Please let me out of your box
A lesson on teamwork and personality types in my project management class, including various tests to determine what kind of personality you are, brought me back to an unpleasant state of mind. Feeling angry, frustrated, sad, and powerless to effect the change in the world that I would love to see.
It also made me want to write this article, and share my words of wisdom.
Most of us have probably tried to fill out a personality test in connection with a job application, I always fear this part of the application process. It is the part where the company would like to put me in a box, to judge who I am and how I would fit in before they have even met me. People say they only use the personality tests as guidelines, as conversation starters to learn, and possibly understand, their colleagues better, never to judge. They assure me that they are not taking the test results literally and they don’t put people into boxes based on the results, yet they also tell me how they hang each persons test on their respective desks – and how great it is to be able to know how to deal with, and communicate with a personality like this or that! To me that sounds very much like looking at the test results as some kind of absolute truth, an instruction manual to each of your employees/co-workers. How wonderful, now we can put everyone in the box where they belong, and the world will make sense once again…
Personally I am allergic to boxes, not just because I am a teacher, and have learned about the Rosenthal effect/pygmalion effect or whatever you want to call it. The phenomenon whereby wither high or low expectations, actually leads to a performance matching these expectations. I had a piano teacher when I was a kid, she told me I was hopeless and would never be any good at playing piano. Consequently I became so nervous whenever she was in the room, that it was quite impossible for me to play anything. But even more important is the fact that I firmly believe that people are complex beings; I hate the cold, but I love skiing, I am scared of heights, but I like rock climbing, I love summer, sun and beaches, but I get a heatstroke if the temperature gets to high, my body is simply best suited for a constant temperature between 22º and 27º Celsius.
When you try to understand people by placing them in a small box, you become blind to any part of them that doesn’t fit in that box.
All is not well that starts well
A classmate talked me into giving on of these tests another chance, really trying to make a choice and answer the questions, exaggerating my choices and never opting for the in-between ratings, so I sat down with my computer and began to answer questions. It all started out fairly well, I was proud of myself for clicking either “Completely agree” or “Completely disagree” to every question, even if I didn’t really completely agree or disagree. But all is not well just because it starts well, and after about 20 questions I reached a point where the computer wanted to put me in a box. At this point a message popped up: 10 answers point to you being an extrovert, 10 answers points to you being an introvert, to move on to the next line of questions you must choose whether you are an introvert or an extrovert… and just how am I supposed to choose that with a test result of 50/50, and when I myself believe I am both, all depending on the situation and the people involved.
I am very much an extrovert, in the sense that I love being social and meeting new people, for short periods of time that is, when I have the energy for it. I am also very much an introvert, in the sense that being together with other people drains me of energy, in some situations I even get claustrophobic when surrounded by too many people. I get so tired and I need my alone time to clear my head and recharge my batteries.
I am creative, full of new ideas and at times spontaneous, I am practical and I like working with my hands making things, painting and sewing, I am an artist. – I am also a good math teacher, a very logical and analytical person. These are not opposites to me, as they seem to be to many people.
Back to my original question…
When talking about this with someone from another class, she proceeded to ask me: “but then tell me how do you hang your toilet paper roll, paper hanging over or under?” Over meaning that the paper feeds out over the top, under meaning that the paper comes out from underneath, end hanging against the wall. My answer was very short: “I really don’t care”, this was obviously not the answer she had expected. She had expected me to shoos, according to her theory, people who hang the toilet paper under are introverts and people who hang it over are extroverts.
I guess my answer supports my claim to be both!