When Personality Assessments Get in the Way

Over the years, I’ve come across a fair number of personality tests and skill assessments. From Myers-Briggs, to DISC, to StrengthsFinder, to the Enneagram, and others, there is no shortage of tools and paradigms people have come up with to help us better understand who we are: our strengths, our weaknesses, our preferences, our tendencies.

Personally, I find these kinds of assessments and paradigms fascinating. And many times, it’s not because they tell me something new about myself I didn’t already know. Rather, it’s how they can bring a different perspective or a broader context for things I may have already noticed. This could be deepening my understanding of my strengths, or helping connect the dots between disparate experiences from the past.

I also appreciate how some of them will provide concrete directions for how to better live in alignment with our natural tendencies and strengths, as well as how to better understand and related to others who are totally different than us.

Aids, not excuses

These can all be good things, but there’s a potential danger to be aware of: If we’re not careful, we can allow these general understandings of ourselves to become excuses to never go beyond them. Sure, I may tend towards introversion, but that doesn’t give me a pass from being friendly and striking up a conversation with a stranger. You may never identify yourself as a driven, type-A kind of person, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be proactive and decisive when you need to be.

Perhaps you’ve seen people at work who excuse themselves from helping out by saying, “that’s not my job.” It’s possible we can do the same thing when it comes to our perceived personality types and strengths. We may be tempted to turn a blind eye to the challenges or opportunities around us when they don’t match up with the labels we’ve identified with. We may give up before we start, with the excuse that that’s just not how we’re wired.

I complete agree that it’s valuable to know our strengths, and to lean into them as much as we can. But the point is to make the most of them, not to use our understanding of them as an excuse for not doing what needs to be done. We as humans are far more complex than can be described by the labels we come up with. And all of us are capable of far more than what we might imagine.

Remember, just because you’re a [fill in the blank] doesn’t mean that’s all you are.