Whether you have secure, avoidant, disorganized, or anxious attachment relationships you need to be wary when using personality types.
It’s understandable why we are attracted to personality types and tests. Human relationships are challenging. Whether you’re dealing with someone very difficult at work or trying to connect with someone you love, there are challenges.
Everyone is a complex human being with different histories, resources, and preferences. So, clashes and misunderstandings are normal.
We want easy ways to frame things or tools to help our understanding. So, it can even be fun to take personality tests and type ourselves and people we interact with.
While such tools can be helpful in learning or understanding yourself, they can create problems when it comes to deploying them. In fact, this is primarily why I don’t bother administering assessments that many coaches and consultants like to use. These assessments are expensive for clients. And, even when clients bring me assessment results done by their employers, I find them to be a waste of time.
Below are four reasons why personality typing is problematic when trying to build, deepen, repair, or cope with other people no matter who they are. I’ll then share what to focus on instead.
4 reasons why personality typing can be problematic
First, many personality assessment tests are neither reliable nor valid. For example, one of the most popular, for example, the MBTI, is not evidence-based. And, while attachment theory has been around for some time, it’s mainly designed to describe existing behavior not advise you on interactions. More importantly, trying to determine the others based on your own interactions is likely to be skewed.
Second, focusing on fixed personality traits can limit your choices and prevent growth. Making judgments like “I am x, therefore, y is what I do” or “Because you’re a type a, you tend to do b” are confining. Making change requires creativity and openness. Especially when it comes to relationships, no one likes to be labeled, put in a box, or prejudged.
Third, studying yourself distracts you from exploring the needs of others. Self-exploration is helpful when you want to understand your reactions and feelings, and when you need to heal from traumatic or negative events. But, if you are your main or only focus, you naturally can’t focus on others. In order to learn how to have effective relationships, you have to learn from interacting with lots of people. For example, studies have shown that the wealthy become less compassionate over time because their wealth allows them to be independent and less reliant on other people.
Finally, time spent on self-reported data could be better spent taking small action steps that provide faster results. You can’t study relationships, you have to be in them.
What to do instead
Again, it’s fun to take personality quizzes and learn about different traits and explore frameworks so that we better understand ourselves. But, then, when you need to take action, putting people in to boxes or labeling yourself is not helpful. Instead, there are two things you can do to deepen your relationships–whether you’re meeting your child’s new friend’s mom for the first time or you’re trying to survive your awful boss.
First, ask an open-ended question and listen to the response. Active listening requires that you set aside your assumptions and past history and observe the word choice, mannerisms, body language of the speaker.
Second, acknowledge what you’re hearing. You’re first instinct may be to add on something about yourself or maybe give an explanation of your own attitudes and behavior. But, if you can hold off and first demonstrate that you’ve heard the response to your question, you’ll be better off. Extra points if you can validate what the person said by saying something like, “Of course, you felt tired! Dealing with tantrums is so draining” or “I can see how what I did was confusing.”
I always say…
What every human being wants is to be loved and accepted for who she is right now, and to be appreciated and understood for what she does.
If you are hurting from a relationship, please look into a good therapist. I can make some referrals if you contact me.
If you’re having a particularly challenging time in an important relationship, consider hiring a coach. If you’re interested in working with me, please schedule a call.