Sunday, February 18, 2024

Not Even Not Zen 341: Biomythography - Note 83, My Personality Type

My Personality Type

The popular personality tests used in business - the Myers Briggs Indicator, the Eyseneck, the Hogan Personality Inventory, Keirsey Temperament - are all junk. Well, maybe that's too harsh. Maybe they are just misused.

Underlying these measurement systems is the obvious ability of any quiz to classify people according to answers they give. Is the classification useful? The usefulness must be linked to the questions and whether they matter to why you're organizing or re-organizing your people.

Why are you sorting people?

Sometimes, you need to arrange individuals into teams. That's a time when we all want to understand who we're dealing with. A test can be useful in that situation. I admit I've met at least one good personality metric, a U.S. Army psychology regimen developed for building compatible teams. Long ago, the Army tried to build superteams of its best performers and they failed. Utterly. Gunnery squads from from tiny West Virginia towns, within which there were some members who couldn't read, were better than the superteams of best performing artillery gunners from across the country. Why? The Army tried to systematically uncover the reasons. They managed to do it, too, to a great extent. And they learned to build better teams.

I'm not going to go into the how or why. I've noticed the information about the Army system has disappeared from the Internet so I'm going to assume the Army has quietly pulled it back, probably because someone thinks it's useful.

Instead, I'm going to talk about DISC.

DISC stands for Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Compliance. The terms could be anything, though; with the right questionnaire, sorting people into Hogwarts houses would be equally valid.

"Boss, I don't like it. This is bullshit," one of my staff murmured to me as he accepted his paper copy. His face wore a resigned frown.

"Me neither." With an eye on our overboss, I sat down and started penciling in answers. "Let's do it."

He sighed. "Sure."

My specific sub-culture at work consists of people who are notorious for not liking team-building exercises. That's how technical people usually are. Nevertheless, we were called upon to join in. We met in the main conference room with the rest of the staff and filled in our forms. My crew members whispered their complaints in low, careful tones.

As with most personality tests, we had to answer different forms of the question, "what are people like?" I felt so tired that I didn't try to game the system by filling in answers I knew my bosses would prefer. It probably wouldn't have helped anyway, since the DISC survey addressed most subjects in a narrow fashion. For example, I remember "Do people turn in assignments late?" as one line. There were other, similar options posed in the same, constricted, yes-or-no manner. Because of how each had been worded, there was no honest choice. No one could have truthfully answered anything other than "people turn in work late" because people do, sometimes.

The questions forced my answers and I didn't fight. I gave in to the over-simplified views even though I knew that each topic had to be used to categorize workers. So people must, as a rule, interpret the DISC questions and statements contrary to the actual words. I turned into a literalist, which is a very computer scientist thing to do, and finished my survey second out of a group of thirty even though I felt as if I had dwaddled through it, fuming about the wordings and the inescapable logic of each narrow focus.

"We'll be back with the results in a minute," said one of the organizers. Her team graded them as we handed them in. Since they were using an apparently customized DISC with forty questions, the grading didn't take as long as 'full DISC.'

While we waited, I helped other early finishers adjust the labels for our DISC profile groupings. Following the guidance from a DISC moderator, we had posted signs around the room with eight designations. I moved a sign, found tape, and handed out pieces of tape to others who wanted to straighten up. The eight signs said, D (for direct/dominant), Di (dynamic), I (interactive/influential), Si (agreeable or trusting), S (soft-hearted), SC (cautious), C (reserved/unemotional), DC (disciplined and critical). We had them spread around eight 'corners' of the room.

It was our biggest conference room, thirty feet long. Even with the furniture in it, we had space to move.

"We're ready to begin the grouping," the moderators said when they re-entered the room. Due to luck of the draw, or perhaps because they used a last-in-first-out system as they graded, the announcement for my assignment came near the end. First, I got to watch as each staff member in turn walked to a DISC category sign. Many of them ended up in sensible locations, I noticed, although a few seemed mildly wrong.

"Eric," the shorter, darker-haired moderator announced. She picked up my paper and read from the top. "C-D."

She meant the DC group, which was the disciplined and critical people. As I stood up, to my shock, several women hissed. I heard a gasp escape my boss before she covered her mouth. Another supervisor covered her mouth, too. I paused. Then I continued my stroll toward my group. It had taken me a second to understand why everyone had such a strong reaction. The DISC process had lumped me together with the two unfriendliest people in the office.

These two stern women were both black and middle aged. They liked me well enough and I enjoyed working with them, too. Oddly, though, they didn't want to see me grouped with them. One of them crossed her arms and frowned. The other, shaking her head with a warm smile, leaned close as I arrived.

"I think you might be in the wrong place," she whispered.

"Maybe?" I allowed. I considered the reasons why it felt uncomfortable. Why were they perceived as unfriendly and I was considered warm and gentle? Sex? Race? Being disciplined and being critical were both appropriate traits to assign to me. (So were the other categories, really, but that's how these exercises work.)

I glanced around. Women and men seemed distributed fairly evenly in the room. Black women had a pretty wide distribution, too, and I knew them all. The reason other people didn't like me in the critical group didn't seem to have anything to do with sex or race. The two people next to me in the DC category really were the most stand-offish we had, except maybe when they worked with me. They were infamous for not being friendly to their co-workers.

"He is really results oriented," the friendlier woman said to her shorter, more sullen companion.

"Huh." The comment made the woman's shoulders relax. "Yeah."

We talked about the questions for a few minutes. Maybe we should have been listening more to the moderators but we had gotten interested in what made us similar. And intrigued by what made us so different, too. Pretty soon, I realized that these women answered "people turn in assignments late" on the quiz with a sense of disdain. To them, other people weren't dependable. Ever. In fact, the reason they liked me was because I didn't over-promise things. I delivered what I said I would. They were prepared to be disappointed in me eventually, as they had been with everyone else, but so far, I was still acceptable. 

"Okay!" Clap, clap, clap. The taller moderator strode forward. She brought her hands together, trying to get our attention.

"Okay, okay," said other women around our office, including the second moderator. The first moderator clapped three more times.

"Some of the people here feel they have been mis-categorized," she continued. "It happens pretty often with mid-level DISC questionnaires. We have an approved method of dealing with it. The DISC certification authority said our method is fine."

Her partner nodded.

"What you do is, you can make one diagonal move. You can walk from the SI sign to SC or you can walk from SI to DI. That means you can change one letter if your measured DISC scale has two letters. You can't go to a neighboring scale because that's not the way the questions work. You have to move on a diagonal."

I already knew where I planned to move. As I leaned toward it, the woman continued, "And you have to give a reason."

That made me snort. I already knew my reason. I'd come to the conclusion while talking to the others in my assigned scale.

At first, I was the only one to make a move. The call for a justification statement about the change made everyone else hesitate. But I already knew. And as soon as I'd moved from DC to DI, the moderators surged toward me. The exercise leader posed as if she were a reporter on the street who had caught a politician before he could escape to his car. Using her right fist, she leaned an imaginary microphone in my direction.

“You left the antisocial group," she said. "I mean, the skeptical and critical scale. Can you explain why?”

“People are awful,” I told her. A couple people gasped, including my boss. “But I love them.”

This brought on a second gasp, which modulated into a collective sigh. The room seemed to breathe easier. I heard someone giggle. Everyone smiled except my interviewer.

“Oh!” She cocked her left eyebrow.

From another diagonal, I saw an office mate practically skipping towards me. She was making her move and she knew her reason. She grinned like she had just finished laughing, which maybe she had.

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