4.2 Personality and Behavior in the Workplace

Describe how individual personality and behavior impacts the typical contemporary work experience

Every work environment is different. While there may be similarities between them, every organization is comprised of different people which creates a unique groupings of personalities. While every organization is different, there are certain similarities we can discuss to comprise a “typical” contemporary work experience. Understanding personality traits is the key to predicting behavior and understanding how situations can influence individuals.

As we have discussed in many of the previous modules, organizational behavior operates on three levels. This section will also evaluate how work experience can differ at each level. Keep in mind while reviewing this section that there are outliers to every situation. The first part of this module will examine a typical work experience and how to best understand and navigate it.

Learning Outcomes

  • Examine personality traits
  • Discuss how personality traits can influence or predict behavior
  • Discuss situational influences on personality

Personality Traits

Recognizing your personality traits is the first step in successfully achieving your goals. Being able to capitalize on your strengths and also understanding how to strengthen your weaknesses is the cornerstone of success. When we use our personality to make decisions best suited for ourselves, we are more likely to find long-lasting happiness and satisfaction. Similarly, understanding the personalities of others will help us to form stronger relationships.

A man and two women sit on a stone wall. The three of them are laughing, enjoying one another's company.In some ways, finding someone with differing personality traits can be beneficial. Relationships involving individuals with opposite personalities can challenge each person to view situations from a different perspective. In the workplace, differing personality traits are important to creating a diverse workplace where creativity and varying ideas can thrive. At the same time, it is also important to surround yourself with people who have similar core beliefs, values, and goals. If you are generally a positive person but choose to surround yourself with negative people, you will most likely become more pessimistic. This type of toxic personality trait can be detrimental to the workplace. Hiring employees while taking their personality into consideration (through behavioral based interview questions, personality tests, etc.) can help foster an inclusive and positive work environment.

Before we dive into the varying types of personalities and how personality traits can be categorized we first need to address the difference between personality and character. Though the two are often used interchangeably, they are indeed two different topics. Personality is fairly easy to identify early in a relationship. Even when just first meeting someone, it is easy to tell if that person is outgoing, talkative, funny, or energetic. It is also easy to determine if someone is boring, negative, or shy. On the other hand, character traits such as loyalty, honesty, kindliness, etc. are harder to identify immediately upon meeting someone. Character traits require experience with an individual to fully understand and interpret their choices and actions. While having a strong character is extremely important for any strong relationship, for the purpose of this section, we will focus primarily on personality.

Thousands of personality traits have been identified over the years. It would be nearly impossible to find an effective way to identify each and every one of an individual’s personality traits. To help streamline the process, multiple types of personality tests are available to help individuals recognize their strengths, preferences, communication style, among many other important characteristics. Let’s look into some of the most popular personality tests used today.

Myers-Briggs Type Indicator

First, let’s examine the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). This test was created by Isabel Myers and her mother, Katherine Briggs. They made the first assessment in the 1940s based on their familiarity with Carl Jung’s theory on personality types. Myers and Briggs did not intend to point out people’s flaws but instead aimed to help people better understand themselves so they could live a happier life. They used four different scales in their assessment:

  1. What energizes you and gets you excited?
    • Extraversion (E): Are you a person who draws energy from the outside world of people, things, activities or interaction most of the time? (Keywords: external, outside thrust, talks out, thinks of many things, involved with people/things, interaction, action, do-think-do)
    • Introversion (I): Are you a person who draws energy from the internal world of ideas, emotions or impressions most of the time? (Keywords: internal, inside thrust, hold back on comments, thinks deeply of few things, involved with own thought, work alone, reserve, think-do-think)
  2. Where do you put most of your attention?
    • Sensing (S): Do you prefer to take in information through the five senses, noticing what is here and now most of the time? (Keywords: The five senses, what is real, practical, present orientation, facts, using established skills, utility, step-by-step)
    • Intuition (N): Do you prefer to take in information through a “sixth sense,” noticing what might be most of the time? (Keywords: sixth sense, hunches, what could be, theoretical, future possibilities, insight, earning new skills, novelty, leap around)
  3. What do you value most when making a decision or judgment?
    • Thinking (T): Do you prefer organizing and structuring information and deciding in a logical, objective way most of the time? (Keywords: head, logical system, objective, justice, critique, principles, reason, firm but fair)
    • Feeling (F): Do you prefer organizing and structuring information to decide in a personal, value-oriented way most of the time? (Keywords: heart, value system, subjective, mercy, compliment, harmony, empathy, compassionate)
  4. What do you show outwardly most of the time?
    • Judging (J): Do you prefer living a planned and organized life and are strong on decision making most of the time? (Keywords: plan oriented, regulate, control situation, settled, run one’s life, set goals, decisive, organized)
    • Perceiving (P): Do you prefer for living a spontaneous and flexible life and are strong on information gathering most of the time? (Keywords: spontaneous oriented, flow along, adapt to situation, tentative, let life happen, gather information, open, flexible)

Based on how they answered questions in each category, participants receive a four letter code using one letter from each of the four categories listed above (e.g., ISTJ, ENFP). These four letter codes categorize individuals into 16 different personality types.

Learn More

If you are interested. you can take the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator test online.

The Big Five

A circle with five segments. The segments are labelled with the big five personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.Another popular way to assess a person’s personality is the The Big Five. The Big Five is a psychology based assessment that focuses on five wide-ranging categories that describe personality. The acronym used for The Big Five is OCEAN and include openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.

Openness

People high in openness are more likely to be creative thinkers and enjoy taking on new activities and challenges. People low in this trait tend to be less imaginative and may not do well with change.

Conscientiousness

People high in conscientiousness are good at planning ahead, organizing details, and meeting deadlines. They are also mindful of others and understand how their decisions and actions can influence those around them. People who are low in conscientiousness procrastinate on or fail to complete tasks. They also tend to be shy away from schedules and live unorganized lives.

Extraversion

People high in extraversion enjoy meeting new people and inserting themselves into gatherings and conversations. They tend to make friends easily and have a large group of friends. People low in extraversion, also known as introverts, prefer seclusion over company. They also try to avoid small talk and being at the center of attention.

Agreeableness

People high in agreeableness show a genuine concern for others. They are known for helping others in need and feeling empathy for the struggles of others. On the other hand, people low in agreeableness tend to act rude and inconsiderate towards others or even use manipulation to put their own needs above anyone else.

Neuroticism

Someone high in neuroticism tends to be very moody, stressed, and anxious. They may get stressed and upset easily. People low in neuroticism tend to be emotionally stable and do not allow stressors to effect their mood.

Practice Question

https://assessments.lumenlearning.com/assessments/13932

Each personality test we discussed are used today to help companies better understand their employees or employee candidates. It is important to remember that there are thousands of different personality traits. Each individual has their own unique set and combination of personality traits. While each of the personality tests we discussed in this module are effective in their own right, there is no exact science to identifying each and every personality trait present in an individual. In addition, many personality tests are based upon an individual’s self-assessment and results may differ from day to day. Personality tests may help to confirm things you already believed to be true or they may open your eyes to a side of yourself you didn’t realize existed. Let’s move onto the next section to examine how an individual’s personality can help to predict their choices and behavior.

Learn More

Check out these pages to learn more about personality:

Personality and Behavior

Image of several grey umbrellas floating in the sky. A single yellow umbrella floats in the middle of the picture in front of the grey umbrellas.As we discussed in the last section, personality traits do not fall under a one-size-fits-all category. Every individual has their own unique personality that helps to form their outlook on life and shapes their interactions with others. Imagine being able to take an individual’s personality fingerprint and predict how they would act in any given scenario. While seeing into the future is impossible, using personality traits to predict an individual’s behavior is on the spectrum of possibilities.

Personalities have been studied and discussed dating back to Ancient Greece and Roman times. Research has been conducted for years and years to try to determine how to properly predict behavior using an individual’s personality traits. However, in the 1970s, after years of research and testing, psychologists Daryl Bem and Walter Mischel had limited success in making consistently successful predictions[1]. Their frustrations led them to believe that situational factors and stressors were more responsible for decisions than an individual’s personality.

So which is it? Is it personality or the situation that plays a leading role in influencing a person’s behavior? The short answer is both. Many people expect a clear-cut answer to the question. However, that is an impossible task when it comes to predicting behavior. It is important to take into account the individual’s personality in addition to the situation they find themselves in. The next section will discuss how situations can influence behavior, but for the purpose of this section, let’s explore the benefits and limitations of using personality to predict behavior.

Personality traits are all on a spectrum. The more extreme an individual is on the spectrum, the easier it is to predict their behavior. Since many personality tests focus on broad traits (OCEAN for example), there is a wide range for interpretation. Let’s look at introverts versus extraverts as an example. Everyone falls somewhere on the introvert vs. extravert scale. Even if you are more of an extravert than an introvert you may still not be considered a very outgoing person. Depending on the group of individuals you find yourself with may also change others’ perception of you. For example, if you are surrounded by extremely extraverted people, you may appear to be introverted, even though you consider yourself an extravert. Similar to weight or height, everyone has a measurement unique to them but it may appear to be higher or lower when compared to that of others. According to McAndrew,[2]

Research has shown that the more to one of the extremes a person falls on a trait, the more consistently the trait will be a factor in his or her behavior.

It is also important to take into consideration that observing personality traits in multiple scenarios can be more accurate in predicting behavior. Trying to make a prediction based on a single interaction does not paint a completely accurate picture of an individual. Being able to observe the varying degrees of an individual’s personality can help to better understand a person and determine the best way to maximize their strengths and support their weaknesses.

Practice Question

https://assessments.lumenlearning.com/assessments/13933

Photograph of two men and a woman sitting at a table in a cafe. One man has a laptop open on the table.So how is predicting behavior helpful in the workplace? Using personality traits to form workgroups and teams can be extremely beneficial in the long run. As we discussed in previous modules, diversity is important to success. At the same time, pairing together like-minded individuals can help to promote efficiency and collaboration. Using personality traits and tests to form teams can help to bring together a beautifully balanced group. It is important to keep in mind; however, that observing an individual’s personality multiple times may provide additional insight into how they operate. It is extremely important to utilize new found information and observations to rearrange team dynamics.

Personality traits alone cannot successfully predict behavior. Situations also play an important role in determining how an individual will act. Let’s move onto the next section to better evaluate and understand the role situations play in determining behavior and influencing personality.

Situational Influences on Personality

A photo of four people facing away from the camera looking at the sunset. The people have their arms over one another's shoulders.Certain situations and circumstances can influence a person’s day in a positive or negative way. Depending on the circumstance, a normally positive person may become more negative. On the other hand, a traditionally pessimistic person may appear to be more positive. So how is this possible? You have experienced both triumphs and tribulations in your lifetime and whether or not you realized it, they most likely impacted the way you acted and altered your personality for that period of time. It is human nature for emotions and personalities to differ depending on what is happening in our lives.

Even if we are not aware of what others may be going through, it is reasonable to assume that certain situations in the lives of all individuals impacts their personality. For example, you are out with friends, and you see your friend Lorenzo, who is the most extroverted person in the group, crying in the corner. Does this mean Lorenzo is no longer an extravert but rather an introvert? Or could he be crying because he just heard some upsetting news? Chances are, the latter option is a more realistic one. While the news may have changed his personality during that social setting on that day, it most likely did not alter it permanently.

Let’s look at another example. The coworker you disagree with most, Kayla, who constantly argues against your ideas, comes into work Monday morning with a pep in her step. At your team meeting, she completely supports your proposed project idea and offers to help execute it. Has Kayla turned a corner and has decided to end the feud between you two? Possibly. But odds are there is something in her life that has temporarily altered her personality. What you may not know, is that over the weekend her all time favorite team won the Super Bowl. Her excitement from the day before spilled over into Monday, presenting a much version of Kayla that seems to like you a great deal more.

These are just two small examples of how situations in people’s lives can alter the way they act. People can also change their personality based on who they’re around. If the person you’re with makes you uncomfortable, you’re not likely to be very talkative and offer up good conversation. However, if you’re on the phone with a friend you haven’t talked to for awhile, you’re likely to have an animated conversation.

Practice Question

https://assessments.lumenlearning.com/assessments/13934

If situations can influence personality and personality can predict behavior, then situational influences also contribute to predicting behavior. It also brings into question whether or not personality traits are consistent since they are easily influenced by situations. In 1968, Walter Mischel published a book entitled Personality & Assessment. In his book, Mischel argued that an interactionist approach was best suited when exploring personality, situations, and behavior. This interactionist approach believes that both personality and situational circumstances create behavior. In addition, Mischel explained that personalities tend to differ across a range of situations (personality at work versus home); however, they keep consistencies within similar situations (work meetings). This revelation created an upset in the traditional view of personality by arguing that personality stability and instability can each exist at the same time.[3]

A loop indicating that the situation affects personality and personality affects the situationThere are two main correlations to remember here:

  1. Situations can influence an individual’s personality.
  2. An individual’s personality paired with the situation can help to predict behavior.

Companies can use these correlations to create stronger and more efficient teams. While unique circumstances may arise, understanding personality traits is the first step in developing a strong organization.

References

Roberts, Brent W., Nathan R. Kuncel, Rebecca Shiner, Avshalom Caspi, and Lewis R. Goldberg. “The Power of Personality: The Comparative Validity of Personality Traits, Socioeconomic Status, and Cognitive Ability for Predicting Important Life Outcomes.” Perspectives on Psychological Science, December 2007, 313-45. Accessed April 16, 2019. doi:10.1111/j.1745-6916.2007.00047.x.


CC licensed content, Original
  • Why It Matters: Individual Personalities and Behaviors. Authored by: Freedom Learning Group. Provided by: Lumen Learning. License: CC BY: Attribution
CC licensed content, Specific attribution

  1. McAndrew, Frank T., Ph.D. "When Do Personality Traits Predict Behavior?" Psychology Today. October 2, 2018. Accessed April 16, 2019. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/out-the-ooze/201810/when-do-personality-traits-predict-behavior.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Tweten, Carol. Intraindividual Personality Change: Situational Influences, Patterns of Change, and Frequency-based Measurement. Master's thesis, University of Northern Iowa, 2014. https://scholarworks.uni.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1076&context=etd.

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4.2 Personality and Behavior in the Workplace by Graduate Studies is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.