Buddy, Can You Paradigm?

Article excerpt

Heads up--the personality paradigm is shifting. find out how you can use the "Big Five" theory of personality traits to help both individuals and work teams thrive.

A half-dozen years ago, an intern with whom we were working looked at his results on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment. His scores sat at zero on each of the four scales. He asked forlornly, "Does this mean that I don't have a personality?"

I wish that intern were with us today, looking at his Five-Factor Model test results. He never would have asked that question.

For three decades, the training community has relied largely on the MBTI instrument for personality assessments. The Five-Factor Model, or "Big Five" paradigm, evolves from the MBTI instrument rather than radically departing from it. Still, the Big Five model is different enough from the MBTI instrument to require a significant shift in thinking.

The MBTI model--which rests on the personality theory of Carl Jung--assumes the following:

* Personality hangs on a four-dimensional framework.

* Scores on each dimension will fall along a bimodal distribution.

* The judger/perceiver dimension is a key determinant of a person's preferences.

The Five-Factor Model, on the other hand, is based on experience, not theory. It proposes that the following statements are true:

* Personality has five dimensions.

* Scores on the dimensions will fall along a normal distribution.

* Personality is best described by individual traits rather than types.

* The strength of scores indicates preferences.

The FFM or Big Five model has gained widespread acceptance in the academic-psychology community. We believe the FFM also offers human resource practitioners a broadly applicable and practical tool. For the last four years, we have used the FFM in many areas of our practice, including the following:

* team building

* employee selection

* job analysis

* training design

* customer service

* management and leadership development

* coaching and counseling

* career development

* conflict management.

We use Costa and McCrae's NEO tests--both the short version, called the NEO-FFI, and the long version, called the NEO-PI-R. (See the box, "Guidelines for Using the FFM," on page 31.) Several other researchers also have developed tests for using the FFM to assess personalities.

Searching for the source

The FFM rests on the language of personality. All personality theories (including the MBTI model) are in fact metaphors for describing something indescribable--the complex fabric of a human being. Language is the one ingredient that all theories share. Language itself--not theories--provides the ultimate metaphor for describing personality.

Decades ago, that insight sparked the research that eventually produced the Five-Factor Model of personality. By analyzing the language of personality descriptors, researchers identified five correlated groups of behaviors, each of which exists along a continuum. (See figure 1, "The Five-Factor Model.") The groups of behaviors are as follows

Figure 1 The Five-Factor Model

                                    LEVEL

DIMENSION               LOW         MEDIUM        HIGH

Negative Emotionality   Resilient   Responsive   Reactive
                          (N-)        (N)          (N+)

Extraversion            Introvert   Ambivert     Extravert
                          (E-)        (E)          (E+)

Openness                Preserver   Moderate     Explorer
                          (O-)        (O)          (O+)

Agreeableness           Challenger  Negotiator   Adapter
                          (A-)        (A)         (A+)

Conscientiousness.      Flexible    Balanced     Focused
                          (C-)        (C)         (C+)

Essentially, the FFM reflects the fact that all languages include words that describe those personality traits. …