If you’re anything like me, you’ve never met a personality metric you haven’t loved—I’m as eager to be defined as I am to eat a piece of chocolate.
There’s something comforting about turning myself and others into neat puzzles that can be decoded, as opposed to contradictory creatures who make little sense. And I know I’m not alone. Legendary psychologist Carl Jung argued that humans all have an innate urge to understand how we operate in the world. And contemporary psychology professor Pamela Rutledge said that in “spite of the relative sophistication of society today, people remain a mystery to themselves as well as others—and they are always curious to get a bit of insight as to what they’re really like.”
With the help of the internet, personality tests have gone mainstream.
Buzzfeed was able to go from a relatively niche website to a media behemoth largely due to their personality quizzes, which drive 75% of their overall traffic. And astrology, another form of self-definition, is massively popular among millenials—nearly half of us consider it a science. And, more ominously, Cambridge Analytica used personality quizzes designed to summarize personalities to mine the data and sway the votes of over 80 million American Facebook users.
But there is evidence to suggest personality tests are more than just a frivolous pass time, or—worse—a way to manipulate the populace.
They can put us more in touch with ourselves and those around us, providing a language for interpersonal communication. This comes in handy in our personal lives, but is of special use in the workplace. Information gleaned from personality tests help employees better understand each others’ strengths, weaknesses, and the way we process information. By inspiring an increased self- and other-awareness, personality tests create a more productive and pleasant workplace.
Personality tests can also be a great recruiting tool.
You don’t want to make the mistake of hiring someone who is pure charm and no follow-through, or someone who will only cause drama. Personality tests help identify important factors to help team members connect more easily and quash unnecessary friction.
Here are some tests you can use to make the most of your business’s most valuable asset—your employees.
1. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI)
With more than 3.5 million assessments administered each year, the MBTI is the most widely-used personality inventory in the world. Accordingly, roughly 80% of Fortune 100 companies rely on it to build stronger teams and healthier organizations.
The MBTI generates 16 personality traits based on an output of the following dichotomies:
- Introvert vs. Extrovert
- Sensing vs. Intuition
- Thinking vs. Feeling
- Judging vs. Perceiving
Results include combinations like INTJ (“the architect”), ENFP (“the campaigner”), and ESTJ (“the executive”).
MBTI results tell you a lot about how each employee prefers to work and how they’ll collaborate. Managers putting together a team can use MBTI results to make sure personality types don’t clash and to understand what each needs to do their job well.
All employees have different styles and motivations, and the MBTI can help managers figure these out more quickly. Employees with a T in their MBTI type, for example, require more logical explanations, while those with an F in their type are more emotionally-motivated. Team-members with S’s are more detail-oriented, while those with N’s are more into the big picture. I’s work better alone, while E’s work best with others.
Guided by the MBTI, employees and managers alike typically have a better understanding of the best way to approach work, manage time, problem solve, make decisions, and deal with stress.
2. The Enneagram
Entrepreneur Tony Schwartz wrote in the Harvard Business Review that when strong feelings can’t be acknowledged in the workplace, they fester and become acted out.
Over time, suppressed feelings in the workplace drain energy, morale, and productivity.
To facilitate a discussion about feelings at work, Schwartz used a tool called the Enneagram. A test with ancient origins and a renewed popularity in the 1990s, the Enneagram imagines nine separate personality types, each marked by a central preoccupation and a specific lens through which it sees the world.
Here’s what that looks like.
Type two, for example, feels safe by helping others. Type five feels secure by gathering knowledge. Type nine is motivated to keep the peace. No type is superior to any other, which allows coworkers to explore their strengths and weaknesses in a safe space.
When you understand the struggles and world views of others, it makes it easier to feel empathy and respect them.
Acknowledging these vulnerabilities can be challenging, but the point isn’t to make people uncomfortable. Rather, it’s to invite your team members to learn about themselves and each other, and in turn to develop emotional skills that are crucial to performance—like empathy, resilience, and self-awareness.
It may sound new-agey, but astrology can actually be a useful guide to resolving workplace conflicts and fostering harmony.
In fact, some people believe the Enneagram’s nine types were originally derived from the twelve star signs. After all, astrology is the world’s oldest system of psychological types—there must be a reason it’s captured the popular imagination for so long.
So how can it inform workplace interactions?
Let’s say let’s say there’s a dispute between coworkers at the office. A Scorpio might want to keep it quiet until devising a strategy. An Aries may launch into action without thinking about how that impacts others. A Libra will play diplomat to find an agreed upon approach. Astrological diversity in the workplace works to the employer’s advantage by offering greater resources and more options for problem-solving.
It’s helpful to understand the signs by their qualities, whether they’re cardinal, fixed, or mutable.
Cardinal signs (Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn) are action-oriented and natural leaders, and therefore make good managers. Fixed signs (Taurus, Leo, Scorpio, Aquarius) are more inclined to stick to the task at hand and can handle tedious routine. They are steady and reliable, but can be stubborn. Mutable signs (Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius, Pisces) excel at customer service and tolerating an unpredictable workflow.
The sign’s element is also useful for gleaning information.
Fire signs (Aries Leo, Sagittarius) are optimistic and energetic, even against difficult odds. They aren’t afraid to take risks. Earth signs (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn) are practical and detail-oriented. They’re good at balancing the checking account and keeping track of cash flow. Air signs (Gemini, Libra, Aquarius) are best at generating ideas—no brainstorming session should be held without them. Water signs (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces) are the most sensitive and empathic, and are therefore great at working with customers.
Forty hours a week is too much to be in conflict. If you can learn about and honor the diversity in your workplace, you’ll also discover that differences can be your greatest strength.