Want to understand your colleague’s personality? Avoid these mistakes.

February 11

Want to understand your colleague’s personality? Avoid these mistakes.

Have you ever used psychometric profiling in the workplace? Perhaps it has been used as a tool to assess someone’s suitability for a job or a process for better understanding a colleague’s personality. 

Psychometric profiling has always made me feel unsettled. I am all for helping people to understand each other to improve relationships, develop trust and improve performance. 

I am all for finding ways to simplify the process of understand your colleague’s personality.

I will say at the outset I am not against profiling tools such as psychometric testing in the workplace. I’ve seen them used well. And when I have seen done well, a huge amount of consideration has been put into: 

  • Educating colleagues on the purpose of such tools including the pros and cons
  • How results are delivered to colleagues and most importantly
  • A relentless ongoing effort to support colleagues on how to understand the results
  • Support for colleagues on how to communicate effectively with each other

It is these considerations that are often missed. That is why I rarely see these tests being done well. When done badly, what I observe are comments like: 

He’s green. Nice guy, no eye for detail. Top guy though. Real people person.

She’s a fiery red. Watch out for her. Very aggressive and power-hungry. 


He’s a logical blue. Very organised. He’ll be the CEO. Put him on the succession list for next in line.

She’s a vibrant yellow. Has all the energy. She can arrange the party but please, don’t let her near the strategy.

People, putting people, into a box. A nicely packaged box you would produce in a factory. 

Sound familiar? 

If so, how does it feel to be put into a box? 

It is not that pleasant and sometimes those labels are hard to shift. 

Aside from being unpleasant, it can create judgement and division, leading to a lack of trust and decreased performance. 

These unintended consequences impact your culture. The very consequences that you intended to avoid when deploying these measures. 

It makes sense why these measures are appealing. A box or a simple measure creates certainty because it is understandable.

Labelling a person with colour is simple to follow.

It does not require too much of an effort to remember colour and it requires less thinking than describing the complexity of a colleague’s colourful personality. 

Cast your mind back to how you felt when anticipating the test results. How did you feel? 

If like me, the feeling of anticipation gets you all excited and curious about what colour the computer says you are. 

I bet I am a green’. 

I bet you are a red’. 

Certainty creates a sense of safety and safety creates the illusion of certainty. 

Certainty and control were valuable tools for survival… thousands of years ago. 

We know that humans have greater texture than one colour. We are multi-coloured. Different colours in different scenarios. Sometimes a different colour in the same scenario. 

Human beings are not manufactured like cars that can be deconstructed into single parts. 

Human beings flourish and blossom when cultivated in the right conditions, in the right environment. 

Remember, you are more than an algorithmic colour or a set of descriptions. 

Humans and life are uncertain and complex. We know this to be true. We are in an ever-increasingly changing world. Volatile and ambiguous. 

Building your team around one colour in a volatile world sounds dangerous to me, as appealing as it sounds. 

If you use such tests, think very carefully about how to implement them. 

Either way, focus your attention on how to cultivate an environment where team members build trust, belonging and deeper relationships. 


Focus on helping team members to identify strengths and provide means to build on these. 

Summary 

  • A human being is more than a simple description that one colour suggests they are. 
  • A human being is complex. They think, feel, and behave in different ways in different contexts. 

  • A human being is more than one colour. They are colourful. 
  • A human being does not belong in a box. 

Putting a human in a box means you risk the chance of keeping untapped potential in a box. 

If you want to understand a colleague’s personality, spend quality time getting to know them and you will also build trust and belonging within your team.


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