Monday, 25 November 2019

On The Big Five Personality Test

There have been many schemes of classification for the human personality over the years (Myers-Briggs, Facet5, the Colour Code Personality Profile, to name three), but probably the best of all, and certainly one of the most popular in recent times, is the taxonomy of personality traits based on the standard psychological model of the Big Five personality tests. In the last 30 years, it has become the most widely regarded of all the present analyses of personality. The Big Five personality categories are Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism - and the kind of person you are is determined by how you score in each of those categories - and more broadly, how the many variable permutations of those five produce the combination of traits that make up your character.

To elaborate further, I will go through each of these categories, I will tell you how I score on each of them by way of illustration (I did the test a few years ago when it was still free - you might have to pay now), what that means intrinsically in each category, and what sort of character that makes me and others in terms of combination of categories. I will finish by trying to extrapolate from the data some general observations that I think will hold humans in good stead in their career-based deliberations.

Openness tends to mean openness to experience, and it describes a dimension of personality that enjoys intellectual curiosity, appreciation of art, sensitivity to beauty, and often broad, expressive interests. People with a low score on openness tend to have narrow interests, and be quite conservative and resistant to change. I score very highly on openness (generally around the 85th percentile), which is unsurprising because I enjoy being very curious, flexible, tolerant and receptive to ideas.

But equally, people who are high in openness and highly intelligent will also often be quite rigid in their views, and I will explain why. The reason I don't score even higher in openness is because I score low on some aspects of standard openness like gullibility, indifference, conformity and being too easily adaptable.

This is a good balance to strike: be high in openness, and yet be unwilling to adapt to anything that is empirically dubious, psychologically stultifying or intellectually lazy. Open people ought to have strong convictions in a whole range of subjects about which they've drawn conclusions. Many people who score high in openness tend to be quite assured about their views and beliefs because they were open enough to explore them rigorously in the first place.

Conscientious people tend to be smart, goal-oriented and purposeful, but they can also be overly-assiduous, unreliable and unadventurous. I score quite highly on conscientiousness (generally around the 70th percentile) which is quite a good combinatorial quality to have with high openness. Conscientious people who are goal-oriented and ambitious in their intellectual pursuits, and at the same time high in openness, are likely to explore ideas very freely and gracefully and arrive at firm conclusions based on well thought out methodologies. High conscientiousness is one of the strongest predictors of career success, so if you score highly on that, you might like to consider whether you could be aiming for even greater career heights.

Extraversion and introversion are quite well known traits, and it's fairly easy to observe in people where they sit on this spectrum. Extraverts enjoy being with people, are energetic, and often experience positive emotions. Introverts are the opposite; they tend to be quieter, more insular and less socially active. I score very highly on extraversion (generally around the 80th percentile), which is interesting because I am rather like an introvert trapped in an extravert's body. Like other extraverts, I thrive by associating with others and being exploratory in nature when it comes to other people's personalities, but I am also frequently exhilarated by solitary pursuits and can go without socialising for sustained periods of time. Keep an eye out for the introverts in your team who are also high in openness and conscientiousness – they may have great ideas that are not being expressed within the team, and therefore not heard.

Agreeableness is a lot to do with cooperation and social harmony. Agreeable individuals tend to value getting along with others, and are friendly, gregarious and generous. I score quite highly on agreeableness (generally around the 65th percentile) and that may be surprising to some, given my no-nonsense approach to establishing truth and facts. But it isn't very surprising to me, because even though I value competition of ideas and hardline rigour, I do value relationships with people very highly, care about their well-being, and have a high regard for mutual cooperation, despite being quite feline in nature (which probably explains why I only score moderately high on agreeableness).

Neuroticism refers to the tendency to experience negative emotions. People who score highly on this tend to have a greater susceptibility to anxiety, anger, or depression. I score relatively low on neuroticism (generally around 30th percentile) because I am quite low in intensity, fairly easy-going, and unlikely to respond emotionally erratically to situations that require a calm, balanced response. Being high in openness, it's good that I'm relatively low in neuroticism, as they can be a problematical pair, because open people tend to be exploratory and enjoy complexity and philosophical intractability - and if you're high in neuroticism you may find this difficult and emotionally challenging. Neuroticism does have advantages, particularly if you're high in conscientiousness, like caring for your own well-being, and knowing yourself well, meaning you're quite open about your emotions.

Bringing this together
There are numerous combinatorial links to these different personality scores, and there isn't a typical optimum profile to which one ought to gravitate, because there are contrasts in each trait that bring to bear different strengths and weaknesses on the personality. For example, people who score high on extraversion may have the positive quality of being intellectually adventurous, but people who score low may be quite cautious in a way that makes them unsusceptible to flights of fancy. A team that has one of each will often perform better than a team that has two of one or two of the other. People who score high on agreeableness may be gentle, but people who score low might have a reliable strength of their convictions. People who score high on openness may reap the many benefits of not having too much of a closed mind, but people who score low on openness may not drift waywardly so often, and remain quite grounded in some views.

Agreeable people can be kind, thoughtful and compassionate, but are often vulnerable to manipulation. Disagreeable people may be a strong, influential force in the workplace, but they may not have much of ear for compromise when it comes to listening to people’s needs. IQ is an excellent predictor of academic achievement and career accomplishment, as is conscientiousness – and you’re more likely to thrive if you score highly in extraversion and low in neuroticism.

It can be hugely beneficial to complete your own Big Five personality test, because the five basic dimensions of the personality have reliable predictability of performance in the workplace, as well as in relationships and other forms of interpersonal interaction. With a more thorough understanding of the core essence of your personality, you get to understand how you’re likely to react in adapting to a rapidly changing situation, whether your ideas are likely to be heard in a meeting, how well equipped you are to take the lead in complex situations, how you’re likely to handle those difficult conversations, whether you’re a good motivator, whether you are more likely to thrive working on your own initiative or as part of a team, whether you’re more suited to working with people or with things – the list goes on. The Big Five test can also provide clarity in identifying your talents, skills and character, whereby it can help you ensure you’re performing the right role in the right job, and it can help you in navigating a career path that will give you better job satisfaction and a higher level of contentment.

The Big Five could be a fun thing to try if you're part of a couple too, or even if you're looking to find a beloved - it can help identify your key relationship strengths and weaknesses, it can assist you in ways to complement and learn from each other, or simply help you understand your personality profile better to help find you a good match in the dating pool.

Whichever way it engenders the most benefit for you - whether it be in your career, in love, in your social milieu, or simply as a way to understand yourself better (as per Socrates' great instruction to 'know thyself'), understanding your personality at a deeper level is going to be hugely beneficial for you in a number of ways.


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