You need not have seen Steve Irwin in action to feel that he has an unusual personality as described by most people. He routinely went looking for situations that would give the common man, a nightmare – getting covered with biting green ants, swimming with sharks, grabbing poisonous snakes by the tail, which he does with boisterous enthusiasm.
The example of Steve Irwin points to the mystery of personality. While he could be found unusual in many respects, all individuals can be described in terms of characteristics that make up their personalities. But how does one describe personality? Is it developed over time? Are we all born with a certain type of personality or is it experience that shapes us into who we are?
Defining Personality: Consistency and Distinctiveness
Psychologists have been asked such questions from a variety of perspectives. The study of personality has traditionally been dominated by theories that seek to give an understanding of wide varieties of behaviour. Our discussion will reflect why a manager might concern themselves with the personalities of the individuals they employ and the general benefits of understanding their personalities.
When one says that someone’s personality is optimistic in nature, what exactly does it mean? This assertion indicates that the individual has a fairly consistent tendency to behave in a cheerful, hopeful way, always looking that the bright side of things. Although, none are entirely consistent in behaviour, this quality of consistency across situations lies at the core concept of personality. To be manageable, workers must be known; to be known, they must be rendered visible.
Distinctiveness is also central to personality. Personality is used to explain why different people act differently in a similar situation. If you were stuck in an elevator with others, each might react differently. One perhaps would crack jokes to relieve tension while another might make ominous predictions that “we’ll never get out”. Another might be calmly trying to escape from the situation. These varied reactions of the individuals despite being stuck in the same situation occur because each person has their own characteristic personality. Everyone has characteristics seen in others but each person has his/her own distinctive set of personality traits.
Personality can be summed as
1) the stability of a individual’s behaviour over time and across situations (consistency) and 2) the behavioural differences among people reacting to similar situations.
Personality can be referred to as an individual’s unique constellation of consistent behavioural traits.
Personality Traits: Dispositions and Dimensions
Everyone makes remarks in the workplace. One might say “Elizabeth is conscientious.” Or you might comment that “Bob is too timid to succeed in that job.” Such descriptive statements are called personality traits. A personality trait is an inclination to behave in a particular way in a variety of situations. It can be represented by adjectives that describe dispositions like honesty, dependable, impulsive, anxious, excitable, friendly etc.
Most approaches to personality believe that some traits are more basic than others. For example, an individual’s tendency to be impulsive, restless, impatient could possibly be derived from a more basic tendency to be excitable. Psychologists took on the challenge to find the traits that form the core of personality. Raymond Cattell (1950, 1966, 1990) went for factor analysis, a statistical procedure, to reduce a list of Gordon Allport (1937) of 171 personality traits to just 16 basic dimensions of personality. In...