Psychometric tools: do we need one?
Since humans started to think cognitively, there has been a strong interest in trying to find out what makes us tick. Arguably the first personality test was when the Greeks came up with the four humours to categorise character and personality. And since the 1940s it has become a staple of both the business and personal development worlds. We can take a test, complete a questionnaire, and find out “who we are”!
We know we can take these tests, but the real questions are: are they a good idea? Which are any good? Read on to find out our view…
Psychometric tools: a definition?
Effectively, psychometrics are a way of measuring who we are or who we could be. Helping us to understand ourselves better and our interactions with others. They range from the relatively trivial, to the pseudoscientific, from the highly researched to the opposite! Often the method involves us filling in a questionnaire, with the results shown in the form putting us into some categories or attaching some key words to describe our personalities.
Initially, psychometrics were based on the work of Carl Jung, and in particular his writing on psychological types, which introduced us to the language of the introvert and extrovert, the thinker vs the feeler. The next development was by Gordon Allport and colleagues, who discovered trait theories, ways of defining our key traits. Suddenly the categories went from 4 to 16! Several further developments, including most recently the claims of new psychometrics to be based on neuroscience.
Pros and cons of using a psychometric tool
It is not hard to find a psychometric tool, or a version of one. On dating sites, they pop up, on social media sites as “fun” activities. And more seriously, in recruitment for both jobs and academic institutions. There are two elements to this: for us to find out about ourselves, and for others to find out about us.
- We may learn something completely new about ourselves.
- It may explain a behaviour that we want to change.
- It may be our first opportunity to consider this aspect of personal development.
- It may help us to understand our relationships, both with ourselves and with other people.
- It may provide reassurance that some of our quirkier or more troubling behaviours are traits shared with other people, so aren’t that unusual after all!
- It may pigeonhole us, and make us believe we can’t change.
- It may be inaccurate, and misrepresent us.
- It may be used against us (a leader I was coaching gave false answers on his questionnaire, for fear that the psychometric may be used against him by his bosses).
- It may simply not be clear, not have much meaning, or much impact for us.
- Psychometrics aren’t the only way of us learning about ourselves.
How to choose the best psychometric tool to use
There are so many psychometric tools on the market – with two new ones coming out every week - that it is hard to know where to start. Of course, we can ask friends and colleagues for a recommendation. Or there may be one that your organisation prefers. In any case, it is worth having a checklist to help make an informed choice:
- Is it on the BPS approved list of psychometric tools? (the official list of approved tools)
- Is the pricing reasonable? They can range from a tenner to hundreds of pounds.
- Can I try before I buy?
- Do they publish validity data on how they have put the psychometric together?
- Can I use it on your own, rather than needing an expert to help you interpret it?
- Is the report readable, simple enough and accessible? (one psychometric I really like unfortunately presents as a 96-page report – ouch!)
- Does it measure us in a useful way? i.e. Not putting us in a box but giving us choices of who we could be, measuring us in a range of circumstances (everyday vs under pressure, for example), recognising we may have opposites at the same time (be a bit extrovert and a bit introvert).
- Can I see a sample report?
- Can I find someone who has taken the test and actually has used the results in a helpful way?
There are hundreds of different tools, so it is not the right place to list them all here! Some that coaches like to use with clients include:
Type and trait: Myers Briggs, Insights, DISC, Hogan
Big 5: Lumina Spark
Strengths based: Strength deployment inventory; Strengthscope; Strengthfinder
How do coaches use psychometrics?
If you want to bring your psychometric to coaching, or your coach asks you to undertake a psychometric, the possibilities of how they will be used include:
- Profiling then discussing - you will undertake a psychometric at the beginning or during the coaching process, and then discuss how the results and the type impacts on the issues that you are working on. Generally, it is the focus of one session, and may be returned to periodically, or may not.
- Profiling then underpinning you, as above, will undertake a psychometric at the beginning of the coaching process. And the first session will be used to unpick and understand your type. Then the profile and type play a strong role in the coaching, as a consistent form of reference.
- Coach expertise. You may not do any profiling, but the coach is qualified in a psychometric tool. So, when the coach is listening to you, they use their knowledge of the psychometric tool in the same way that they may use any other knowledge about human behaviour and psychology – to help understand you and to ask the next helpful question.
- Team mapping. With team coaching, all participants undertake the same psychometric test, and then results are used for 1:1 coaching and also for team mapping. This helps to understand relationship dynamics within the team.
Psychometrics can be a powerful way to help understand yourself well, to explore unexplained behaviours, and to build on your strengths. They can certainly be used in a positive, productive way. And also, as a multi – billion-pound industry, they can be a black hole, and a distraction. Buyer beware! My encouragement is to use a free one to find out if you like the principles (search: ”psychometric tests free” and you’ll find lots. Then if you choose to buy one, you’ll be better informed. Either way, enjoy this aspect of learning about yourself.