As part of my company’s training, all employees are made to do personality tests. The purpose of these exercises is to understand yourself better in order to work to each other’s strengths and on your own weaknesses. I’ve done two tests so far – the Myer Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and Emergenetics, both of which are internationally used in corporations and relatively well-known.
These tests all have some scientific claims for credibility purposes, but I’d take it with a healthy pinch of salt. What is good enough for me though, is that they are meant to be assessment tools, not predictive tools. They cannot make claims about what you can or cannot do, will or will not.
Without elaborating too much on what the research methodologies are – in brief, the results I got were slightly perplexing. It told me things I already knew about myself – I think conceptually and strategically. I am good with possibilities and bad with details. I am also a rigid ass and not flexible to change. But there was something else, and this helped me to confront something I suspect I’ve been struggling with since school:
I am an introvert who is not good with people. (This combination is different from the results of some of my colleagues – people who are introverts AND good with people, or extroverts who are NOT good with people). I score low on people intuition, empathy and social awareness. In a work setting, that means I am likely to think big picture, analyze, plan and organise before I think about the people it affects. I am less likely to value team rapport and relationships and more likely to value bottom line, risks, control and procedure. For a sense of degree, my score on emergenetics indicates that I am 38% conceptual, 34% analytical, 24% structural and 4% social.
My boss had once taken a look at my results and said I am a perfect worker.
But its far from who I want to be as a person. While I know these results indicate preference and not competence, it has prompted me to think about the situations in which I feel most uncomfortable, frustrated or just plain stuck:
1) Disagreements, 2) Small Talk and 3) Gossip.
At the heart of it, whenever I am in these situations, I feel like I have to pretend to be somebody I am not. In disagreements, where two points of view collide, being friendly and funny (which I am not) really helps in easing the tension. In these situations I have a natural tendency to withdraw into my shell and mull over the exchange, but that often gives people the wrong impression that I am bearing a grudge, which is not true at all.
On top of that, being in an industry where I meet new people almost every day, I am also really inept at creating small talk. I feel pressure to appear like I am interested in trivial conversations. 8 out of 10 times – I don’t care to know about what their latest bag bargain was, or what they heard about someone dating someone.
There are no straightforward answers to social inadequacy. You can only act according to what you think is right to do. That brings me to a latin phrase I discovered last year while reading The Midnight Circus – Esse Quam Videri. It means, ‘To be, rather than to seem (to be)’.
Many times in my life I feel compelled to behave in a way which I believe will shape other people’s judgment of me positively, often mistaking their judgment of me as the person I think I am. I sometimes do things which I don’t always want to, for example – offering to take up a colleague’s share of work because they are meeting a deadline and behind schedule. I do it because I feel I should be a helpful team member, but it often leaves me feeling quite disgruntled. Why should I sacrifice my personal time to complete someone else’s assignment because they have poorer time management?
In my quest for happiness and learning how to be a better person, this philosophy of ‘being, rather than seeming’ has helped me to adjust my attitudes when making decisions like this. It’s not about addressing my inadequacy with pretense, or better acting skills. But instead, turning inward and asking myself why am I like this? Instead of just being helpful because social norms demand for me to do so, I should be helpful because I can and because I want to do so. If I become disgruntled, I should ask myself, am I feeling so because I am impatient and self-centered? Is that the kind of person I want to be?
Likewise when making small talk with acquaintances or when I am in disagreement with someone else. If what they are saying is not interesting, is it because I am being dismissive? Am I really, really listening to what they are saying? How can I be more sincere and well-meaning to the person who is talking to me?
And if I am pretending to be someone I am not, what am I trying to prove?
Harmony is the alignment of both intention and action. If my outward behavior is not in sync with my inner standing, then it’s about moderating either one to lead me to being the person I want to be. It’s funny how the process of seeking happiness, which starts off as being quite a selfish thing, is ultimately about cultivating love and generosity!
This philosophy has helped me a bit. I make my best effort to pay attention and empathize. On some days I still fail. It’s still a long way off to charming people’s socks off, but it’s my way of wanting to connect with people honestly. If this doesn’t help improve my ‘people’s skills’, then I am doomed because there is no way I can do anymore fake smiles :P