The danger of personal assessment tests

Years ago I attended a Myers Briggs Type Indictor (MBTI) assessment training. It was one of those “date” things you do to show your spouse you’ll take one for the team and go to something only because they want to go. Anna went because she had a deep interest in this particular assessment. I went because I had a deep interest in her.

The danger of personal assessment tests

But I was a misfit among the fifty or so that gathered that evening. Despite my personality type being in the majority of the general population, in that overly enthusiastic audience I was alone; or nearly so. Only one other guy in my “quadrant” was there. Apparently, he was on a date too. Explaining our minority status, the instructor informed us that those with our type quadrant don’t like assessments. (And, unlike me, they probably didn’t marry among the tiny sliver that does.)

Perhaps, like me, you’re not naturally drawn to taking personal assessments. You’d rather not be grilled about whether it’s better to merciful or just (one of the MBTI questions). Or anything else for that matter. And you’re perplexed why anyone would.

There’s several good reasons for this line of thinking. Assessment tests can have some serious drawbacks. Over-reliance on them can cause you to:

Limit your options. You might take an assessment and believe that the instrument is all knowing. Among the range of possibilities, it’s nailed what’s right for you. Because it so accurately describes your current dispositions, you’d be inclined to blindly trust it as forecasting tool as well.

Limit other people. Assessment tests help us better understand others and ourselves. But over exuberant assessment enthusiasts too quickly classify others and treat them according to their presumed type—shortcutting, they think, the messy process of engaging with another to really know them.

Limit your energy. Assessment tests can carry an air of authority and definitiveness about them. It’s easy to conclude after reading your results that it’s describing the way you were made—and many of them characterize their outcomes this way. If that’s the way I’m wired, you might think, I’ll just focus on these strengths or traits. But modern research has shown that nearly every trait we once thought of as innate can be learned. Accepting a label, even one that may be appealing to you, can make you less inclined to explore new challenges or to believe that you’d be successful if you did.

Despite the drawbacks of assessments, they are in prolific use. One estimate I heard recently is that there are over 74,000 such assessments on the market. Why are they so popular? Well there’s some good reasons to use personal assessments and one test in particular that stands above the rest. I’ll discuss that in my next post.

What are some of the experiences you’ve had with personal assessment tests?

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2 thoughts on “The danger of personal assessment tests

  1. Larry, as a fan and practitioner of the StrengthsFinder solution I’ve found the results and the methodology to be quite freeing. As a person who suffers from SOS or shiny object syndrome it’s helped me to focus upon what I’m good at and releases me from worrying about those things that drain me. While I believe that some find these tools more beneficial than others I gain energy and excitement when I see folks light up with affirmation when they get and apply what they’ve learned from StrengthsFinder.

    • Thanks for your comment Dan! I agree. StrengthsFinder can be very helpful in bringing clarity around the preferences for the kind of work that is more likely to be in your sweet spot.

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