or in working in bureaucratic organization. The theory is that grades don’t matter, prior work experience doesn’t matter, and even though skills are a useful indication of aptitude…
What really matters to your job performance is not what you know or how you feel. It’s what you DO that counts.
Because behavior is so important to job performance, there has been an explosion of interest in behavioral assessment instruments for characterizing what can be expected of a job applicant. The best of these is the Kolbe A conative strengths assessment, because it distinguishes between personality and the Instincts That Drive You.
Others instruments, like the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Inventory (MBTI), or DISC, Colors, Strengthfinders, and Enneagram, all mix up feelings, skills, and instinctive behaviors.
These are not behavioral assessments. They are personality assessments.
Nevertheless, personality is important. For example, in Know Your People Matthew Knight instructs executive that there “is more to your team than job titles and capabilities.” And it’s this kind of thinking that leads more and more companies to use personality assessments in hiring.
Fortunately for executives and workers, personality is malleable (unlike instincts), which means:
Personality changes over time.
Despite what some Jungian advocates of MTBI might argue, we all know that personalities change (Mayr 2016). For example, my own MTBI results over the last two decades show that I’m less introverted than I was back in grad school — but you don’t have to take my word for it. There are countless other examples:
- The first time your child returns from college, you may notice changes in their personality,
- Intensive training programs, like military boot camp, are specifically designed to change personality… and they do.
- People sometimes self-report personality-changing experiences. In fact, there’s a whole cottage industry around it, like the Tony Robbin’s training programs that Susan Cain documents in her book Quiet (2012).
- Finally, consider Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It used to a term that applied exclusively to the damaging experience of combat, but it has since been broadened to recognize that unresolved traumatic experiences change people.
Once we accept that personality can change, the question that should immediately come to mind is something like:
Why do I act the way I do, and can I change it?
— Drew D’Agostino, Crystal Knows
Personality Assessment Instruments
The first step towards designing your personality changes with intention is understanding your current personality characteristics. There are at least five, known as the Big Five Personality Traits:
- Openness to experience
- Neuroticism (i.e., anxiety or other forms of emotional instability)
Twenty years ago Barrik and Mount (1991) found that conscientiousness correlated with higher job performance in many different types of jobs, and that extroverts performed better in some specific roles likes sales and management. More recently, Sorić et al (2017) demonstrate that conscientiousness and agreeableness also correlate with academic success — at least among Croatian schoolchildren.
What they don’t do is tell you how to be more like the person you seek to become. So what good are they?
Working With Others
The Golden Rule of “Do unto other as you would have them do unto you,” is often stated as an ethical principle. It may be the first step towards cultivating empathy in young children, but it is too self-absorbed to be considered ethical.
Because people have different personalities, they communicate, behave, and feel in different ways. Treating others as you want them to treat you is not ethical — it is a solipsistic projection of your own worldview onto others who may not share it.
As I wrote in Maslow on Management, it took me a long time to discover that teaching requires me to meet my students where they are. That is the only way that I can gently move them to where I think they need to be (without making them feel stupid along the way).
Beyond the Big Five
One limitation of the Big Five traits is that it gives little guidance on how to understand the interpersonal dynamics between different personalities. Because mastering these dynamics are essential to teamwork, in my Engineering Business Practices course, I use a more sophisticated personality assessment instrument based on DISC.
It is called Crystal Knows, and it is also available free online. It helps develop empathy by providing students with information about the personalities of the people with whom they are expected to work. Having a strong sense of empathy allows them to adjust their communication styles to one another. The article below describes how CrystalKnows works and helps interpret results.
Crystal's 4 Relationship Principles
The core purpose of Crystal is to help people build stronger, more enjoyable, more effective relationships. We do that…
There are two interesting features of Crystal Knows that distinguish it from other instruments. The first is that you can find other people who have taken the assessment on the CrystalKnows.com site, and learn about their personalities. For example, when you begin to type “Thomas P…” into the CrystalKnows search bar, you might be prompted with a link to my results, like this:
When you visit my CrystalKnows profile, you will find results that look like this:
When I learn about you, CrystalKnows will provide me with advice about how to communicate and interact with you, too. Moreover, it will suggest which types of personalities I’m likely to be in conflict with. For example, those personality types plotted at the top (i.e., North) of the circular map are “shaping” — they will innovate, design, lead, and seek novelty and risk. By contrast, those at the bottom will “stabilize”. To them, it’s important that an idea be proven before it is implemented. Those plotted to the left of the map are “cool,” in the sense that they are less likely to be emotionally expressive. By contrast, those on the right (i.e., East) are characterized as “warm”.
The second interesting thing about CrystalKnows is the free plugin they provide for the Chrome browser that will report on the personality type of the profiles you view on LinkedIn. Those who have completed the CrystalKnows assessment can link their results to their LinkedIn profile, so you get accurate results when you’re using the plugin.
But if you’re curious about someone on LinkedIn who has not completed the DISC assessment thru CrystalKnows, the plugin will make a best guess about their personality based on the words choices and experience they self-report on LinkedIn.
Dr. Susan Spierre Clark is a former doctoral advisee of mine, and is now Director of Sustainable Urban Environments Initiative in the College of Arts and Sciences, University at Buffalo NY. This is what the CrystalKnows plugin suggests about her, and our relationship to one another on the personality map.
You’ll notice that Susan’s portrait is plotted further from the center of the CrystalKnows map than mine, indicating a stronger expression of personality traits (compared to mine). The potential conflict between us is plotted in multiple dimensions (center image, top row). My experience with Susan verifies the written description with regard to Communication, Motivation, and Work.
It’s all true.
Making The Most of Conflict
Just because there might be conflict between us does not mean we can’t work well together.
Conflict can be creative, when there is trust.
Our modern society rarely welcomes conflict, because it can be challenging, or even threatening. It is true that in the absence of trust, conflict is destructive. It kills creativity.
However, in teams that have cultivated trust, conflict can be creative. Only by comparing multiple perspectives, experiences, and beliefs, can we assess and improve the quality of our ideas.
What CrystalKnows does not address is whether teams are more productive when members have similar personalities (low energy investment in managing conflict, but redundant perspectives) or more productive when a variety of personalities are represented (high conflict, multiple perspectives).
My own theory is this:
What the theory doesn’t show is the possibility of an idea mix of personalities that includes conflict among strong, consistent personality types, as well as more flexible personalities that will accommodate each extreme. These flexible personalities may provide the glue that holds the team trust together.