Your Personality - Lay 50% of the Blame on Your Parents

By: Robin McKay

During my selection seminars I spend time giving attendees a brief 101 on what science tells us about personality. Inevitably two questions always arise. Firstly, is personality stable and can it be changed? And, are we born with our personalities, or does our environment shape us as we grow?

Personality is stable after the age of about 18 years. Personal Psychologists have found that there is about a 4% difference between 18 and 20 years, but after we reach 20 we are "stuck" with who we are.

Can we change our personalities to "fit" certain situations? Yes, we can, but we will always revert back to "home-base". Let me give you an example. Suppose we had an administrator whose personality was very accommodating, they lacked high assertiveness and strong resilience.

The company they work for has suppliers who are dragging the chain with paying their accounts. The boss gives him a list of bad debtors and asks her to call all of these people and tell them their supplies have been stopped, effective immediately and they need to settle their account within 24 hours to reinstate delivery.

I bet this person is going to hate doing this task as it's not in their nature to be so forthright and aggressive, but they will force themselves to do it - its part of their job.
However, if they had to do this task day-in and day-out they would soon lose internal motivation and decide this job is not for them and leave.

An analogy for personality is folding your arms. People will always fold them the same way. But if asked to fold them the opposite way, they will find this difficult and uncomfortable - it can be done, but as soon as practical they will revert to a comfortable fold.

Moving to our second question, is personality genetic or environmentally shaped? In psychology this is the famous nature verses nurture debate. If you delve into the literature you will find many theories that basically explain a 60/40 balance. Toss a coin in the air to pick which way!

The Herald this week reported a new study completed by a team of psychologists at the University of Edinburgh, lead by New Zealander Tim Bates. This study found compelling evidence that our personality is equally influenced by our genes and the environment.

This team studied 1000 pairs of identical and fraternal twins. Because identical twins have the same genes and fraternal twins do not, the researchers could identify common genes that result in certain personality traits - they were concentrating on happiness.

What the study showed was that identical twins in a family were very similar in personality and in well-being, and by contrast, the fraternal twins were only half as similar. This finding strongly implicates genes as a major driver of personality traits. So, if you're a worry wart, you can lay 50% of the blame on your mum or dad and probably the other 50% on the way they brought you up!

As psychologists we have always known the huge role personality plays in a person's work performance. As a lay person at the coal face you can observe this in action every day. Stop right now and think about your problem employees. I bet the issue is attitude and or mental ability - the "who they are", not "what they know".

Most managers will always hire on aptitude, but fire on attitude. Personality influences attitude and attitude drives behaviour. The problem with most hiring managers is that they tend to rely on emotional judgement (gut feel) to assess attitude during the interview process.

It's impossible to "read" a person's personality when we first met them. Yes, as humans we are predisposed to do this - known as the flight or fight concept. Sometime we get it right, many times we get it wrong.

It is often dangerous to jump to instant conclusions. In psychology this is referred to as the Implicate Personality Theory. We tend to judge people by association - Anne is attractive, intelligent and (likeable/ not likeable), Matthew is bold, defiant and (extroverted/introverted), Sue is cheerful, positive and (attractive/unattractive).

When selecting new staff it's important to ascertain if the person has the knowledge, skills and experience to do the job. It is probably more important to understand how that knowledge, skill and experience will be put this into practice. What are their personality characteristics and mental abilities and does this 'fit' the job?

There are many personality and mental ability measures available. It's vitally important that you choose the right ones for the role and that they are designed specifically for selection. There are many cheap, or free, pop psychology tests available on the Net or sold by people with no psychological background.

Test reliability and validity is extremely important when choosing a test - by the way we like to call them assessments or profiles - a test implies pass or fail and assessments used in the selection process are about whether the person will 'fit' the job, not if they are a good, or bad person. Selection assessments are also not designed to highlight abnormal psychological behaviour.

Adding a valid personality and mental ability assessment, benchmarked to the job, to a multi rated behavioural based interview centred on the competencies for the role will ensure you get an excellent performing employee about 75% of the time.

Damn sight better odds than relying on a general meet and greet and unstructured interview that is at best a friendly chat - your odds of a successful hire here is about 15% at best. Which path do you want to go down?

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