Style or Type?
DiSC® (and its near-twin Tracom’s “Social Styles”) aims to educate you about your preferred communication style, and it does so by asking a series of questions that you are expected to answer while keeping a specific, common work situation in mind. By doing this, DiSC® identifies behavior preferences (not personality types) that normally fit into one of four boxes (“Dominance/influence/Steadiness/Conscientiousness”). DiSC is provided in Japan by HRD through certified users.
Myers-Briggs (MBTI Step 1), based on Jungian psychology, asks 93 forced-choice questions and results in one of 16 “reported types.” Then, with the help of a certified practitioner, you can determine your “best fit” type. The 16 different types are made of the various combinations of eight dichotomies (Introverted/Extraverted, Sensing/Intuition, Thinking/Feeling, Judging/Perceiving). MBTI is available in Japan through certified users.
Or a Combination?
Lumina Spark, from Lumina Learning® is the newest psychometric assessment of the three. Lumina Spark combines elements of DiSC® and MBTI and asks 144 Likert-scale questions (from strongly agree to strongly disagree), some of which describe your personality, and others that focus on your behavior under various circumstances. The result with Lumina Spark is three different profiles: your “underlying,” “everyday,” and “overextended” personas. Lumina uses similar dichotomies as MBTI, including extraverted vs. introverted, but the other three use more everyday language (people vs. outcome focused, inspiration vs. discipline driven, big picture vs. down-to-earth thinking). The result is an individual report rather than a “type.” Lumina Learning® is now certifying users in Japan as well.
Why Use These Tools?
Over the years, I’ve heard just about every type (no pun intended) of response to these assessments. Paul B., a DiSC® champion, has taken the assessment seven times, and while his style has hardly changed, he found that sharing his communication style with his colleagues and subordinates has improved his leadership and self-awareness. Also, knowing his current colleagues’ styles, along with a refresher of how each of them likes to communicate, he has strengthened his relationships within his teams.
Paul is someone who really likes (and effectively uses) DiSC®. I’ve worked with and heard many similar positive responses to MBTI. Some go so far as to say the results and subsequent follow-ups changed the way they manage. And yet here’s one who was violently opposed to it. An MBA student of mine started off our review session with the following (paraphrased) rant: “I don’t like anything about MBTI. Carl Jung refused to endorse it. It has no validity. I see no point in discussing it.” Others (often SPs in MBTI terminology) do not like being “put in a box,” and thus might prefer Lumina Spark’s individual approach, as long as the “no boxers” are not against all assessments – like that feisty MBA student seemed to be.
I’ve seen vast differences between business and academic users of such psychometric tools: students and psychologists want to know if the tools are “valid and reliable” (that is, do they measure what they are supposed to measure and they are consistent over time), whereas business people want to know “if it works,” i.e., is there something practical to be taken as a result of the assessment? Since this is a business journal, I am assuming you’re more interested in the practical. And I promise you this: DiSC®, MBTI and Lumina Spark can all be of great practical use – or not!
A Few Right Ways to Use Psychometrics
The single best reason to use a psychometric assessment is not for applicant screening or for career promotions or the like. It is for “self-awareness.” Learning how and why you might clash with other people or tasks can help boost your own productivity. Learning what stresses you out versus what tunes you up can help you better plan your day, your week, and even your whole career. You will certainly shine brighter in your next interview, whether as the interviewer or the interviewee. How? By better knowing your strengths and potential blind spots as a communicator.
Within a team, you can also use the assessments to find out how others you work with prefer to communicate, what types of assignments they like, how to better use deadlines, what types of rewards work best, and many other insights.
Users of these types tools often misuse them. Unfortunately, some psychometric tools come out with incorrect assertions right on their websites; for example, the Hogan Personality Inventory’s description states that “extraverts are needed for sales positions; introverts for long distance truck drivers.” This is a common misuse of a personality tool – assuming that some personality characteristics automatically portend well for certain tasks. That may be a tendency (yes, many people in sales are extraverts), but I have several clients here in Tokyo whose best salespeople are introverts.
One consultant in town said that during his master’s degree in education, the professor used the MBTI and then asked why all the I’s (introverts) are in the program. “You need to be an extravert to be a good teacher.” Hogwash.
So the most common misuse is turning “type” into “stereotype.” A second misuse is deciding that the newly found insights generated from a psychometric tool now explain everything about a person you work with (or yourself!). “He’s a “D” (in DiSC®), so of course he thinks that way.”
For one thing, when talking about DiSC® or Social Styles, you’re best staying away from “he’s a” or “she’s a…” anything; they are style preferences, not personality descriptions. And secondly, even if talking about personality, such as with the MBTI or one of the Lumina colors, you’re better off confirming how the person views a given issue at a given time; the tests explain some but not all motivations and behaviors. The danger of creating armchair psychologists is actually quite real.
If your company is already using one of these (or other) tools, it’s a good idea to be familiar with the one they are using. Find a certified user/distributor and learn the language of that tool. It can help all of your communications and accelerate your personal development. And it can give your team the same company-wide common language and create deeper relationships as you explore the drivers behind different behaviors. As one of our clients said, “The best insight for me was in learning why I wasn’t getting along with one of my colleagues. It was like a light bulb going on!”
That light bulb shines brightest when using one of these powerful tools. As Jung said, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
If you’re managing a bilingual team, make sure you’re confident with the reports and facilitation done in both languages. DiSC®, MBTI and Lumina Spark all were originally developed in English, and all have been translated into Japanese.
Above all, note that these are self-development and self-awareness tools, first and foremost. If you believe (as I do) that self-awareness is a key leadership skill, invest in self-awareness from different angles. Be sure you know the tool that you would have your team use.
Lumina Spark is interesting to me due to its modern and individualized reports and the fact that one of its partners, Elizabeth Handover, is a fellow ACCJ member. After taking the assessment, I found it both consistent with the other assessments I’ve taken and also interesting to explore my three different personas – as well as my team’s, who are also certified in MBTI and DiSC®.
In terms of “time investment to benefit ratio,” that’s something you’ll want to assess for yourself. DiSC®, since it measures behavior, takes the least amount of time to administer and to understand. MBTI goes deeper into psychology and has nuanced terminology that requires native or near-speaker fluency, both for participants and facilitators. Lumina Spark delivers the most individualized of all the reports.
Whatever your own preference, I do recommend you find out more. Why? Because as the good doctor C.G. Jung said: “Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”