Why Don’t Psychologists Use Personality Preference Assessments?

Tom GibbonsPreference Assessments, Social ConstructionLeave a Comment

I know a small handful of psychologists so the statement above may be a little extreme but this small handful and it seems their colleagues, rarely, if ever use a personality assessment such as the Team Management Profile (TMP), MBTI, DiSC, Hogan or whatever. It may be a different story with organizational psychologists but the group I’m talking about here are primarily in private practice working with individuals and/or groups.

Still they don’t use these types of assessments and initially this seems a bit strange. These assessments are promoted to help us understand ourselves and each other better and this sounds an awful lot like what psychologists do. So why don’t they use them?

My first experience with this was quite a number of years ago when myself and a colleague were designing a 3 day workshop for use in our organization called Compassion and Trust at Work. I had been working with a Jungian psychologist for a couple of years focusing on dream analysis and connections to leadership and we had arranged a meeting with him to discuss some of our content for this workshop.

As part of this workshop we were incorporating the MBTI and when we asked him what he thought of using it in this context he more or less shrugged it off and said something like… ‘Well that’s more process than anything else….’ At the time I was a BIG MBTI fan and was a little surprised by his response, especially given the Jungian connection. We finished our meeting and his comment stuck with me, for quite some time.

I eventually circled back to him and we discussed the comment further. In essence, what the comment was getting at was that the MBTI was primarily assessing a process of how we access the ‘content’ or ‘experiences’ of our lives. It was not assessing, and could not assess this actual experience or content.

The reason he did not use things like the MBTI was that it was the ‘content’ of people’s lives that was important to him and his work with people. The process of accessing that content was considerably less important. In addition, there were numerous, if not countless processes of accessing this content, in his case, one being the dreams of whom he was working with. He didn’t really care if the person was extraverted or introverted for example; he cared about what they were extraverting or introverting about. Plus, the context in which he worked with people (i.e. primarily the doctor patient model) tended to eventually override what was being assessed by the MBTI. What I mean by this is that regardless of preference, the context in which the work was occurring eventually dealt with any type of MBTI preference in accessing the content of a person’s life.

I have never forgotten this experience and it has significantly informed our work with preference and our own assessments. I think too often we make an assumption that things like the MBTI or TMP explain EVERTHING about a person, rather than simply being an assessment of process. We do not have preference for the ‘content’ of our lives. Most of it simply happens to us even though we may shape it to some extent. When we assume that preference assessments can assess the content of our lives they become indefensible data.

So if psychologists don’t use personality preference assessments why do we?

There are 2 main reasons:

• It is important in our day to day contexts to have language and models that help us work with the process of interaction.

• As a way of understanding (albeit relatively simple ones) the process of how a person accesses the experiences of their lives, it helps us and others access those experiences in our interactions. This creates greater interpersonal understanding and more effective interactions.

As an example of this let’s look at our interaction model:

Infinity interaction process 1

Where a preference assessment is of value is in the area of Gesture and Response. G. H. Mead’s idea of a ‘conversation of gestures’ is important here. Having language and models to better understand this conversation of gestures between people makes for more effective interaction. It may also help us to move back into the model above it to better discuss the content (experiences and intentions) that are the focus, or context of an interaction.

A personality assessment used to try and understand the experiences and intentions of a person is, I believe, a misuse of the assessment. I think it can actually be damaging and can compromise a person’s accountability and choices in making sense of their experiences and intentions. It is not assessing ‘who they are’; it is assessing repetitive patterns of behavior (‘how they are’) that have been constructed over time.

Psychologists don’t use preference assessments because they have other ways of dealing with the process of getting to the content that is so important to their work with people. Day to day, in our work lives we do not have those other ways. We need tools that help us navigate the real complexity and uncertainty of those day to day interactions. That’s why we use personality assessments. But let’s not use them like we’re psychologists; let’s use them like the simple and accessible assessments of process they really are.

Author – Tom

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