We Need to Talk About Our Obsession With Personality Tests
I was at a wedding recently, doing the typical wedding chit-chat during cocktail hour, when the woman I was talking to mentioned that she had recently attended a leadership seminar in which she had taken the FIRO-B Test.
“What’s that?” I asked, thinking it sounded like a test to determine whether or not you were a terminator sent from Skynet Of The Future to destroy all human life on Earth.
“It’s essentially a personality test, like Myers-Briggs, to assess your leadership qualities,” she explained.
“What! I love personality tests! They are the best!” I said, almost dropping my ceviche app and the bride’s choice cocktail.
My acquaintance was a little surprised I was fangirling out this hard about a random leadership assessment, but I could’t help it. I love a long list of questions that helps me understand whether I lean towards introversion or extroversion, whether I focus on the present or the future, whether I tend to think or feel out a situation, if I gravitate more towards spontaneity or planning, how much control I need to feel in a situation, what level of inclusion I need to feel in a work situation, how much affection I need to feel from other people, and so on and so forth.
And I know I’m not alone on this one! You pick a young professional at random and chances are she’s going to be able to tell you whether she is an INFJ or an ETSP. At the very least, she is going to be able to tell you whether she skews introvert or extrovert. We all started off as middle-schoolers taking Seventeen Magazine’s “Does He Like You Or Not Like You Or Maybe Just Kind-Of-Sort-Of-Half-Like-You?” quizzes and now X number of years later we’re trying to figure out what kind of leaders we are, how our personalities affect our familial relationships and friendships (and our romances, obvi), how we come across to others, what position we are supposed to occupy in the world, and fine, maybe, which obscure Harry Potter character we are.
Personality tests are kind of like psychological selfies. We get to take a snapshot of our thoughts, patterns and reactions and if we like how they come out, we share them with the world. Or at least, we closely examine them in search of answers for how we come off to other people. Those answers, of course, aren’t always that insightful, but some of them actually are.
I think we like personality tests so much because personalities tend to be CONFUSING. We are not one-dimensional, paper doll, cut-out characters. We are weird and complicated and often contradict ourselves left and right. Because of that, it’s nice to get some relatively simple answers to those existential “But who am I really?” questions. Even if your Myers-Briggs results (I’m not talking about Buzzfeed quizzes here, though they’re awesome) don’t feel like they COMPLETELY describe you, at least you’re getting hints and clues, and you learn what you’re not. You might always be a little bit of a mystery to yourself, but it’s always awesome when some light is shed here and there.
Personally, I think it’s totally fine to be a little baffled by yourself. But it still feels like a huge relief to get some insight, however small, on what’s going on in there. Sometimes you have problems in your life that can be solved just by understanding your patterns and tendencies a little better, or the patterns and tendencies of the people who are super important to you.
So I’m Team Personality Tests all the way. Not because they completely untie the knot of The Twisty And Tangled Mystery That Is Me, but rather because they loosen the knot just a little bit, and a little bit of help is always welcome, as far as I’m concerned.