Know Thyself

I’d guess that the admonition to ‘Know Thyself’ was ancient even before it was inscribed above the entrance to Apollo’s Temple at Delphi. The benefits of understanding yourself better are myriad because personality influences how you perceive the world, what motivates you, your emotional responses and behaviours. What’s more, when you gain understanding of yourself you also deepen your understanding of others.

We might naively think that we all live in the same reality, but in fact people with “different personalities actually experience and perceive the world differently” (Dr. Jordan B. Peterson). That’s pretty extraordinary! It’s not just that we have different tastes or opinions; it’s almost as if we live in different realities.

I recently completed Jordan Peterson’s Discovering Personality course. That’s pretty typical of me; I almost always have at least one training course on the go. But because I completed a Big 5 personality test as part of the course, I now have a richer understanding of why I’m like that. I score very high in openness to experience which means I’m “strikingly interested in learning, and are constantly acquiring new abilities and skills”. As you’d guess, I already knew that, but I now have an independent measure of just how unusual it is.

I’m not going to share my full set of scores – even though my high level of extroversion inclines me to do that! But I will say I found them to be very revealing. I now have a much clearer idea of:

  • why I behave the way I do;
  • why other people respond to me in the way that they do;
  • what my strengths and weaknesses are.

I’ve completed both the Big 5 (B5) and the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) personality tests, and have found the former to be the most useful. I’m not going to go into a blow by blow comparison – I’m far too agreeable for that! – but some key points are relevant. First, they measure different things. The MBTI result tells you which one of 16 possible personality types you are, whereas the B5 identifies your key traits as compared with everyone else. So MBTI will give you a summary of your type in a few sentences, whereas B5 will provide an analysis of five key traits and 10 aspects of those traits.

If you and a colleague have both completed the MBTI you can compare your personality types. MBTI works on an either/or model to identify your type: you’ll be an Introvert or an Extrovert. But this is awkward if you don’t fit neatly into either. For example, one free MBTI test I tried gave me a 50/50 blend of Thinking and Feeling, so it’s not clear which type I’d be. I think this is the main problem with MBTI: it claims to sort people into one of 16 types by flipping you into one category or the other. B5 on the other hand will tell you how extrovert you are compared with everyone else. You’ll know, for example, that if there were 100 people in a room, you would be more extroverted than 65 of them.

Because I’ve found it to be so valuable, I suggest to my new Coaching clients that they take the Big 5 personality test. How much of the results they choose to share with me is up to them, but they’ll have got a head start in the quest to ‘Know Thyself’.

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