Personality traits won't just go, learn how to cope


In Kenya, as professionals, we value knowledge and training about personalities. Whether understanding our own or learning about colleagues on a team, personality trainers abound in Kenyan consulting firms.

As client recipients of personality training, corporations value the concept of self-awareness, team awareness, and situational awareness.

Some consulting firms across East Africa showcase understanding personality as what drives an employee at the workplace, others advertise personality development programmes for workers, and more state that confidence and self-esteem are parts of personality training, but all these are wrong.

While workplace motivation and preferences are important, they are not personality. Firms also touting that they can utilise personality tests as pre-hiring screening for employees should not be trusted. Such assessments can be gamed by the takers with honest respondents penalised.

Further, many popular tools such as Clarity 4D, Myers Briggs, and Jungian Typology Tests proliferate our market.

The fitting of four ancient personality descriptions of melancholic, sanguine, choleric, and phlegmatic that the Greeks thought came from disproven bodily secretions were later given Jungian underpinnings in the 20th century.

Clarity 4D and Myers Briggs tests also base on Jung’s theories. Carl Jung published on how he believed people become individuals with an emphasis on the perceived conflict between conscious and uncsoncious influences.

But many psychologists have dismissed Clarity 4D, Myers Briggs, and Jungian Typology Tests as similarly bogus as astrology, fortune-telling, alchemy, and humorism.

Though widely discredited as not personality, testing inaccuracies, and not stable factors in one’s life, the Jung-based trainings can still be highly useful in helping to understand one’s colleagues and their preferences in life and the workplace.

Nonetheless, the real scientific psychological concept of personality is rarely brought up or trained on. The American Psychological Association defines personality as the unique differences each person has in their characteristic patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving.

Someone’s personality comes about from both their genetics that they inherit and also from their environment and nurture as they grow up.

Personality stays fairly constant throughout one’s lifetime. The Big Five OCEAN personality that is widely agreed upon by psychology researchers include five different dimensions.

People can fall anywhere on a continuum from very low to very high on each of the personality dimensions.

In conscientiousness, someone can be low on the scale by being disorganised, chaotic, and impulsive or high on the scale as productive, responsible, disciplined, careful, and follows through.

On agreeableness, on the low side somebody can be stubborn, uncooperative, and suspicious or on the high side trusting, helpful, compassionate, respectful, and flexible.

Openness as a personality dimension entails people who prefer routine and practicality on the low end but those on the high end show more intellectual curiosity, creative imagination, and spontaneity.

Regarding extraversion, many of us in Kenya are very familiar with the construct. Introverts, or those low in extraversion, are more quiet, reserved and thoughtful versus individuals high in extraversion are social, assertive, and fun-loving.

The negative dimension of neuroticism ranges from someone very neurotic as anxious and pessimistic that can sometimes lead to depression, but those low in neuroticism are more calm and confident.

But some consulting firms, as mentioned above, highlight that they can help develop, improve, or alter one’s personality.

Sadly, that is not true. The idea of one’s personality changing over a lifetime is well-established in the literature.

As featured in earlier editions of Business Talk in the Business Daily, one’s conscientiousness starts to improve in middle age and agreeableness begins to soften later in life, as examples. But the ability of a trainer, coach, or consulting firm to change someone’s personality is not grounded in reality.

Researcher René Mõttus highlights the difficulty of changing personalities. Scientists find it challenging to validate even the fluctuations in personality based on major life events.

Some research shows that difficult milestones in life such as divorce, painful death in the family, a difficult job loss, and trauma can shift personality. But researchers have difficulty replicating the results, showing that such events affect different people differently.

In short, become knowledgeable about your Big Five OCEAN personality.

Do not fall victim to consultants and trainers that overpromise personality training or personality development. If the best scientists in the world remain unclear on personality change triggers, do not pay hard-earned money on untested programmes that over promise and underdeliver.

Instead, focus on effective coping techniques given your personality’s negative and positive attributes.

Dr Scott may be reached on [email protected] or on Twitter: @ScottProfessor