Get out of your box!

by Amanda Knight

I’ve been ‘profiled’ a few times.  I’m an INFP, a red/blue hub who goes green under pressure, a plant and completer/finisher, a 37/10, with a ‘1111’ brain dominance, oh yes and I mustn’t forget that original profiling tool which has me down as a Cancerian with a Gemini moon!

So that makes me … an idealist, a flexible assertive nurturer who focuses on the facts when stressed, a blue sky thinker who ties up the loose ends, on a teacher/healer life path, happy to make decisions from her left or right brain, with a hard outer shell and soft white underbelly who emotionalises and intellectualises everything … 

When I look into the definitions a little closer, and compare them, I find that there appear to be some contradictions.  For example, my Myers-Briggs profile says I am an idealist, whereas the Herrmann Brain Dominance Indicator suggests I have the ideal decision making profile for a top executive …  And what’s going on with my Belbin profile ~ a plant AND a completer/finisher??  At first pass, these comparisons would appear to be incompatible.  So which one is the real me?

Imagine I was applying for a management position, and the interviewer was using just the Myers-Briggs profiling tool during the recruitment process to assess my suitability. They would immediately be given one view of my strengths and limitations, which would influence the questions they would ask (one of the main reasons for profiling during recruitment), and potentially lead them to a particular decision.

Indeed, this has happened to me.  Some years ago I was interviewed for a marketing executive position for a financial organisation.  During the interview process I completed an electronic profiling questionnaire.  At the subsequent interview, they seemed to focus quite a lot on my ability to handle conflict.  However they asked the question, I would respond in the same way ~ I would get people to sit around the table and talk things through.  I got the job, and later, the Personnel Manager took me through my profile results.  She explained that it suggested that I avoid conflict, which is why they needed to understand how I would handle this in a senior position.  Looking down the profile results, I was able to show her the ‘answer’.  The profile also identified how I am able to ‘see the bigger picture’.  I explained how this enabled me to deal with conflict.  Because I am able to see another’s view, as well as identify what is important for the business, I can empathise which tends to defuse an emotional situation, whilst keeping focused on the common goal.  She seemed to have an ‘ahah’ moment!

So how is profiling commonly used by employers, be it during the recruitment process or as a ‘development’ tool?

First, most organisations tend to favour a particular assessment tool, which means they could inadvertently limit their view, and potentially ‘pigeon hole’ the individual ~ and what happens if your ‘profile face’ doesn’t fit the required mould?  Secondly, the integrity of any profiling tool is dependent on the ability of the person interpreting the data to be completely objective and non-judgmental.  Many profile accreditation courses are run over a couple of days, with no qualifying criteria, and minimal ongoing quality control.  Suddenly everyone can become an ‘expert’, and start dabbling in people’s belief systems, irrespective of their level of knowledge and experience in people development.

So now we’re starting to discuss the ethics of how profiling should be used at work.  What about the potential for emotional fallout?  How can an assessor be certain that they have not reinforced a limiting belief within an individual, or perhaps even triggered an emotional crisis?

And who ‘owns’ the profiling data?  If the employer is paying for the assessment, and using it as part of their personnel management process, can they keep the results to themselves?  Also, for how long should they keep specific profiling results on file, how relevant are the results of a profile assessment, one year, 3 years, 5 years on?

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine was ‘invited’ by his employer to participate in a day’s assessment centre as part of his management development ~ he had been with the company for a number of years.  After the assessment, he asked to see all the different results of the various tests.  He was told that he could only have a summary, as the data belonged to the organisation, and not to him …  (sounds like not being able to access your medical records).  He pushed the issue as much as he could, to the point where he was potentially being perceived as a ‘troublemaker’ ~ the company would not budge.  All a bit ‘Big Brother’ wouldn’t you say?  I wonder what they were keeping from him, about himself?!  Thankfully, he’s moved on to bigger and better things …

Putting personal assessment to good use

So there are some pitfalls to be aware of.  But, put profiling in the right hands, for the right ends, and the results can be transformational.

What I have found enlightening in my own process of personal assessment has been identifying the commonalities that run through each of my profiles.  I believe that these threads indicate where my truth lies.  So I have come to enjoy this part of the personal development process.  I have been able to use it as a tool to help me discover the essence of me.

On a practical level it has also enabled me to explore what is meant by the terms that profiling tools often use such as ‘behaviours’, ‘preferences’, ‘beliefs’, and ‘values’.  By reflecting deeply, and by being honest with myself, I came to understand the workings of my own complicated web of behaviours, and the thoughts and underlying values and beliefs that drive them.  I have become my own case study and benchmark, and this has been invaluable to me in my work as a trainer.  After all, how can I expect others to challenge their beliefs and values, if I do not do so myself?

It has also empowered me.  I have learned to identify when I am creating my own barriers through limiting beliefs and negative feelings.  I have identified how and when I needlessly judge myself.  I have discovered how thoughts perpetuate the self-fulfilling prophecy.  I have found that I create my reality.

They say that knowledge is power ~ certainly self-knowledge is vital in maintaining your personal power in this uncertain and often ruthless world.

The problem with judgment …

The one thing that really concerns me about the plethora of assessment tools that abound is that they engender judgment.  You are a ‘feeler’, so obviously you can’t ‘think’.  You’re motivated by goals and winning, so you don’t care about people.  You lack resilience, compassion and creativity.  Either ‘you’re not right for the job’, or ‘you need to improve’.  The profile becomes ‘who you are’.

Because of this and what may be at stake career-wise, individuals can be tempted to second guess the ‘right’ answers.  Although profiling companies will claim that questionnaires cannot be ‘thrown’, and may include a ‘consistency’ result, how do you know if someone has truly answered honestly? 

There are 3 styles of profiling questionnaire: self report, ability testing and 360o feedback.

Self report measures the person’s self-perceptions ~ how they rate or see themselves.  Someone who has a high self regard is likely to score themselves quite highly, whereas another with low self-esteem is likely to have a negative view of themselves and score themselves lower.  Which one is right?  This raises the whole issue of ‘perception’ and what is reality.  Unfortunately we need another article to discuss this subject!

Ability testing assesses the ‘skills’ to measure a response against the ‘best’ answer.  ‘Best’ answers are usually made up of norms and expert opinions.  So in this instant your answer is being measured against what is probably society’s view of the ‘best’ answer.  Here we would need to commence a debate as to whether or not society or the general view is the ‘right’ view …

360o feedback is a relatively new concept where other people who work with you are asked to assess you.  This too has a potentially fatal flaw …

A person is asked to give feedback about you in a questionnaire.  But what does this person really know about you? Their ratings of your behaviour will be based upon their own observations, as well as their own biases.  They don't see you in all situations.  They don't know how you think, or what you feel.  Only you know that.  They will make their own judgements about what you say and what you mean when you communicate with them, depending on their perception of what is right and wrong.  So, their feedback will be subjective, a perception … again ‘not who you are’.  But, because at heart we are sensitive souls, this kind of feedback can, again, serve to reinforce our limiting beliefs about ourselves.  Perhaps if the 360o feedback is undertaken as a two-way process, then the differences in perception could be discussed in a more balanced way, ideally with a ‘mediator’, as a form of relationship counselling.  Certainly, any feedback from colleagues or managers should come as no surprise.  Grievances should not be stored up for the 360o feedback form.

Personally, I favour the self report measures, particularly in a development context.  If individuals are genuinely interested in gaining self-knowledge they are most likely to answer as accurately and honestly as possible.  And if not, you need to question why they need to create a different external view of themselves, or what they may have to lose.

So how can we ensure that personal assessment is accurate, empowering, and ethical?

Here are a few suggestions for the individual being profiled, and the assessor:  



Solution for the individual

Solution for the assessor

A profile gives just one view or aspect of the individual

Discover your uniqueness by doing a range of profiling tools and exploring the common threads ~ don’t stereotype yourself

Encourage ‘multiple assessment’ to explore uniqueness rather than stereotyping

Profiles work on different ‘levels’ ~ eg. behavioural, belief, emotional,

Understand that profiles work at different levels, and often confuse these levels too. Don’t feel stuck or believe you can’t change your behaviours, beliefs or emotional memory

Be very clear about the level of ‘human beingness’ the profile is assessing. Many confuse the levels, so do not be afraid to point out the misnomers in a profile’s accompanying literature

The integrity of the profiling tool is subject to the knowledge and awareness of the assessor

Question your assessor’s expertise ~ ask them what they know about human development

Understand the limitations of using just one profile, and do not judge the person by their results ~ practise on yourself

Profiles can reinforce beliefs however sensitively the results are fed back

Try not to judge yourself ~ a profile ‘is not who you are’, it is an indicator of behaviour and patterns. The same can be said for feedback from your colleagues

Be very aware of the words you use so that you do not inadvertently reinforce limiting beliefs. Think carefully about the benefits of 360o feedback

Profiles can keep people in their ‘boxes’ rather than encourage them to explore their potential (it can be very comfortable in that box)

Don’t use your profile type as an excuse for your behaviour ~ ask yourself why you can’t be a different type

Encourage people out of their comfortable preferences and help them explore their unlimited potential

Profiling questionnaires can be ‘thrown’

Are you answering honestly? If not, why is that ~ what are you scared of, what do you have to lose? Do you want to gain self knowledge ~ being honest with yourself is the only way?

If you suspect someone has tried to second guess the ‘right’ answers, take them through some of the questions as a development exercise. The questions themselves are as useful a development tool as the score itself

What are the objectives of the assessment ~ for the individual and the assessor?

Be sure of why you are doing the profile ~ who is going to benefit?

Why are you profiling others? If it is not for their development, is it ethical?

EQ - a new level of profiling

One of the latest profiling tools to emerge on the personal assessment scene is what’s known as an EQ profile.  EQ profiling is the assessment of ‘emotional intelligence’.  Emotional intelligence is fast becoming recognised as a significant indicator of performance in the workplace.

It is now accepted that ‘intelligence’ goes way beyond the traditional idea of just our ‘IQ’ ~ we can be ‘intelligent’ in a number of other ways.  Our emotional intelligence is made up of our level of self-knowledge and self-management, combined with our ability to understand others and manage relationships.  This impacts on our ability to achieve, to focus, to manage stress, to interact with others, to act with integrity, to be confident and assertive, and the list goes on.  

Peter Salovey and John Mayer first proposed their theory of emotional intelligence (EI) in 1990. Since then, a number of frameworks and EQ profiling tools have appeared, mostly from the States, where the concept of EI was thrust to the fore in 1995 by the publication of Dan Goleman’s book ‘Emotional Intelligence’.  

EQ profiling is different to the behavioural and psychometric tests commonly used in the workplace.  This is because it assesses your individual emotional competencies, rather than giving you an overall score or type.  So there’s no ‘box’ to be put in ~ which is a healthy start.  Furthermore, your emotional intelligence can be developed continuously, whatever your age.  So as you develop your emotional competency, and begin to perform differently and experience different results, so your EQ profile will change.  

The one caution that I would make with EQ profiling is that you are starting to look a little deeper, peeling away the layers of the human psyche.  The ‘ethical’ question becomes paramount.  

So, if you are looking to source EQ profiling or EI-based consultancy for your organisation, I would strongly recommend that you seek the independent advice of the Centre for Applied Emotional Intelligence (CAEI).  The Centre maintains a directory of approved EI consultants, trainers and accredited profiling experts ~ to remain in the directory you have to demonstrate ongoing development of your own EI, continued professional development and relevant workplace experience.  

The CAEI was set up by Gloucestershire-based psychologists Elizabeth Morris and Tim Sparrow, who have been the pioneers of EI in the UK.  The Centre has been established as an independent, self-regulatory organisation for assessing EI professionals in the corporate sector, with a stringent code of ethics and in-depth training courses in EI theory and application.  Elizabeth and Tim are accredited by the leading American EQ suppliers to provide their profiling services in the UK, and Tim has developed an EQ profiling tool for assessing individuals and teams which has been validated against a UK sample (removing the American bias found in the other systems).    

So what's the ideal?

For me, personal assessment should be about nurturing potential ~ helping individuals think outside of their boxes, enabling them to see themselves for the unique human beings that they are.

And the more profiles and the more varied their approach the better, to gain a greater understanding of the true capabilities of the individual.  

Using these tools to break down the barriers of limiting beliefs and negative feelings, and to enable us to make fewer judgements about ourselves and about others, gives us a greater chance to create positive, high-performing working environments where the common goal is king.  



Amanda Knight is a Human Development Consultant with a passion for understanding the potential and limitations of human performance.  She is a practising EI consultant and trainer, and much of her work is in collaboration with Activate, the New Forest based development training company who have a Centre of Excellence for outdoor experiential learning.  She can be contacted at  The Activate website is  

Amanda will be discussing the various aspects of Emotional Intelligence in subsequent editions of Nurturing Potential.  Further information on EI can be obtained from Amanda, or from Elizabeth Morris and Tim Sparrow through their website ~