When we think about ourselves or others we’re quite likely to use the term “personality”. In this article we discuss what personality is, from the perspective of modern psychology, and outline how we use personality in Life Coaching and Career Coaching.
What is personality?
Someone’s “personality” is basically a description of how they characteristically behave. That doesn’t mean that a person always behaves in those ways, rather that they have a tendency towards certain behaviours that they use in most situations. When we know something about someone’s personality it gives us a way of predictinghow they will behave. That prediction won’t be spot on every time, but it will be accurate more often that it isn’t. That’s why knowledge of someone’s personality, including our own, is useful.
Modern psychology has recognised that people’s personalities can be described in terms of a number of “traits”: habitual patterns of behaviour, thoughts, and emotions. An example of a trait is extraversion-introversion. People who are high in extraversion tend to be outgoing, enjoy interaction with others, have many interests and friends, and tend to like action in their lives; people who are high in introversion tend to be inwardly focussed and reflective, they enjoy time with themselves, have relatively few but deep interests and relationships, and may appear quiet. Notice how we’re NOT defining personality “types” here that we try to fit people into. Instead we recognise that people can be anywhere along the scale, as shown in the figure below. A few people are extremely extravert or extremely introvert; rather more of us are somewhat extravert or introvert; and most of us are somewhere in between.
The “Big Five” personality traits
The consensus in modern psychology is that personality can be characterised in terms of five main traits, shown in the second figure, below:
The first is of these is extraversion – introversion, which we described above. The others are:
Flexible - Structured: People who are high in flexibility prefer to be spontaneous in their use of time, ready to switch their attention onto new opportunities, sometimes at the expense of completing current tasks. On the other hand, people who are structured prefer their time to be organised to stick to plans, and to be good at completing existing tasks.
Open to experience – Grounded: People who are high in openness like to learn new things. They enjoy exploring new ideas and experiences, change, and new opportunities. People who are grounded prefer to stick with things they know and value stability. They are practical and down-to-earth.
Focussed on others’ needs - focussed on personal goals: People who focus on others’ needs are personable and take account of others’ feelings and values when making decisions. They like a sense of harmony. People who are focussed on personal goals take account of facts and what is logical when making decisions, and what is best for themselves. They tend to be ambitious and are not too concerned with being unpopular.
Calm – Concerned: People who are high in calmness tend to be composed and unflappable, and they do not respond to situations with strong emotions, particularly strong negative emotions such as anxiety and fear. People who are high in concern tend to be more emotional and more sensitive; they have strong emotional responses to situations they find themselves in.
How we use personality in coaching
When you come to Lemons to Lemonade for Life Coaching, Career Coaching, or Business Coaching/Work Coaching, we’ll usually invite you to complete a questionnaire that lets us find out where you fit (compared to U.K. adults) on each of the five traits.
A note for psychology buffs:
The view of personality traits that we’ve described is formally called the Five-Factor Model (FFM) and the traits all have technical names: Extraversion, Conscientiousness, Openness, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. We don’t use these, as the technical meanings of the names don’t correspond to the everyday meanings of the same words, so they can be misleading.
Why don’t we use Myers-Briggs?
Clients sometimes ask us why we don’t use the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory (MBTI),which seems to be beloved of Human Resources departments in big organisations. The answer’s in the name: it attempts to sort people into “types”. The theory that personality “types” exist is an outdated one with little traction in modern psychology. The concept of traits has a much stronger evidence base.
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