Pigeon hole or self-help tool?

When did you last take a personality test? Not one of those magazine features that test if you have an anger problem or whether you are a gym obsessive, but one of those that highlight your personality traits. Are you an extrovert or an introvert? A completer/finisher or a plant? A dominating red or a sunny yellow? These tests can be a lot of fun, especially if carried out as a group. ‘Yes, I knew he would be a red.’ ‘What do you mean I am not a completer/finisher? I intend to go back and finish that report!’ However, they can be quite stressful, particularly when undertaken as part of a job selection or assessment process.

I clearly remember completing such a test when being interviewed by a large company. Towards the end of the day, I was given my results. As I listened to the report that was generated by the test, I felt quite pleased. I sounded quite a balanced personality, something I would aspire to be. Obviously, the company were looking for someone with a contorted character trait that would drive them to generate more profit. Over a decade later, I undertook another personality test as part of a group. Having learnt from previous experiences, I answered the questions as I would respond in the work situation and not necessarily in line with what I considered to be my natural inclinations. In isolation, the result was not bad, but I found it difficult to accept that my personality was the same as some of the other members of the group who obtained the same 

One of the tests I have undertaken a couple of times during my career is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. This looks at four diametric pairings of personality:  extraversion – introversion; sensing – intuition; thinking – feeling; and judging – perceiving. A history of personality testing, reviewed in The Sunday Times in September, highlighted the fallacy of using this relatively simplistic approach to describe something as complex as an individual’s personality. This is shown by the development from empirical research of the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF) by R B Cattell and co-workers. However, the demand of simplicity reigns and it was found that these 16 factors could be condensed into five groups: The Big Five. In addition, from my own experience described above, it can be seen that we modify our personality to the circumstances that we are experiencing at the time. Guidance on the colour personality test states that the same result could be obtained from two or more colours, that no one person is just one colour, that all of us have some of each colour but some colours may predominate, that the colours may describe some people well while other people may not resemble their colour! So, what is the point?

Personality, whether we like it or not, does affect the way we perform at work and interact with people and our personality predisposes us to behave in a certain way. This is why, in the PANI 3 project, the performance on the ultrasonic task was compared to scores on a personality test known as the Gordon Personal Profile Inventory. The results showed a positive correlation between overall ultrasonic error performance and three of the eight personality factors that the test examined. As we have seen, personality is not fixed but can change depending on the environment in which we find ourselves. In order to influence these changes for the better, we need self-knowledge or self-awareness. Hence, one of the recommendations of the PANI 3 project was to develop self-awareness in operators so that they might recognise when they are behaving in an over-cautious 

On the recommendation of a colleague, I have started reading Legacy by James Kerr. As I have more than one book on the go at once, I have not got very far into it. However, the first chapter, titled ‘Character’, is full of relevant sayings and quotations. Character, as exemplified by personal discipline, triumphs over talent. Only by knowing yourself can you become an effective leader. From self knowledge we develop character and integrity. This is where personality tests can provide some input. They can provide the impetus to rethink our view of ourselves. When combined with our own experience of past behaviour and performance under known circumstances, they can assist in reaching a more complete understanding of ourselves and point the way to self improvement. The caveat is that personality tests are no more than simplified approximations of an extremely complex reality. The calculation of probability of detection (POD) would have integrated human factors years ago if personality was as simple to define as the tests might 

I will leave you to ponder this quotation from Sir Alex Ferguson: “Hard work is a talent.”

Please note that the views expressed in this column are the author’s own personal ramblings for the purpose of encouraging discussion within NDT News. They do not represent the views of Wood or BINDT.

Letters can be mailed to The Editor, NDT News, Midsummer House, Riverside Way, Bedford Road, Northampton NN1 5NX. Fax: +44 (0)1604 438300; Email: ndtnews@bindt.org or email Bernard McGrath direct at bernard.mcgrath@woodplc.com

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