Personality tests, categorisations and labels that describe our personality all have a place in the world and the workplace. I don't think labels such as "introvert" or "extrovert" necessarily have a place in my coaching sessions. Here's the reason...
I was having a coaching session with a relatively new coach who was using the grow model with me.
I was in the “Options” part. My goal was to carve-out more time to focus on projects I loved but I felt stuck in a routine that wasn’t geared towards that.
I like getting stuff done, that's just the way I am."
I paused. "I guess I could try and change it".
He responded with “how easy is it for you to change something that’s part of you?”
I nodded and carried on with the conversation.
But part of me didn't nod. Part of me thought I could if I wanted to enough. The comment stuck with me.
You see I’ve never believed personality is static or for that matter our values or needs.
Sure, we might have the propensity towards certain traits and characteristics. Attachment styles for example are often termed “plastic” (i.e. they do change-over time but it takes effort and consistency). I think that’s the case with anything.
At the same time, whenever I coach people I ask questions that help them unpack some of those labels a little more.
Introvert vs extrovert, emotional vs unflappable, unable to focus vs too focussed etc etc.
I do this because the more I coach, the more I find these terms are all very relative.
Of course, I have a need for seeing results and contribution. Everyone does.
At the same time we could have explored what that meant – how was I trying to meet this need in a work context? Were there other strategies could I use to get results in a way that also meant I could delegate more too? What was I assuming about work which meant I couldn’t take a different approach to my work? My need for autonomy met? What did working more collaboratively mean? What were the motivations behind that?
There were a tonne of questions which could have helped me see myself differently and maybe help me come-up with more helpful ways of thinking and acting too.
Whenever I have a client which says “that’s just the way I am” or tells me they're a specific "type of person" e.g. “I am an introvert”. I always try and explore a little more what that means. We often do this until we get to the specific situation that is being thought about or referred to. For example, after a few questions my client might end up saying something like: “I seem to second guess myself before speaking-up in meetings where there are predominantly men in the room and we are discussing a new topic. This is because I feel stressed about the context and the possible consequences of my interactions. This leads me to think I’m an introvert”.
Alternatively, I’ll ask my clients what they think introverts do and don’t do. If they didn’t have that label, what might they do differently? What other resources, skills and tools might they have access to if they had a different label. How might that help their situation?
The power of this technique is in the freedom and permission it gives a client to temporarily explore alternative ways of thinking about themselves. It can be used for any label too: I’m a “typical man” or “quite masculine” or “an alpha female” or “shy” or “ENTJ”.
There are endless ways to apply this technique provided the person asking the questions can do so in a kind and empathetic way. It can have dividends too. If there’s a fixed-meaning or label you realise you’ve applied to yourself or situation and you think this might help, ask your coach to try this with you.