I had a friend do a little experiment, having her take a series of online personality tests.

The first, based on the Five Factor Model, told her she was neurotic — “more emotional and more insecure than others” — and open-minded with a high interest in arts and culture.

We laughed at the neurotic score.

The next was a colour test in which she selected a series of random colours, the same set twice. It told her she:

works well with others, as long as she doesn’t have to take the lead, she longs for relationships which are understanding and relatively conflict-free.

Well, sure … shouldn’t we all long for relationships that are understanding and conflict-free? But this woman is a born leader, rising to a challenge when the opportunity presents itself.

A third personality test told her she wasn’t open to new experiences.

We laughed again.

I told her not to fret. (She’s so devil-may-care that I knew it wouldn’t bug her anyway.)

These tests are not necessarily who she is, they’re just who she was when she took those tests, based on how they asked the questions.

The purpose for personality tests

The proliferation of online personality tests — and the results they give us — make it easy to question the validity of any personality test you come across.

Of course they’re just for fun. You’re cruising Facebook and your friend shared a link that her human personality matches most closely with a Bernese Mountain Dog. And you’re a dog person, so you click through to find out if you’re a collie or a Great Dane.

None of these tests are credible. They have no scientific data behind them.

The TotalSDI and Myers & Briggs, however, are peer reviewed and backed by decades of research.

And I stand by them.

I use the TotalSDI when I work with individual clients and corporate teams. It allows me to assess everyone as an individual and at a group level, determining their strengths along with the communication and productivity challenges they may encounter or present to a leader.

SDI, or Strength Deployment Inventory, helps us understand why we behave the way we do, especially in times of conflict. Used properly, we can make meaningful, practical changes in leaders and teams to minimize future conflict and maximize team effectiveness.

When I assess you or your team with SDI, it shows me the motivations and values that drive your behaviour — when things are going well and when they aren’t. Even then, it’s all about context. How you behave in a family situation can look different from how you behave at work.

A recent Canadian Business article caught my eye. It dismissed the value of the Myers & Briggs Type Indicator, noting some organizational psychologist are staying away from it even when clients request it.

One executive coach cited reliability issues and a lack of scientific credibility. The writer suggests test results allow your colleagues to judge you and allows incompetent staffers to rise to management, just because they’re confident and gregarious.

Most of all, tests like MBTI can exacerbate the problems companies want to resolve in the first place. They can become a “distraction from real issues by focusing on the hypothetical,” wrote consultant Ben Dattner in the Harvard Business Review/i> in 2014. Ultimately, he says, the real sources of conflict in an organization are complex and often political; the most effective way to address them are by observing how staff work together.

Heck yeah, it is! Of course observation is a vital tool for individual success and corporate teams, not to mention anyone in a coaching or leadership role, but so are the personality tests – they one of the most practical tools we can have in our toolboxes.

It’s dangerous to use personality tests as your only, go-to strategy. Especially when you are using an in-depth assessment like MBTI or TotalSDI without a certified facilitator guiding the team on how to use it.

People get attached to their labels.

“I’m a golden true colour.”

“I’m a Driver/Alpha Dog.”

“I’m a HUB MVS, so I’m flexible, sociable and open to change.”

“I’m an INFJ, so I’m destined for success!”

Ahem … remember you still have to put in the work to get that success, Ms. INFJ. And what happens when the HUB on your team isn’t so flexible, sociable and open to change?

That’s the point about personality tests: they allow us to identify our strengths, how we work within a group, how we communicate with each other, and how we can all appreciate each others strengths to achieve our common goals.

Equally as important, you should have a certified facilitator to walk you through your results and help you and your team understand how to navigate the information and plan your course of action.

My strengths test

Take me, for example. The first time I took the SDI (strength deployment inventory) I sat very much in “The Hub.” Today, my motivational value system is Red-Blue and my conflict sequence is [B-G]-R.

My test results tell me I can work with people who are analytic but also very emotional. When I commit to self-evaluation, I plan to work more with driven, entrepreneurial people.

The results say I’m motivated by a concern for actively building other people up; I’m sincere, compassionate, charismatic and I celebrate others’ successes; I advise others how to be their best.

It all makes me a good coach, but I’m also eager to jump up and lead a room when no else is speaking up.

Personality tests helped me realize something very important about me: I don’t like selling myself.

When I stand in front of people and talk to them about personal growth, motivation and stress management, I feel my heart soar.

I’m not built for sales but every day I sell myself with every relationship I build. The activity of selling me is my least favourite thing to do, so what I’ve learned via my TotalSDI results is how to gear myself up for it. SDI helped me learn that I have to focus on what gets me excited before I start networking and always keep the focus on what value I can bring to the relationship versus what’s in it for me.

So, I spend 10 or 15 minutes before a sales presentation reflecting on what I want, what makes my heart soar, what makes me grateful and what gets me excited.

Then I walk into a sales meeting confident and stress-free.

When you’re tested

Some of you will test as analytical and data-focused, others will test as leaders, and some will test as emotional or creative.

[tweetthis hidden_hashtags=”#workplacewellness” remove_twitter_handles=”true”]Personality tests can be dangerous when one label is considered more valuable. [/tweetthis]

They should be weighted equally, especially when we’re working toward corporate wellness.

Our corporate teams need the diversity of skill sets and personalities, and your test results help you, your team members and your leaders know how to communicate with each other.

Here’s how to use those results effectively:

1. Personal development

Personality tests can be a self-awareness tool that gives you a better understanding of who you are and how you relate to other people and various situations. You learn what triggers you and helps you build a stronger sense of self. Maybe my friend who tested as “insecure” isn’t feeling as confident right now as she usually does and she needs to examine what’s holding her self-esteem back in this moment.

2. Promote wellness in the workplace

Our test results can help us better understand our colleagues. Your analytical person might be perceived as “negative” because he seems to obsess over the pitfalls about a project or plan. As a colleague or team leader, you might start to recognize him as “cautious” and needing time to process information. Try allowing him to review the checks and balances of the project, as long as he doesn’t take too long and delays the project.

3. Identify goals and your “true path”

In private practice, I often use the test for clients who need clarification on what to do next — a promotion, a career change, or status quo. Together, we identify the core strengths and values they need to feel fantastic and motivated to go to work. Then, we look at the characteristics and aspects of a job and see if that fits with the strengths the test identified.

Nailed it!

My friend tests as an ESFP on Myers-Briggs. That personality type loves adventure, new ideas, creativity and the unpredictable. ESFPs are storytellers and perfect for roles in communications and public relations.

Now that one nails her!

Of course, with ESFPs you have to be prepared for the unpredictable. They can lose their train of thought in mid-sentence (she does it all the time) or have trouble focusing on one project, and that can require a good bit of patience from her managers.

Personality tests give us information that allows people to function on a higher level. Knowing these strengths and challenges can promote cohesiveness and productivity on a team, provided the leader is prepared to understand, promote the strengths and anticipate the challenges.

Essentially, they identify the bumps in the road before the team bus rattles over them.

When you need to take a break from the everyday stresses at work, go online and find out what colour you are or what breed of dog you could be.

Have fun with you are.

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