Per­son­al­ity tests are the horo­scopes of the of­fice

The Times of India (New Delhi edition) - - Sunday Special -

On his first day work­ing at the Uni­ver­sity of Phoenix, Eric Shapiro found out the good news: He had tested red-yel­low.

To the layper­son this doesn’t mean much. But to those well-versed in the psy­chol­ogy of Dr. Tay­lor Hart­man’s ‘Color Code,’ it was a ca­reer-maker.

Red meant you were a per­son mo­ti­vated by power and yel­low by fun. This was an ideal com­bi­na­tion for some­one look­ing to climb the ranks in an ad­mis­sions team that de­manded the abil­ity to schmooze and then hit re­cruit­ment tar­gets.

As Shapiro rose to be a man­ager, he be­came flu­ent in the color-code vo­cab­u­lary. It helped him di­ag­nose of­fice prob­lems (“Sally is strug­gling be­cause she’s a blue, so when she gets re­jected on the phone she stews about it”) and iden­tify ar­eas for pro­fes­sional growth (“Billy, the yel­low guy, is re­ally good on the phone, but he can’t sit still be­cause he’s al­ways try­ing to crack jokes”).

The tax­on­omy didn’t typ­i­cally have a di­rect in­flu­ence on hir­ing de­ci­sions, Shapiro said, but man­agers knew which color types were most likely to thrive when re­view­ing ap­pli­ca­tions.

The code is just one ex­am­ple of the kinds of psy­cho­me­t­ric tests be­ing ad­min­is­tered in work­places. The most pop­u­lar of the group is the My­ers-Briggs Type In­di­ca­tor, roughly based on Dr. Carl Jung’s psy­chol­ogy, which has sorted some 50 mil­lion sub­jects into in­tro­vert or ex­tro­vert, sens­ing or in­tu­it­ing, think­ing or feel­ing and judg­ing or per­ceiv­ing.

Per­son­al­ity tests de­liver on the com­plex­i­ties of in­ter­per­sonal of­fice dy­nam­ics, but with­out the in­ti­mate process of speak­ing with em­ploy­ees to de­ter­mine their quirks and pref­er­ences.

They ap­peal also, per­haps, for the same rea­son astrol­ogy, nu­merol­ogy and other ho­cus­pocus sys­tems do: be­cause it’s fun to di­vide peo­ple into cat­e­gories.

Kather­ine Wang, a consultant at a con­sult­ing firms, said she found out her My­er­sBriggs pro­file at her first com­pany train­ing. Im­me­di­ately, she was seated with oth­ers who shared her type for con­ver­sa­tion on how their traits might af­fect their work. Wang was skep­ti­cal at first, but within a few months she came to ap­pre­ci­ate the test. It pro­vided a short­hand to talk about a whole range of per­sonal needs: how much you like to fill your cal­en­dar or how you want your man­ager to give feed­back.

Ali­son Green, cre­ator of the pop­u­lar blog ‘Ask a Man­ager,’ said she has re­ceived a num­ber of let­ters from peo­ple whose ca­reers were di­rectly af­fected by their My­ers-Briggs re­sults. She has heard from work­ers de­nied lead­er­ship op­por­tu­ni­ties be­cause of their per­son­al­ity types. Given the broad con­sen­sus about its lack of sci­en­tific va­lid­ity, Green is alarmed by heavy re­liance on the test.

“It shouldn’t be a tool to as­sign work or de­cide who to pro­mote,” Green said. “Push­ing it on em­ploy­ees who aren’t into per­son­al­ity tests ends up alien­at­ing them or mak­ing them un­com­fort­able.”


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