Birkman logo Get Started

Personality: A Social Experience

Personality can be described as the combination of how we see ourselves, how most people see us, and what we need or prefer from those around us. It is also our natural response when we feel out of our element. Of course, we don’t exist in a vacuum, and neither does our “personality.” Our surroundings impact our social expectations—how we perceive and are perceived by others. But what drives the factors that make up these deeply rooted perceptions?

Mindset: Our Driving Force

Birkman VP of Product and Innovation, Amy Shepley, wrote an article in our customer resource center that inspired this blog. In this piece, Amy explains how our perceptual architecture is driven by the interactions between our desires and our responses to our environment. From this point of view, the confrontation of reality against our mindset—our unique beliefs of how the world should be and how we fit into it— can produce stress. Exploring mindset, especially our personality growth mindset allows us to go deeper into our individual behaviors and explore the complex interplay of our perceptions of the world and our role within it.

Our mindset rarely creates problems when we are alone. On our own, we can view the world through our unique perceptual filter and assume our thoughts are correct and more-or-less shared by others. However, the addition of one or more people introduces complexity because our mindset is now confronted by the differing ideas and views of another human. We know these differences are expected. Birkman personality assessment data shows that no two individuals share the exact same perceptions and behavioral profile. And since a life of isolation is not how most people desire to live, we must learn to navigate, manage, and most importantly, leverage, varying mindsets to maximize the insights we use when we make decisions and create output at work, and in life. To accomplish this openness to varying, deeply held, and conflicting viewpoints requires an environment of psychological safety, which is why it makes sense that 89% of adults say it’s essential for business leaders to create safe and respectful workplaces.

Understanding the Diversity of Personality in the Workplace

While diversity has become a priority to businesses in recent years, 
there is one type of diversity often overlooked: diversity of personality. A difference of perspective and personality within a team can, at first glance, appears to be a roadblock --- something we wish to remove to keep going. However, according to Forbes, cognitive diversity is actually what drives innovation and accelerates the velocity of success.

From an organizational standpoint, it's important to accept that conflict is inevitable. No matter how similar individuals may be, concrete and insistent mindsets are still challenged in social settings, causing unavoidable friction. Individuals must learn to explore the difference between their own perceptions and the others around them. When we make room for new views, we avoid allowing conflict to turn into team dysfunction. But this is easier said than done.

To illustrate our perceptual differences, let’s consider two internet phenomena involving perception that polarized the internet into two camps. Most recently, there was an audio clip of a recorded voice sounding like it was saying either "yanny" or "laurel." This became the subject of a heated debate. Coworkers, friends, and spouses argued to convince each other that their perception of this recording was in fact, reality. Three years prior, a similar situation had everyone questioning whether a viral photo of a dress was black and blue or gold and white. On both sides, people were appalled at the other side's ability to argue with "reality" and struggled to make room for a differing viewpoint.

When others challenge our personality growth mindset, we are forced to question what we consider fact and what we consider reality. We feel the stress, no matter how trivial the topic of discussion might be.

The Need for Psychological Safety and What’s at Stake

Thinking about these two digital age debates, it’s easy to see why many people won’t always raise their differing viewpoints in a work environment. We expect to hear from the bolder and more assertive personalities in an organization, but some personalities will be reluctant to speak up unless there is a clear sense of psychological safety visible in the work culture. The risk of not hearing those viewpoints might be the difference between organizational success and failure that can play out in the loss of profit, market share, or even lives.

To create the high-performing and innovative team you’re looking for, a first imperative is to create the right business culture for people of different mindsets to feel comfortable. One popular example today is the abundant use of Scrum for team collaboration in an agile landscape. In Scrum, the use of clear and simple ground rules, freedom for self-regulation, and communication that creates transparency and accountability, enables teams to hit goals and maximize outcomes. Done right, Scrum is a psychologically safe framework. It not only permits but empowers the inherent individual differences between team members to create shared success.  

Unlike the yanny/laurel debate, the world of business comes with higher stakes. Instead of having your opinion on the line, you have budgets, products, jobs, careers, and lives to consider. A successful company, team, and leader must understand the landscape of their own mindset while staying open to those who see the world differently. Self-awareness is the crucial foundation to successfully balancing the constantly moving dynamics of organizations. Creating an environment of psychological safety is critical.

In Amy Edmondson’s TED Talk on psychological safety, she states the idea that nobody wants to look ignorant, incompetent, intrusive, or negative. To avoid being perceived this way, people protect themselves by staying silent even when they have useful, or even vital, information and ideas. Sometimes this silence prevents the business from growing or pursuing innovation. In a worse case, this fear of speaking up can keep other group members from knowing things they should and need to know. “The problem here,” Edmondson states, “is that every time we withhold, we rob ourselves and our colleagues from small moments of learning.”

These moments occur every day in our workplace in passive and more direct ways. If you’ve experienced a meeting dominated by one voice, where other contributors sit silently, you have experienced a lack of psychological safety and should know you were likely to miss viewpoints. Silence can also be the result of a more direct situation, such as being yelled at or constantly pushed for mistakes or speaking up. If you are a leader and feel like your team doesn't contribute as much as you’d like them to, maybe the element of psychological safety is missing from the group. Consider building this within your team with three simple steps.

Three Simple Steps to Psychological Safety in Your Workplace

So how do you build psychological safety? It’s not as hard as you might think. According to Edmondson, there are three simple steps:

  1. First, frame projects, and work in general, as a learning problem by recognizing that there is uncertainty and interdependence, so the team must communicate and explore together to grow.
  2. Second, acknowledge your own fallibility in order to create freedom for open discussion. Example is a powerful form of teaching, so allowing your team to see that you are human and make mistakes allows them to feel more comfortable sharing the same.
  3. Finally, model curiosity to prove the necessity for voice within your team. Curiosity points to a need to learn, showing you do not have all the answers. Setting an environment that feels like a discussion where the team is seeking answers together will encourage open discussion.

These steps to create the best environment for your team can play out in a number of ways. Forbes offers 14 ways to encourage psychological safety including steps like bringing employees together, adopting a learning mindset, and promoting the value of listening and diversity.

Success as a Group Effort

For an organization to grow and innovate, individuals must be able to express thoughts, ideas, and opinions without fear of rejection or ridicule. Disagreements must be kept at a conversational level to keep everyone engaged and avoid alienation or fear. With self-awareness and open-mindedness held as the highest value, leaders can leverage the strengths of differing mindsets to produce the best solutions.

While creating a psychologically safe environment starts with the leader, it takes the cooperation of everyone on a team to succeed. The challenge of aligning the differing mindsets on your team can seem overwhelming, especially, because of our hidden perceptions. Personality assessments are an effective tool to help companies embark on this journey. Our clients use The Birkman Method assessment as a tool to increase self-awareness through a safe, neutral language that also spotlights the vast potential for our important and differing mindsets. Used to its fullest, Birkman allows for healthy, transparent conversations that enable organizations to boost morale and improve employee experience as they benefit from a more complete picture.

Register for The Birkman Method Certification

Gain access to over 40 reports, including the Birkman Signature Report, and data-driven insights to improve your organization or consulting practice.

Register to Attend

Featured Resource

Nav Resource Panel Webinar

Watch the webinar on demand.

Learn how shifting from feedback to feed forward helps you develop talent in real time.

Watch Webinar