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Unravelling the Secrets of Personality

– By Siobhan Twose

We might think that we’re a good judge of character, but the fact is that most people put on some sort of mask when they step into the office that obscures the core DNA of their personality and can make it very hard for their colleagues to grasp the subtle dynamics of their make-up and how their behaviours might play out at work.

Psychometric testing has long been used in the workplace. But now a more sophisticated generation of personality profiling is emerging that helps us to get behind the veneer that we all like to project, better understand each other and meet on common ground.

unravelling the secrets of personalityKnowing how to leverage different behavioural styles is an essential tool in our day-to-day working lives, helping us deal with a range of issues from resolving conflict to managing stress. After all, we rarely work in isolation. Every day involves engaging with other people: colleagues, stakeholders and customers in order to deliver successful outcomes.  So not only can all of us benefit from a better understanding of our own behavioural style and how this might impact others, we can also gain invaluable insights into the behaviour of those with whom we work.

It is human nature to label both our colleagues as well as the situations we face at work. Whilst discernment is important, it can be all too easy to pigeon-hole people and situations because we use a particular, often limiting, lens of perspective based on our own experiences. However with a deeper appreciation of people’s natural styles and preferences and a better understanding of their personality profiles, a far more insightful and less rigid perspective emerges.

In the 1980s, research carried out at Edinburgh University spawned a model of personality known as the ‘Big5’, generally considered by psychologists to be the best way of understanding our behaviour.

The Facet5 personality test, which is specifically designed to give managers a model and a language to explain how people differ in their behaviour, motivation and attitudes – and more importantly, what to do about it – defines these five factors as follows.

  • Will: the degree to which an individual is determined, assertive and independent
  • Energy: the degree to which an individual is enthusiastic, sociable and involved
  • Affection: the degree to which an individual is open, sincere, warm and generous
  • Control:  the degree to which an individual is structured, orderly and self-disciplined
  • Emotionality: interacts with the other factors and affects stress tolerance, confidence and emotional state

Measuring these five factors provides a portrait of individual differences in behaviour and helps managers do their jobs more effectively by giving insights into an individual’s motivations, drivers and work preferences. It also empowers the individual to articulate what they want from their line manager in terms of their own personal and career development.

The same insights are also invaluable in understanding the personality dynamics that exist in every team or group setting and helping teams work together more effectively.  Not only does a mutual understanding of how other people ‘tick’ strengthen team and individual relationships, but it helps to provide a common language to assist teams with communication, feedback and issues relating to team performance and highlight potential areas of conflict or weakness to look out for.

In a talent management context, personality profiling can play an important part in identifying potential high-performers, delivering insights into an individual’s strengths and weaknesses as well as  shed light on potential weaknesses, blind spots and risk factors.

The same is true, of course, of assessing leadership potential – although it’s important to stress that everyone has the capability to lead and there are many different views on what makes a good leader.

I am sometimes asked if some personality types make better leaders than others.The answer to this question is ‘no’.  While it is true that some people possess personality traits that mean they are more likely to seek out a leadership role and more comfortable if they are in one, those who lack these traits can still develop good leadership skills. So as far as leadership is concerned, personality profiling provides insights into personal style that helps individuals understand themselves better so that they can learn how to lead others more effectively.

This self-awareness also play an important part in emotional intelligence because it helps individuals understand their strengths and be aware of the risk factors associated with their personalities that can trip them up.

If someone doesn’t realise that their judgment is being skewed because of their natural preferences or leadership style, it can inhibit their development and prevent them from becoming a well-rounded leader.

So for example, a confident leader with high levels of will risks alienating others because they are so sure about their own point of view that they simply pay lip services to the views of colleagues and reports, leaving them feeling that their ideas and contributions are not valued.

Meanwhile, a leader with high levels of control and an extremely structured and prescriptive approach to how things should be done will find it difficult to work with people who are more fluid and like to challenge the status quo. The former will perceive the latter as disorganised or even ineffective simply because they do things at the last minute. This is because they are seeing the situation through a distorted lens.

Using personality instruments to uncover these differences in perception can support leaders and managers in understanding what drives others behaviours and how their behaviour is viewed by those who have a different perspective from their own. It helps them to see who they really are.  And that’s not just something that benefits the individuals concerned; it has an impact across the entire organisation.


Siobhan Twose Siobhan Twose is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist at Facet5 UK.  Facet5 is a personality instrument that enables managers to understand how people differ in their behaviour, motivation, and attitudes. It can be used from recruitment to the development of individuals and teams.  Used by organisations across the globe, Facet5 is available in over 30 languages, is jargon-free and web-based for easy access all over the world.  Find out more at

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