Understanding & Working With Personality Diversity
By definition, personality is about how individuals are different than each other. Some psychologists even say that saying “personality diversity” is redundant.
While there are lots of different tests out there that you can take to learn about your personality (from the MBTI to the Big 5), personality research tells us that no human being fits “cleanly” into one “type” of personality. Each of the aspects of our personality is on a spectrum. For example, most people are neither 100% extroverted or 100% introverted, but rather somewhere in between—and most of us will behave a little more or less introverted or extroverted in different situations.
When it comes to collaborating with other people, however, it’s perhaps most useful to understand the different ways that our egos are diverse—or really, the different ways people are liable to react to situations that are stressful, and, depending on if the person is in a healthy place or a less healthy place, whether they’ll use their ego for good (e.g. contributing their unique personality to the group) or for bad (e.g. making things about themselves).
By understanding the diversity of what I call “ego personality,” we can be better equipped to make things NOT PERSONAL when we work with people who react differently to things than we normally would. Because understanding how different egos works can help us relate and realize that everyone’s human, even if they react differently.
The chart below gives a very basic primer on the different ways ego manifests in different personalities. Most people can identify pretty strongly with one or two of the ego types below—and most people can relate in some way to all of them. Take a look at the chart below and see what resonates with you, then proceed to the key explanations below!
A group of cognitively diverse people will have different personalities—and that is okay! The more we understand different personality types and the associated ego triggers, the more we can customize the way we work with each other.
Even people who grow up in exactly the same circumstances can have very different personalities. This is a dimension of diversity that we often overlook, and often don’t embrace in team settings.
And yet, personality diversity can be a huge addition to a team that is trying to traverse Problem Mountain together.
For a long time, people have assumed that certain dimensions of personality were simply more desirable—like extroversion, for example. However, research has shown that that’s not necessarily the case. Extroverts are made better by having introverts in their lives, and vise versa.
So it’s important to frame personality diversity as a potential benefit to a group, rather than to try to only gather up like personalities—or worse, try to get everyone to conform to one type of personality.
For this reason, personality tests shouldn’t be used to screen for people who “fit” a group, but rather to identify when people may “add” to a group because they roll differently.
The way we communicate with, persuade, and react to people is usually based on expectations about our own personality. But people with different personalities than us may not respond to that at all. Tailoring our communication based on our understanding of others’ personalities goes a long way.
We often mistake someone not responding in the way we expect as that person being uncooperative, unintelligent, or just bad. Reality is, often they are just cognitively different than us.
Understanding personality diversity can help us not jump to these kinds of conclusions.
Similarly, people with different personalities than us will often use different styles of communication and motivation than us.
It becomes immediately less off-putting when we default to presuming that communication issues are a matter of our different brains rather than the other person being awful.
The most basic way to categorize a person’s “ego personality” is by sensing the primary underlying negative emotion that drives them—or that they want to avoid. These are: Anger, Shame, and Fear.
As the diagram above illustrates (and your Ego Personality Report will show you, if you took the assessment), each of these three underlying negative emotions have sub-categories within them.
Most people have a sub-type or “wing” that is adjacent to their main type. If you are a 1, for example, your wing will either be 2 or 9.
Sometimes a person’s sub-type will cross between two of the negative emotions. A Type 4 with a 5 wing will mean that the person can be triggered by potentially feeling shame or fear.
It’s not always easy to tell what someone’s ego personality type is. The more you get to know someone’s personal story, the easier it gets. (Though it is easiest to spot someone’s type when they are behaving in a Controlling or Destructive state, because this is when the ego is most obvious and negative.)
The following cheat sheet explains what the different type and wing combinations typically look like, so you can identify this potentially in others
[insert type and wing chart]
Note that it’s important NOT TO BOX ANYONE INTO THEIR PERSONALITY TYPE. As we’ve explored, people have multiple identities and are multi-faceted. The ego is a tool like many other cognitive tools, and doesn’t completely define a person.
That said, the ego is not a helpful tool unless we are operating in a Creative/Good place.
Great cultures try to take personality diversity into account when designing rituals and establishing norms.
However, most cultures are driven by the personalities of the founders or leaders.
That means that cultures often have blind spots when it comes to including and getting meaningful benefit from those in the group who have different personalities.
The best leaders make a habit of consulting with people who roll differently than them before launching culture-related changes for their group—so they can make sure they’re not excluding or infringing on someone else’s personality in a way that will create resistance or power-reducing discrimination.