Personality tests may be BS, but they’re still useful for client relationships

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personality testsFor some weird reason, I’ve had several conversations about personality tests with clients and potential clients during the past few weeks. Reading that, I’ll bet that your brain immediately took one of two paths: Option #1 is that you immediately thought about your own personality test results, whether Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), DiSC profile, Enneagram, or whatever. Option #2 is that you think they’re mostly or completely unscientific BS, no more valid than astrology or reading goat entrails.

Either way, we’re cool. My goal isn’t to defend or destroy personality assessment instruments. My experience is that they can serve as a business tool—most specifically, helping you understand and communicate better with your clients.

How Personality Tests Can Improve Your Client Relationships

An example: I met with the team at a relatively new client, and they mentioned that they’d recently taken Predictive Index (PI) Personality Assessments as a team. I wasn’t familiar with this particular instrument, but they went around the table and revealed their types—Maverick, Specialist, etc.—and gave a quick description of the traits. Naturally, I went online later that day, took the test, and the result was Individualist: “march to the beat of their own drum…always up for a challenge…hungry to solve problems.”

I shared my results with them, and we’ve now got a running joke about our PI profiles. If the CEO starts to soar into big-picture fluff when we need details, I can say, “OK, Maverick, let’s land the plane.” Understanding that the Specialist-type director of client services values details and fine print, I’m as diligent as possible about providing those for her, even though that’s not one of my strengths.

One of the big arguments against such instruments is that they use self-reported data and therefore aren’t accurate or can change over time. Well, to me, a client’s self-assessment is more helpful (and far easier to get) than some scientifically comprehensive assessment by a third-party psychologist. I don’t want to pigeonhole or make huge assumptions about anyone—I’m just looking for a basic understanding of what makes you tick, what makes you happy, what you hate.

People colloquially describe themselves as introverts or extroverts. Honestly, I don’t care about the psychological definition of “-verts” or even if your self-description is empirically accurate or not: You have told me how you like to be treated and I can act accordingly. Think about it this way: If you have a friend who deeply believes in astrology and proudly proclaims they’re an Aries, do you really want to fight them about it? Good luck with that.

I would never outright ask a client or prospect what their personality profile is, but I’m surprised how many willingly volunteer the information if the topic comes up. (Once you’re familiar with the different profile types, it’s not difficult to guess.) I also don’t think they should override common sense. In addition, if you discover that someone believes personality tests are BS, that’s a useful piece of information too.

The Time I Quit a Job Because of a Personality Assessment

OK, that’s a slight exaggeration, albeit with a hint of truth. At my final corporate job, we’d done an offsite teambuilding day that included taking the MBTI. When I got the results, they were in line with what I expected. (ENTP, if you’re curious.) When we started talking about interpersonal relationships with our workshop leader, though, my gears started turning. I’d instinctively known I wasn’t a good fit with my manager. Then, there it was, in stark relief: We were almost exactly opposite types.

Sure, I was already unhappy and had been planning to start my own freelance writing and editing business for months. But I’ve always thought it serendipitous that such a piece of self-knowledge was revealed at the moment it was.

Did an MBTI really change the trajectory of my career? I dunno. I’ll have been freelancing for 20 years as of next month. You tell me.

Share your thoughts in the comments: Are personality tests accurate, BS, or something in between? Do you ever use them to help understand a client’s behaviors or change how you communicate with them?

Image by ElisaRiva from Pixabay.

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  1. says

    I tend to think that a self-reported personality test result is much, much more revealing of one’s character than a clinical analysis by a third party. We know ourselves. We know human behavior, too, and if someone is fudging the results to make themselves look good, it will show if you know the various personality types.

    I’ve never been a fan of these tests because there is so much more to a person than what can be captured in a question.

    I have a slightly different approach to understanding how to approach a client relationship — I let them lead the initial conversation, and from there, I listen. There’s a LOT you can learn from just hearing their tone, the words they choose, how they talk to you/at you….

    I’ve ended relationships based on what they say when I give them the space to talk.

    • says

      Agreed–I think it depends on what you’re using the test for. (Let’s face it, business is far more art than science when it comes to the finer points of working with humans.) Naturally, your point about client relationships is spot on. The older I get, the more I’m able to hear the nuances 🙂

  2. says

    The only personality test I can remember taking was for a corporate job many years ago. They gave you a deck of cards with two statements, A and B, on each card. You had to decide which statement you agreed with more. I was intrigued. Some were easy, but I really struggled with others. It really brought home to me the idea of competing truths in this world. The results were never revealed to me, and maybe that’s a good thing!!

    My favorite line here: “Honestly, I don’t care about the psychological definition of “-verts” or even if your self-description is empirically accurate or not: You have told me how you like to be treated and I can act accordingly.” Lotta wisdom there– amen, brother!

    20 years next month?? Whoa! If you’re not careful, you may become an institution!! 😊

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