24 Mar 2021

Changing behaviour with the Big Five: Give your employees a proper understanding of personality

An understanding of personality can mark the beginning of behaviour change. But, with multiple tests and questionnaires out there, it can be confusing to know which personality model to pick.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is popular. Yet many experts in the field of personality psychology remain baffled as to why the MBTI (and the numerous four-part personality models inspired by it) have become the assessment of choice in large organisations.

Psychologist Brian Little is frustrated by the corporate world’s unquestioning acceptance of MBTI. In his book ‘Me, Myself and Us’, Little identifies two major flaws with the MBTI personality model:

  • It lacks reliability. The consistency with which you’re likely to receive the same profile score on repeated assessments is weak
  • It has only adequate validity. It does not have the extensive research base that other personality tests have

So why is the MBTI so extraordinarily popular? Little offers the following suggestions:

  • It’s fun and easy to take the test. Little is horrified by the ‘pizza delivery speed’ of the analysis. ‘It’s the polar opposite to the nuanced and detailed analysis I believe to be essential for understanding personality.’
  • The marketing and merchandising of MBTI-related products create an ‘aura of professionalism’. ‘Millions of people find great value in having a four-letter summary of themselves’ worn on a t-shirt or stuck on their mugs.
  • People eagerly identify with their personality profiles. With the MBTI there are no ‘bad’ profiles – this is a personality profile you can proudly tell others about

Admittedly, comparing MBTI profiles opens up possibilities for conversation that can generate genuine insight. But if you’re going to analyse personality, then why not do it properly? 

At Understood, we believe that the Big Five is a more insightful way of measuring personality. These five major traits cover the diverse ways we differ: Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Emotional Negativity.

Why the Big Five?

There are many reasons why you should consider taking a look at the Big Five if you really want to get a grasp of personality:

  • It’s the gold standard of personality models. The Big Five is the most reliable framework for personality – widely used in the academic community
  • It’s valid internationally. The model has been translated into several languages and applied in dozens of cultures
  • It doesn’t pigeon-hole you. Unlike the MBTI, it’s not about ‘types’ of people; the Big Five traits are dimensions along which all people can be placed
  • It empowers you to shape your future. How people score on the Big Five dimensions of personality has important consequences for happiness, health and human achievement
  • It helps you to understand your mental health. The Big Five dimension of Emotional Negativity (or ‘Neuroticism’) can provide insight into our tendency to feel depressed or anxious. Knowledge of this can be extremely helpful when taking steps to improve our mental wellbeing
  • It’s fit for the complexities and challenges of 21st-century employees. Unlike the typologies of the MBTI, the Big Five traits have meaningful implications for individual thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Understanding your unique, complex trait make-up is essential to understanding yourself

If you’ve delivered MBTI training in your organisation – and it has led to greater self-awareness and engagement – then it’s definitely a step in the right direction. But has it really given your employees the tools they need? Do they have a strong understanding of their strengths? Do they understand the part personality plays in their emotional wellbeing? Is it helping them to build resilience?

A Forbes article questioning the ‘mysterious popularity of the meaningless MBTI’ describes how ‘MBTI profiles give organizations the comforting illusion of understanding something important about human complexity.’

The truth is your employees are all uniquely complex individuals. Don’t dumb down their personalities and pigeon hole them – they deserve so much more than four letters, a colour or a category.

At Understood, the material we deliver around the Big Five will give your people more effective tools for getting to know themselves. Our Big Five training is engaging, interactive and experiential. But, most importantly, it’s understandable and accessible – we have a range of materials suitable for every level in your business – from front-line to boardroom. 

If you’re looking for a personality model that is fitting for the wonderfully complex individuals we all are – then talk to us about bringing the Big Five to your organisation.