The Conversation

I'm new to the Conversation, which bills itself as "a collaboration between editors and academics to provide informed news analysis and commentary," but two recent pieces on personality testing caught my eye.

Particularly interesting, in my view, is that the Conversation published diametrically opposite positions on this issue. In the first piece, Nick Haslam, a professor of psychology, writes a thoughtful defense of personality testing in the workplace. In the second piece, Robert Spillane, a professor of management, compares personality testing to phrenology and dismisses it as ineffective at best and an existential Moebius strip at worst. 

Both writers are smart and articulate, and both pieces are worth reading. On balance, however, I find Haslam more persuasive. Spillane's existentialist/philosophical argument regarding personality as a social construction is interesting in its own right, but wholly irrelevant in practice.

It is a fact of nature that different people behave in different ways. Moreover, people behave in predictably different ways; a certain set of past behaviors suggests a likely set of future behaviors. Sure, a person may behave differently in one situation vs. another, but that's an environmental factor that can be incorporated in behavioral predictions. 

Moreover, who cares whether behaviors and personality are separately identifiable variables, or whether personality is a social construction? To take a concrete if stereotypical example, a manager expects certain behaviors from a salesperson and different behaviors from an accountant. The stereotypical accountant is unlikely to spontaneously transform into a gregarious, charismatic, effective salesperson. The stereotypical salesperson is unlikely to spontaneously transform into a quiet, analytical, detail-oriented accountant. Personality tests are useful tools to help organizations identify behavioral patterns, assign duties to those employees who are likely to enjoy and be good at them, reduce conflict, and create a more productive work environment. 

In short, I side with Haslan on this one. But then, as a purveyor of the DiSC personality test, I suppose I would have to, no?