Emily Marsh January 22 2019

Trait-focused versus type-focused personality assessments

An overview of the difference between trait-focused and type-focused personality assessments.

Personality assessments are a powerful tool for raising the self-awareness of the people within your organisation, and through self-awareness you can influence behaviour change that helps your organisation get to where it wants to be.

If you have never had a personality assessment in your organisation, selecting one from the myriad of options can be difficult. Alternatively, maybe you already have one embedded within your organisation but you’re not getting the return you hoped for, and are looking to replace it with one that will make a real impact on your people and your business - but, you don't know where to start.

The first thing to consider is that personality assessments typically fall into one of two categories: type-focused or trait-focused. Here, we lay out the differences (and similarities) between the two, to help you narrow down the choice.

Type-focused personality assessments

Type-focused personality assessments are based on the Jung theory of personality. Jung theorised that individuals fall into one of two categories; introvert or extravert. Introverts are most aware of their inner world, and by contrast, extraverts gain more influence from the outer world.

Typically, type-focused personality assessments measure an individual’s personality across four factors. They are ipsative, which means a person is defined as one ‘type’ or another. For example, a person is defined as either an introvert or an extravert.

One commonly used example is the Myers Briggs personality test (MBTI). The tool was developed in the 1940’s by Isabel Briggs-Myers and her mother Katherine Briggs, based on their work with Jung's theory. It was first published in 1962.

MBTI categories individuals into one of 16 distinctive personality types that result from the interactions among their preferences for each of four psychological functions;

  • Extraversion (E) or Introversion (I)
  • Intuition (N) or Sensing (S)
  • Thinking (T) or Feeling (F)
  • Judging (J) or Perceiving (P)

When put together you get a personality type code, for example, ENTJ, ISFP or ESTP.

Type-focused personality assessments like MBTI are easy for people to remember and reference, and can help create a common language that people can easily identify with.

However, personality theory has moved on significantly since the likes of Jung. In fact, the MBTI has been heavily criticised by personality psychologists, who argue it is based on wholly unproven theories, is a limited way of studying personality, and provides inconsistent results.

Personality psychologists now largely agree that individual differences in personality are better described by continuous traits than distinct type categories. It’s even been found that most MBTI scores fall somewhere in the middle, rather than at the very low or very high end - which disproves the very theory that we are one ‘type’ or another.

Trait-focused personality assessments

The Big5 theory of personality is now widely considered the best way of describing the fundamental building blocks of an individual’s personality. Psychologists have recognised that personality isn’t as simple as Jung’s type theory. Instead, the Big5 theory recognises personality as the unique pattern of enduring psychological and behavioural traits by which each person can be compared and contrasted to others.

Trait-focused personality assessments are all based on the Big5 factors model. Individuals are measured by 'how much' of each of the five traits they possess, rather than being forced into a 'type'.

Facet5, created in the late 1980s, was the first Big5 measure in Europe. It measures five factors, or ‘facets’ based on the Big5 theory. A person has a certain amount of each of the facets, and it is this pattern of scores that gives the overall picture of their personality.

  • Control
  • Will
  • Energy
  • Affection
  • Emotionality

Each facet is made up of a number of sub factors. For example, a person’s Will score is an accumulation of their scores on each of the three sub factors of Will: determination, confrontation, and independence.

Trait-focused personality assessments give information rather than hard data, making them a much more powerful tool for developing people and influencing behaviour change. Though there is no snappy four letter identification, trait-focused tools like Facet5 still create a common language for organisations. For example, if using Facet5 you might refer to someone as “low Will” or "High Emotionality". But it's not so definitive as to put people in 'boxes' and force a label on them.

Trait-focused personality assessments give a more granular picture of an individual’s personality than type-focused tools. They offer people a more accurate reflection of their natural preferences and behavioural styles, so that they can both relate to them more, and getter a better understanding of why they behave in certain ways in particular circumstances. What's more, re-test reliability is significantly higher for Facet5 than it is for MBTI.

The broad consensus today is that trait-focused tools are a much more powerful in the workplace than type-based tools. By giving a more accurate view of an individual's personality, they are far more effective at triggering behaviour change, as they help people understand themselves better in the first place. If you focus on trait-focused personality assessments only, you effectively cut the list of potential options in half, and become one step closer to finding the right solution for your company.

 Beyond the Personality Test

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