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Defining Personality: Consistency and Distinctiveness

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    If one has watched Steve Irwin on television, they would agree that it feels like he’s about to leap out right into one’s living room. Better known as the Crocodile Hunter, the Australian was notorious for his frenetic energy, the thrill of danger and affection for creatures that most would say are terrifying. You need not have seen Steve Irwin in action to feel that he has an unusual personality as described by most people.

    He routinely went looking for situations that would give the common man, a nightmare – getting covered with biting green ants, swimming with sharks, grabbing poisonous snakes by the tail, which he does with boisterous enthusiasm. The example of Steve Irwin points to the mystery of personality. While he could be found unusual in many respects, all individuals can be described in terms of characteristics that make up their personalities. But how does one describe personality? Is it developed over time? Are we all born with a certain type of personality or is it experience that shapes us into who we are?

    Defining Personality: Consistency and Distinctiveness Psychologists have been asked such questions from a variety of perspectives. The study of personality has traditionally been dominated by theories that seek to give an understanding of wide varieties of behaviour. Our discussion will reflect why a manager might concern themselves with the personalities of the individuals they employ and the general benefits of understanding their personalities. When one says that someone’s personality is optimistic in nature, what exactly does it mean?

    This assertion indicates that the individual has a fairly consistent tendency to behave in a cheerful, hopeful way, always looking that the bright side of things. Although, none are entirely consistent in behaviour, this quality of consistency across situations lies at the core concept of personality. To be manageable, workers must be known; to be known, they must be rendered visible. Distinctiveness is also central to personality. Personality is used to explain why different people act differently in a similar situation.

    If you were stuck in an elevator with others, each might react differently. One perhaps would crack jokes to relieve tension while another might make ominous predictions that “we’ll never get out”. Another might be calmly trying to escape from the situation. These varied reactions of the individuals despite being stuck in the same situation occur because each person has their own characteristic personality. Everyone has characteristics seen in others but each person has his/her own distinctive set of personality traits. Personality can be summed as ) the stability of a individual’s behaviour over time and across situations (consistency) and 2) the behavioural differences among people reacting to similar situations. Personality can be referred to as an individual’s unique constellation of consistent behavioural traits. Personality Traits: Dispositions and Dimensions Everyone makes remarks in the workplace. One might say “Elizabeth is conscientious. ” Or you might comment that “Bob is too timid to succeed in that job. ” Such descriptive statements are called personality traits.

    A personality trait is an inclination to behave in a particular way in a variety of situations. It can be represented by adjectives that describe dispositions like honesty, dependable, impulsive, anxious, excitable, friendly etc. Most approaches to personality believe that some traits are more basic than others. For example, an individual’s tendency to be impulsive, restless, impatient could possibly be derived from a more basic tendency to be excitable. Psychologists took on the challenge to find the traits that form the core of personality. Raymond Cattell (1950, 1966, 1990) went for factor nalysis, a statistical procedure, to reduce a list of Gordon Allport (1937) of 171 personality traits to just 16 basic dimensions of personality. In factor analysis, correlations among many variables are analysed to identify closely related clusters of variables. In factor analysis of personality traits, hidden factors are viewed as basic, higher-order traits that regulate less basic, more specific traits. Cattell was able to describe a person’s personality by measuring just 16 traits. [pic] The Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire (16PF)

    Cattel’s 16PF is designed to assess normal aspects of personality. The pairs of traits listed across from each other in the figure define the 16 factors measured by this inventory. The profile shown is the average profile seen among a group of pilots of commercial airlines who took the test. Source: Cattell, R. B. (1973, July). Personality pinned down. Psychology Today, 40-60. Personality Traits: Idiographic vs. Nomothetic The whole issue of whether a specific trait is existent in all people to a greater or lesser degree is complicated by different views of the trait perspective.

    There are two different views as to whether all traits exist in all people: • Idiographic: This is of the view that people have unique personality structures; thus some traits (cardinal traits) are more important in understanding the structure of some people than others • Nomothetic: This view is of the opinion that people’s unique personalities can be understood as them having relatively greater or lesser amounts of traits that are consistently across people (e. g. , the NEO is nomothetic) The Idiographic view emphasizes that every individual has a unique psychological structure and that some traits are possessed by only one erson; and that there are times when it is impossible to compare one person with others. This viewpoint also emphasizes that traits may differ in importance from person to person (cardinal, central and secondary traits). It relies on case studies, bibliographical information, diaries etc for information gathering. On the other hand, the Nomothetic view, emphasizes comparability among individuals but sees people as unique in their combination of traits. This point of view sees traits as having the same psychological meaning in every one.

    The belief is that people differ only in the amount of each trait. It is this which constitutes their uniqueness. This approach tends to use self-report personality questions, factor analysis etc. People differ in their positions along a continuum in the same set of traits. Most contemporary psychologists are inclined towards a nomothetic approach (and the trait approach is often viewed solely as a nomothetic approach these days), but they are aware of how a trait may be slightly different from person to person in the way that it is expressed. The Five-Factor Model of Personality Traits

    In more recent years, Robert McCrae and Paul Costa (1987, 1997, 1999, 2003) have used the same factor analysis to attain an even simpler, five-factor model of personality. [pic] OCEAN: Openness to experience, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism McCrae and Costa assert that majority of personality traits are determined from just five higher-order traits that have come to be known as the “Big Five”: 1) Openness to experience: Openness is often associated with curiosity, flexibility, imaginativeness and unconventional attitudes. McCrae (1996) stresses that its importance has been underestimated in society.

    Citing evidence that it fosters liberalism, he maintains that openness is key to the public’s political attitudes and ideology. 2) Conscientiousness: Such individuals tend to be diligent, systematic, well organised and dependable. Conscientiousness is associated with living longer although it is referred to as a constraint in some trait models (Bogg & Roberts, 2004). 3) Extraversion: People in this category are known to be outgoing, sociable, friendly and gregarious. Extraversion has been extensively researched for years as positive emotionality in some trait models (Watson & Clark, 1997). ) Agreeableness: Those who score high in agreeableness are generally more sympathetic, trusting, modest and straightforward. People at the other end of this trait are characterised as suspicious and antagonistic. This trait may have its roots in childhood temperament (Graziano & Eisenberg, 1997). 5) Neuroticism: Like extraversion, this trait has been extensively studied. In some trait models, it is known as negative emotionality. People who score high in this category tend to react negatively in response to stress than others (Mroczek & Almeida. 2004)

    McCrae and Costa, like Cattell assert that measurement of personality can be done by just measuring the basic traits that they’ve identified. However, some theorists have condemned this model. Take for instance, Dan McAdams (1992) who says that the model is just descriptive but does not provide any insight into the development of personality. Jack Block (1995) on the other hand, questions the generality of the model and maintains that the model is more frivolous than widely appreciated. As one can see, the study of personality has a long history of “duelling theories”. Freud’s Structure of Personality

    Freud’s (1901, 1924, 1940) psychoanalytical theory was developed after years of interaction with his clients. This theory tries to decipher personality, psychological disorders and motivation by looking at the influence of childhood experiences on unconscious impulses and conflicts. Freud thought personality to be divided into three components: the id, the ego, and the superego. The id is the primal, instinctive component of personality that works on the pleasure principle. Freud believed that the id housed the raw urges of human (to eat, sleep, copulate etc) which needed immediate gratification given by the pleasure principle.

    The ego is the decision making component which works on the reality principle. It arbitrates between the id, with its needs for immediate gratification and the external world, with its expectations and norms about social behavior, in determining how to behave. The reality principle attempts to delay the immediate satisfaction of the id’s urges until appropriate moments can be found. While the ego is concerned about reality, the superego is the moral component which represents right and wrong in society. Levels of Awareness According to Freud, there are three levels of awareness over which the id, ego and superego are distributed differently.

    He compared the unconscious with the conscious and preconscious, creating three different levels. The conscious consist of whatever the individual is aware of at that point in time. An example could be the person studying for a test but is aware at the back of the mind that he is starting to get hungry. The preconscious contains information that lies just below the surface of awareness and can be easily recalled as and when necessary. For example, the movie that one saw the day before. The unconscious contains thoughts and memories that lie well below the surface of awareness yet play a huge roll in influencing one’s behavior.

    A forgotten childhood trauma could be one example of the memory that lies in the unconscious. Freud’s understanding of the mind has been likened to that of an iceberg that has majority of its mass hidden below the surface of the water. He was of the belief that the unconscious is much larger than either the conscious or the preconscious. [pic] The Freudian iceberg Freud believed that people had three levels of awareness: the conscious, the preconscious and the unconscious over which the id, ego and superego were spread differently Managing Personality Differences

    There are only three questions the employer really has to answer during the selection process: Firstly, do you have the right skills and experience? Secondly, do you have the required enthusiasm and motivation? Finally, are you going to fit in, in terms of your personality, attitude and general work style? Majority of the managers in today’s world expect their employees to think, reason out and perceive alike and thus, act alike but they are often disappointed as they discover that their employees have their own unique personalities which affect their ability to hear, relate to and understand each other or their manager.

    As a manager, how would one differentiate between their employees and deduce which individuals are best suited for particular tasks? What tools is a manager required to use to arrive at these conclusions? More importantly, how does he/she know whether they are getting the maximum productivity with relevance to the tasks assigned by them? Knowing and cultivating the strengths of the personalities of one’s staff member can play a great role in enhancing the quality and quantity of work performed.

    The key is not to psychoanalyze, instead the goal is to gather enough data to learn what is most effective for the staff that work for and with you. Learning to manage the workplace personality variables can greatly decrease the time needed to supervise ones subordinates, increase efficiency of the tasks relegated to them and to create growth opportunities for your workforce, which in turn is likely to motivate the employees to perform at their peak levels. These objectives can be met by: ) Defining the Specific Benefits of Managing Personality Differences • Gaining Multiple perspectives on plans, strategies and issues Each group or workforce has various ways of looking at job delegated to them, and those perspectives come from the personality of those individuals that work in that workforce. Understanding these personalities would give managers, the option of seeking those with skills in specific areas and draw out input that can be used as data in making managerial decisions. Maximization of employee creativity When staff members know that they are understood by their superiors, a feedback loop is formed in which both sides develop an innate ability to anticipate needs and solve problems. Such an atmosphere would harbour creativity. • Recognition and inclusion of all staff Each member should be made to feel like an important member of the workforce. Each member needs to feel empowered. Members perform better when they feel that they play a vital role in the working of the whole of the organisation. Fostering the right Management/Employee relationships When managers are familiar with employee personalities, they acquire an understanding of the best approaches to use for each staff member when problems arise. Some are best approached directly and concisely, while others may respond better to a more tactful style. Knowing how to engage members can facilitate healthy exchanges that center around resolution of the job performance issues, as opposed to (the perception of) management’s approach.

    This knowledge can keep employee relations professional, rather than contentious. 2) Delineate the major components involved in Managing Personal Differences • Identifying personalities and recognising them as resources It would be unfair and next to impossible to ask managers to take the role of psychologists with their employees. In fact, psychologists who are managers should not act as therapists for their employees regardless of their level of clinical skill, degree of affection for their subordinates, or requests by staff members with clinical problems.

    The lines between Manager and staff have to be kept clean and clear at all times. This does not eliminate care, concern or friendliness with the employees as they all play an important role in fostering healthy relationships but the basis for interaction has to be job performance. Learning personalities is as simply as talking to the employees. Ask them about personal preferences. It is important that where there are discrepancies between what staff members have said about themselves and their performance results, these differences must be pointed out and corrected.

    Such honesty builds relationships and trust. Ignoring these discrepancies or basing the interactions on friendships engenders disrespect toward management and fosters distrust. Conversations with employees yield helpful information about who they are. Talk to them about their strengths and weaknesses, observe how they react to situations and challenges, and then manage them accordingly. If the information is accurate and they do well, then an area of strength has been identified.

    When they struggle with issues, perhaps some coaching from you will assist. When the employee completely flounders and fails then maybe that particular task (where possible) should go to others. Observation is a powerful tool in learning and understanding personalities. Look at how employees react, interact, rise to the occasion, shrink away, under/over perform. Patterns of these behaviors are workplace personality indicators. Take good note of them and use them to the advantage of all – the employee, the manager, the unit, and the company as a whole. Generating Universal Buy-In Form Staff For Managing Personality Differences It is important that managers are honest about their desire to use the best of what each employee has to offer and to put them in positions where they have the greatest opportunity for success. This sets the tone for the interactions and informs workers that: 1. The manager has a strong sense of how to manage 2. The organization respects individual differences 3. There is likelihood that exemplary performance will be recognized Utilizing the Power Dynamics of Managing Personality Differences Workplace personality differences can be difficult or can hinder creativity and ingenuity within the organization. When ignored or aggressively extinguished, they can result in workplace conflict. When utilized effectively they can result in employee retention and motivation. It’s all about the manager’s dedication and commitment to utilize all of the employee resources. The “smart” supervisor who manages personality differences generally has a staff that 1. as full understanding of what they are doing as a unit and as a company 2. will extend themselves beyond the “basic” work task 3. will be creative and highly motivated 4. has a high problem-solving desire and aptitude 5. dependable and predictable in performance In other words, this management style produces a feeling of empowerment in the workforce and can produce potentially powerful units. Psychometric Testing Nowadays, there is an increased focus given to personality attributes, and how these qualities predict performance at the workplace.

    This has lead to increased studies on selection methods in general. The major methods used by big companies these days are to conduct interview, inventories, behavioural assessment, personality tests and e-assessment on (potential) employees. In order for personality tests to be useful from a managerial point of view, the tests must conform to the standards of reliability and validity. The former refers to the extent to which a test achieves consistency in what it claims to measure whereas the latter refers to the extent to which a test ctually measures what it sets out to measure – in this case, the personality variable. Personality tests are given to determine how one is likely to behave under various conditions. There are supposedly no right or wrong answers, and the questionnaires do not have a strict time limit. [pic] As time goes by, more and more companies come out with their own ‘package’ to test one’s personality. Despite the fact that many of the well established organisations, who provide personality tests, do operate to the highest standards, this market should be seen for what it is.

    One with low barriers to entry and one that is very poorly regulated. Anyone can set up a company to develop and sell personality tests and can make whatever claims they feel like, secure in the knowledge that they are very unlikely to be challenged. For some personality tests, ”almost no evidence at all is available beyond assurances that evidence exists,” reported a task force appointed by the American Psychological Association. Many professional psychologists are extremely critical of the way that personality tests are used in the job selection process.

    Despite the dubious validity of many of the personality tests used in selection, there is very little real advice about how to approach them. There are vast number of books and internet sites which provide advice on how to prepare your resume or how to answer ‘tough’ interview questions. But, when it comes to preparing yourself for a personality test, the advice is generally limited to ‘just be yourself’. Why? After all, if you’re going to spend considerable time and effort preparing your resume and preparing for the interview, then why not prepare yourself for the personality questionnaire? [pic]

    One either has the ‘right’ personality or gets rejected in favour of someone who has There is little or no consensus outside of the personality test industry about how accurate these tests really are, compared to aptitude tests or the tests used in assessment centres. This is one area where one would really have to make their own decision. It is the intention of the author that he might help the reader understand why managers might concern themselves with the personalities of those they employ and are likely to recognise general benefits of better understanding of individuals, and ways and means of harnessing talent and potential.

    A broad overview was given on Personality as whole to better enable to understand it and be able to pass his/her own educated judgement on it. (3,376 words) References Weiten W. (2007) Psychology: Themes & Variations (7th edition), Belmont: Thomson Wadsworth Fincham & Rhodes (2005) Principles of Organizational Behaviour (4th edition), New York: Oxford Cattell R B (1973) “Personality Pinned Down”, Psychology Today, pp. 40-46. Personality Traits URL: http://wilderdom. com/personality/traits/PersonalityTraitsIdiographicNomothetic. html

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