I was recently asked by a colleague, how she could talk to her client about why she
usually doesn’t use instruments in her work. I’ve heard from many practitioners who do
not use instruments, especially when doing work with Interaction Styles or Essential
Motivators (aka Temperament) alone. However, organizations have come to expect
instruments to be used. It is always a decision that the professional needs to make in
the diagnostic and contracting phases. I think instruments are very useful when working
with some populations who have little experience with self-reflection. However, as
people develop, they become more capable of self-reflection. Since I am usually working
with objectives that involve fostering development and developing an understanding of
others as much as developing an understanding of self, I tend to not use them.
Personality is so complex, that I use a process of collecting multiple data points, such as
participant responses to presentations of different patterns, feedback from others,
written materials, activities, cross checking against multiple models, and sometimes
including instrument results. In my experience and those of many other professionals
with years of client work, an instrument usually proves to be one of the weakest data
points for the following reasons:
- There seems to be a natural human tendency to believe in ‘tests.’ When the instrument results differ from their self-discovery experiences, people often discount their own experiences with far more data points than the instrument itself. Many abandon the experiences they’ve just had and blindly accept the instrument results. Then they wind up creating a story about themselves that doesn’t match who they are and may even make life-changing decisions that are not in line with their natures.
- All assessment methods have error and all instruments have an error rate. This error rate depends on a variety of factors including item construction, scoring, and other technical aspects of instrument development. It also depends on what reference points the individual takes when completing it. If at work, then the work self may be what is reported even though that may not be the individual’s natural self. Other known factors are extreme stress, group pressure, stages of development and many more.
- Instruments often don’t get the results we want because clients try to game the questions. It seems that instruments feel like ‘tests’ that can be used to put people in a box, so the clients can become guarded in their responses. Of course, this happens most often when the instrument is required for participation in a mandatory program and that’s another topic altogether.
Most importantly, in my work, I am teaching the skills of self-awareness, self-
reflection, self-regulation—all important aspects of emotional intelligence and social
intelligence. These skills are better taught through self-discovery than through
instruments. The self-discovery process leads to more ownership of the results,
therefore more self-authoring. Additionally, if people mentally “try on” all the patterns
presented, they are more likely to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for
those who are different from themselves. This leads to perspective taking, which is one
of the key skills needed in today’s world.
So, to ‘test or not to test’ is an important question. How will you resolve it?