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Your Personality vs. Your Character

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Written by Hokuma Karimova

On March 12, 2018
Your Personality vs. Your Character

Success and mindset coach who utilizes proven techniques of coaching, psychology and mindfulness to navigate you to success.

Why should you know your personality traits?

Because they are big predictors of your behaviors and attitudes in life.

The world we live in is different from what it was ten, five, or even one year ago. Thanks to social media, easy to use communication tools, and global migration, the pool of possibilities and available information to browse through is constantly expanding.

Without a clear idea of one’s own preferences, making the ‘right choice’ can be extremely difficult, and confusing. Knowing the environments in which our personality traits can serve our best interests will help decrease this ‘paralysis by analysis’ state that many might fall into.

Personality is unique to each individual, and knowing what makes us, ‘us’, can lead to more life satisfaction, better life choices, and overall success, in both personal and professional spheres.

The Meaning of Character & Personality Traits

While character and personality are both used to describe someone’s behaviors, the two examine very different aspects of that individual. That’s because personality is more visible and easier to spot, while character is revealed through time, with varying situations.

In more concrete terms:
“Personality is easy to read, and we’re all experts at it. We judge people [as] funny, extroverted, energetic, optimistic, confident—as well as overly serious, lazy, negative, and shy—if not upon first meeting them, then shortly thereafter. And though we may need more than one interaction to confirm the presence of these sorts of traits, by the time we decide they are, in fact, present we’ve usually amassed enough data to justify our conclusions.

Character, on the other hand, takes far longer to puzzle out. It includes traits that reveal themselves only in specific—and often uncommon—circumstances, traits like honesty, virtue, and kindliness.” (Lickerman, 2011)

Therefore, while personality is easier to spot, it is hugely influenced by heredity and for the main part immutable. Character, on the other hand, takes longer to discern, but is easier to change. That’s because character is shaped by one’s beliefs, and with enough effort and motivation, through a change in perspective, the view of the world can be altered.

The malleability of character is very helpful and important for human evolution. People learn to adapt to new environments and change with the times. For instance, an individual who might have a shy personality can learn to switch their attitude towards public speaking when stepping into the role of a teacher. The new social and external demands lead to an internal shift.

It shows that, if an individual deems the change as significant enough, then their beliefs will transform to accommodate the transition. In this way, even if the inborn trait is to shy away from the public, the beliefs and values that shape our behavior can evolve to reflect the values of our immediate groups and communities. Such awareness and adaptability help with survival. (Kurtus, 2011)

The bottom line is, despite our inborn personality traits, we can always transcend them, depending on personal or cultural demands. Here is a video by Brian Little that introduces this phenomenon, and explores how our character is modified by the core projects we embark on.

Type & Trait Theory: MBTI, Big Five and PEN

In today’s world, identifying personality traits has never easier. “In the US alone, there are about 2,500 personality tests” to choose from. (Ash, 2012) Yet, quantity does not imply quality.

Due to the immense variations in personality, it is difficult to try and divide people into neat types. Instead, assessing individuals by the most common personality traits can empower us to deduce a person’s behavior by looking at the average of their choices. (Pappas, 2017)

Below is a list of the most widely used personality tools that will identify your personality traits. The pros and cons of each one are also highlighted.

So let’s get started.

Personality Assessment Tools

A) MBTI:

The most popular, but not necessarily the most accurate, personality tool is the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). In fact, of the top Fortune 100 companies, 89 utilize this tool when making hiring and teaming decisions.

MBTI is so widely used, that this assessment can be done in 24 different languages (thanks to numerous translations), and is often employed by a number of political and military agencies.

This is very interesting, as the creation of this tool happened during World War II, when two housewives, Myers and Briggs, inspired by the work of Carl Jung, wanted to assist the transition of women into the workforce. The idea was that, with a better understanding of the self, women would be able to join a work environment that is best suited to their personality.
(Burnett, 2013)

The questionnaire assesses individuals based on four pairs of psychological preferences:

1. extroversion vs. introversion

This paradigm examines the ‘attitudes’ of individuals. Those defined as extroverts, are believed to draw personal energy through interactions with others. Without the external stimuli their energy can start to wane.

Introverts, on the other hand, are said to expend personal energy through interactions with others. Therefore, to recharge their batteries and regain centeredness, they seek quiet time to reflect on what is happening. After gaining new understanding of the situation, they proceed forward.

2. sensing vs. intuition

This aspect focuses on how individuals gather information from their surroundings. Those who prefer the sensing method are said to rely more on clues that can be gathered by the five senses, which means their stimuli needs to be present and concrete.

If someone relies on the guidance of their intuition for decision making, they prefer deducing the outcomes by identifying overall patterns, and connecting the different parts through theories, and other available information.

3. thinking vs. feeling

When it comes to decision making, those who identify as thinkers, tend to make conclusions based on rational and more detached standpoints of view. This means, they prefer reasoning that is consistent and can be applied to a specific set of rules.

Feelers prefer to make decisions based on situational factors. Each situation is weighed, and aims to create a greater harmony and consensus, for overall fit. This is different from thinkers, who are more concerned with ‘the truth’, give more direct feedback, and avoid inconsistencies.

4. judging vs. perception

This is an added component to Jung’s theory. It explains the way an individual interacts with the external world. According to MBTI, the individual can be identified either as a judger (someone who prefers to think or feel), or a perceiver (one who uses their senses or intuition).
(Wikipedia, 2017)

Curious to see your MBTI personality profile?
We got you covered.

Thanks to its popularity and widespread interest among the public, there are a number of test versions available. Some are longer, while others are shorter. Some are free, while others are extremely expensive, but those give you a more detailed explanation.

Here are just some of the quizzes to choose from:

1.  Jung Personality Test –
http://similarminds.com/jung.html

2.  Jung Typology Test –
http://www.humanmetrics.com/personality

3.  16 Personalities –
https://psychcentral.com/quizzes/personality/start.php

4.  Type Finder –
https://www.truity.com/test/type-finder-research-edition 

Pro:

There is definitely a strength in numbers, and MBTI is a perfect example of that.

By far, the biggest argument of why this assessment is so popular is because of the number of organizations and individuals who use it for their professional and personal matters.

With so much influence, this tool is invaluable for starting conversations around personality, which can be used to resolve any issues within teams and other working groups. Most people are curious to learn more about themselves, and this tool can give them some of the talking points around which they can build meaningful and constructive conversations. (Essig, 2014)

Con:

The assessment is not without flaws.

Here are the biggest arguments against MBTI:

1. Varying results

The biggest criticism of this tool is the inconsistency of the results. “Several studies, show that even when the test-retest interval is short (e.g., 5 weeks), as many as 50 percent of the people will be classified into a different type.” (Pittenger, 2017)

2. Missing reactivity measures

A key trait that is not measured by the questionnaire is “emotional stability versus reactivity — the tendency to stay calm and collected under stress or pressure. [Which] turns out to be one of the most important predictors of individual and group patterns of thought, feeling, and action, so it’s an unfortunate oversight.” (Grant, 2016)

3. All-or-none categories

The results pigeonhole individuals into one of the sixteen categories, but nothing in life is black and white. In certain situations individuals can become more extroverted than introverted. They might tend to judge more and use their thinking skills less, especially if in situations when debating or passionately discussing important topics.

Of course, some quizzes do show results as percentages, but still, “if the MBTI also measured height, you would be classified as either tall or short, even though the majority of people are within a band of medium height.” (Krznaric, 2013)

In fact, some even go as far to say that Jung himself might not have been pleased with this tool.

As Malcom Gladwell expressed in the New Yorker:

“Jung didn’t believe that types were easily identifiable, and he didn’t believe that people could be permanently slotted into one category or another. “Every individual is an exception to the rule,” he wrote; to “stick labels on people at first sight,” in his view, was “nothing but a childish parlor game.” (Baer, 2014)

B) BIG FIVE:
There’s another, more comprehensive, personality test available –  the Big Five.

This assessment does not divide people into personality profiles, but rather analyzes an individual around the most common traits found within the global community. The traits are easy to remember, as they spell out the acronym OCEAN.

It stands for:

1. Openness:

This describes an individuals love for novelty experiences. Those with high scores tend to be more creative. Individuals with lower scores tend to be more conservative, and prefer routines.

2. Conscientiousness:

It helps show someone’s tendency towards being more organized. Those with high scores are seen as motivated, disciplined and trustworthy. Lower scores indicate someone less responsible, and more likely to get distracted.

3. Extroversion:

It determines how cheerful and communicative a person can be. If someone scores highly on this, they tend to be social and very likely to accomplish their goals. Low scores indicate someone who is introverted, and more submissive to authority.

4. Agreeableness:

This trait describes how someone interacts with those around them. High scores depict someone warm and friendly. Those who tend to be more egocentric and suspicious (or even shy), tend to score lower.

5. Neuroticism:

Emotional stability can reveal a lot about the likelihood of someone developing moodiness and anxiety. High scores on neuroticism indicate someone who is less-assured, and low scores describe a person who is calm and confident.
(Westerhoff, 2008)

These categories serve as an umbrella that influences other personality areas, such as:

-Openness: imagination; feelings; actions; ideas; values, adventurousness, artistic interests, etc.

-Conscientiousness: order; self-discipline; competence; achievement-striving, etc.

-Extraversion: warmth; friendliness; assertiveness; activity level; positive emotions; etc.

-Agreeableness: trust; compliance; modesty; altruism; sympathy; cooperation; etc.

-Neuroticism: hostility; depression; impulsiveness; anger; vulnerability; self-consciousness; etc.

(ETS, 2012)

Those wishing to know their OCEAN results can take any of the following quizzes:

1. The Big Five Personality Test –
https://www.truity.com/test/big-five-personality-test

2. Another Big Five Personality Test –
https://www.psychologytoday.com/tests/personality/big-five-personality-
test

3. OCEAN Big Five –
 https://ocean.cambridgeanalytica.org

4. Ten Item Personality Measure –
 https://gosling.psy.utexas.edu/scales-weve-developed/ten-item-
personality-measure-tipi 
 (this one is available in different languages)

Pro:

Unlike the MBTI, which tries to distinguish types of personality, the Big Five understands that individuals possess certain traits, which need to be measured on a continuum. It is difficult to be only on one or the other side of the spectrum. For instance, saying that extroverts absorb energy when interacting with others, while identifying introverts as those who expend energy when interacting with the outside world is false, as both get energy from their interpersonal relations. (Grant, 2015)

“The Big Five structure captures, at a broad level of abstraction, the commonalities among most of the existing systems of personality description, and provides an integrative descriptive model for personality research.” (John & Srivastava, 1999)

Thanks to its scaling, versus profiling, type of nature, this personality assessment tool can provide a certain type of flexibility and versatility, which has enabled researchers to examine the influence of these traits on diverse areas of life: mental health, finances, relationships, etc.

And for the most part, these traits do yield long-term stability. Specifically, in a 9 year study, there was “moderate to high [stability], ranging from 0.73 to 0.97 in men and from 0.65 to 0.95 in women. The highest gender-equal stability was found for Openness to Experience and the lowest for Conscientiousness.” (Rantanen, Metsapelto, Feldt, Pulkkinen, & Kokko, 2007)

More specifically, men showed more stability for traits like: neuroticism and extraversion, while women showed more stability for traits like: openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness.

Con:

Despite its stability and usefulness, the tool does have its flaws.

Here are a few:

1. Too big to fail

As mentioned earlier, the beauty, as well as the limitation of this tool, is in its big picture snapshot of personality traits. A good analogy to explain this is the categorization of living organisms into plants or animals. While it’s helpful for certain distinctions, it is not helpful for “value predicting specific behaviors of a particular individual.” (John, Naumann, & Soto, 2008)

2. Not so universal

While there has been evidence-based research to support the validity of the tool in over 50 countries, flaws in translation and applicability to non-English speaking cultures can be found. This results in skewed scores, as was demonstrated by the research conducted with a small South American tribe. (Dingfelder, 2013)

C) PEN Model

Developed by Hans Eysenck, this model looks at the biological factors that trigger or influence the personality. The three focal traits examined by this assessment are: psychoticism, extroversion, and neuroticism. (Waude, 2017)

The identified traits suggest the following:

1. Psychoticism

This trait is associated with psychotic episodes (such as breakdowns), as well as aggression. It leads to: hostile, reckless, inconsiderate, non-conforming, tough-minded and impulsive behaviors. Higher levels of testosterone are associated with higher scores in this area.
(SAPA Project Test, 1999)

2. Extraversion

Individuals with high levels of extraversion are more outgoing, talkative, and desire external stimuli. Higher stimulation usually occurs as a result of increased cortical arousal, and can be measured through: skin conductance, brains waves or sweating.

3. Neuroticism

Those with high neuroticism are more prone to depression and anxiety. It is activated by the sympathetic nervous system, as is responsible for the flight-or-fight response. This can be measured through: heart rate, blood pressure, cold hands, sweating, and muscular tension.

There are four possible quadrants that individuals can fall into:

a) stable extroverts – depicted by their talkative, easygoing, lively, carefree, and leadership traits

b) unstable extroverts – depicted by touchy, restless, impulsive and irresponsible traits

c) stable introverts – depicted by calm, reliable, peaceful, thoughtful and passive traits

d) unstable introverts – depicted by reserved, pessimistic, rigid, anxious and moody traits

Those interested in taking this assessment, can do so here.

Pro:

The model looks at both descriptive and causal effects. It also examines three specific dimensions, making it easy to understand. And has demonstrated test-retest reliability.

In fact, when specifically examining the pattern of moods, this assessment is able to predict certain outcomes. For instance, the questionnaire can predict significant associations with anxiety. “Focusing on the item of “Does your mood often go up and down?” showed a statistically significant association with melancholia and anxiety for patients with a positive score on this item.” (Bech, Lunde, & Moller, 2012)

Some researchers suggest that it is possible to discriminate between personality dimensions on the basis of genetic attributes. “For Extraversion items, we found both additive gene action and dominance. Neuroticism items appeared to show purely additive genetic inheritance. Items from both the Lie scale and the Psychoticism scale were influenced by shared environmental effects, but for the Psychoticism items these shared environmental effects appeared to be largely restricted to males.” (Heath, Jardine, Eaves & Martin, 1988)

Con:

Like most personality trait assessments, PEN is unable to predict future behaviors of an individual, even if their personality is better understood.

And there are certain limits. “Extroverts are less prone to conditioning. And this tendency increases with high N scores. Therefore, higher scores on E and N will be obtained by antisocial personalities. Neurotic and extroverted personalities are less susceptible to the socialization process, and hence they represent a vulnerable personality. Last, but not least, P always emerges as a distinctive feature of antisocial people. Several items of the P scale tap behaviors usually associated with crime.” (Rebollo, Herrera & Colom, 2002)

The findings demonstrate that, since personality traits are influenced by heredity, it is mainly through character and conditioning that a change can be developed in an individual. For instance, those who are more prone to fear and shyness, can be taught coping techniques that are more congruent with social norms, allowing for better communication and integration to society. Yet, the motivation for such change, and the desire for an expanded consciousness, can only come from the person them self.

Examples of Positive and Negative Characteristics

Now that we have a much better understanding of the differences between personality and character, we can dive deeper and examine the characteristics associated with positive and negative traits.

Here are some definitions that will help frame our discussion and provide a more clear context:

trait: the distinguishable quality of an individuals’ nature

characteristic: a distinguishable attribute that helps identify traits (ex: generosity)

character: a group of characteristics possessed by an individual (influenced by values/beliefs)

personality: the visible aspect of one’s character (influenced by genes, and mostly immutable)

The collective research on personality has led to findings that seem to suggest theories, which hold true for the majority of the tested population. They help clarify the behaviors that are more conducive to well-being. A majority of them help with cultivating resilience towards external stimuli.

Another way to interpret this is with the concept of mental strength. This ability is acquired by focusing on things under personal command, which reinforces the internal locus of control.

The behaviors that lead to mental strength are identified below (Morin, 2013):

1. Mentally strong people don’t feel sorry for themselves, instead they take responsibility for their own life.

2. They don’t give away their power to others, and thus maintain a control on their emotions.

3. Individuals with mental toughness embrace change, and are open to being flexible.

4. Control is placed on things under the person’s influence, such as their attitude.

5. Pleasing everyone is not a priority. While being kind and fair is important, making everyone happy is not.

6. There is a motivation towards making calculated risks.

7. Living in the past is no fun, instead mentally strong people focus on the present and make plans for the future.

8. Learning from past mistakes is important. Such individuals try to make better decisions in the future, and try not to repeat previous missteps.

9. They demonstrate an ability to appreciate and celebrate the success of other people.

10. They don’t give up after a failure, instead they keep trying until they get it right.

11. Mentally strong people tolerate being alone and staying in silence.

12. They don’t feel that the world owe’s them something, instead they create opportunities by utilizing their own talents and merits.

13. Real change takes time, and mentally strong individuals understand this, so they’re patient.

These behaviors are positively supported by characteristics such as:

Tenacity – not giving up when things get tough, or when problems arise
Confidence – belief in personal ability to find solutions to challenges
Optimism – the perception that the odds are in one’s favor
Adaptability – openness to new inputs and ideas
Self-Awareness – the ability to shift perspective
Reliability – following through with promises and goals
Responsibility – owning up to personal mistakes and errors
Well-being – making personal mental and physical health a priority

These and other characteristics help contribute to strong mental health.
(Half, 2016)

This supports the idea that openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness provide the foundation on which changes and challenges are welcomed, not shunned. In turn, this helps open doors to new possibilities and opportunities.

In specific, “those whose personality tendencies tend toward empathy, cooperation, trust, and modesty (Costa & Widiger, 2002) are found to be more intrinsically motivated and find enjoyment through efforts they exert in the completion of tasks or in problem-solving. Possessing a proclivity toward mastery-approach orientation, these individuals will not shy away from challenging situations, and their desire to tackle challenges is greater than their fear of appearing unknowledgeable in front of others. In other words, they approach challenges with the full intent of mastering them.”
(Watson, 2012)

The opposite of open-minded, calm, conscientious and agreeable characteristics, are those described by judgment, neuroticism, and an external locus of control. Some behaviors that fall in this category are:

1. Inability to accept setbacks.
2. Lack of clarity and decision making.
3. Low capacity for critical thinking.
4. Failing to build strong interpersonal relations.
5. Always staying in the comfort zone.
6. Helplessness and absence of persistence.
7. Tendency to lean towards pessimism.
8. Weak imagination, and an inability to visualize desired outcomes.
(Cardone, 2011)

Individuals who score highly on neuroticism, who display narcism, are emotionally distant, angry, hostile, inflexible and have inflated egos. These people tend to display the behaviors above. Yet one key differentiator to such negative traits, according to some studies, is self-control. “The more conscientious or prudent people are–no matter their other characteristics–the less likely they’ll be drawn toward harmful or illegal activities.”
(Chamorro-Premuzic, 2016)

Therefore, by increasing one’s self-awareness, individuals can spot their shortcomings and adopt habits to help balance out their personality traits. In turn, this helps them thrive in our ever-changing society.

A Take Home Message

The above research suggests that while there are certain things beyond our control, such as personality traits, as they are hereditary, the things we value and believe in can and do shape our character.

Expanding self-awareness is likely the first step in gaining control and understanding of life, and our role in it. So it’s no wonder that “the most successful people are the most self-aware people.” (Rosenfeld, 2016)

At the same time, understanding an individuals personality is helpful when identifying whether that person is a good fit for the company. And while there are many personality assessment tools to choose from, some are more consistent than others.

Cultivating an open, agreeable, and conscientious environment, whether in the office, or at home, can help create values that are more conducive and supportive of growth, and success. Using visualization tools to inspire, motivate and spark an interest for change is vital when aiming to align individuals and corporations towards a specific goal or mission.

Here is a great video by Dan Gilbert to help summarize this message:

While it’s true that our personality traits are hereditary, we do have the power to change. The idea that we are programmed for life and can’t change is not true. Our beliefs and values are not black or white, they adapt to our experiences, and are heavily influenced by the different interactions and situations we engage in.

“We are profoundly influenced by the situations that we are exposed to, our behavior does change from situation to situation, making personality less stable than we might expect. And yet personality does matter—we can, in many cases, use personality measures to predict behavior across situations.” (Introduction to Psychology, 2017)

That’s because time is a powerful tool. We are not static creatures, and just like nature, we are constantly changing. It is up to us to decide who we want to grow into.

The best way to do that is to take note of where we currently are, and then imagine where we want to go.

If change is the only constant, then the most successful people are those who control their own transformations.

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