The truth of personality profiling

…is that most of the time, the proper psychometric and personality tools that are out there produce accurate profiles as much as people may not want them to.

I meet people regularly enough who ‘hate’ them because they don’t want to be profiled or believe that they can be profiled. They think they can game the questionnaires so that they are seen in a certain way. That once they get the pattern of the questions, they learn to answer them in certain ways to present a certain profile.

The truth is, personality profiling tools are pretty accurate. Now I’m not talking about ones like Myers Briggs Type Indicator or Belbin or Insights. I’m talking about the ones used by psychiatrists and psychologists for professional purposes. These ones are designed to help these mental health professionals gain insight into a person’s personality, their tendencies, their behaviours, so that they can develop clear plans for support and returning people to health.

The common tools in the market, like the ones I’ve mentioned, are developed to be accessible and developed to be easily interpreted. That means they’re meant to be taken with a pinch of salt in terms of the profiles they produce.

Many, produce what are called Barnum statements or for want of a an easy way to explain them, horoscope statements. What that means is the statements could be applicable to most people. It’s often the combination of different statements that create a profile as we’ve become used to.

There have been many studies where people have been given generic statements written as personality profiles. Each person though they were given an individually written piece. Each person reported that the written profile felt accurate to them. In truth they all received the same wording. A bit worrying for the L&D profession, no?

The important thing to bear in mind is that most L&Ders are not psychologists by profession and not carrying out psychological research to verify their profiling tools and not seeking to develop support plans for each individual. The tools and the reports can produce interesting insights if they’ve been answered in good faith. Many tools will also have an element of ‘self assessing’ where people have to also decide what profile fits them best.

I also meet people who say they can change their personality at will when answering the questions. What they mean is they understand how to answer the questions in a particular way which will determine a particular kind of profile. That doesn’t mean they’ve changed their personality. It just means they’re manipulating the questions. They’re also probably manipulative people in real life. If someone is circumspect enough about a widely available personality tool that they want to manipulate how they’re seen, they’re probably also the kind of person you want to be cautious of in life. They’re also the kind of person who won’t get anything of value from the profile because they’re trying to fudge the whole thing.

In L&D we don’t use personality tools as best as they can be used. We certainly don’t use the ones used professionally by mental health and psychology practitioners.

But for the person who doesn’t believe they can be profiled – they probably can and are just as susceptible to the whole approach as everyone else. As much as everyone is an individual, we are many of us the same when it comes to broad personality characteristic traits.


Published by

Sukh Pabial

I'm an occupational psychologist by profession and am passionate about all things learning and development, creating holistic learning solutions and using positive psychology in the workforce.

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