A Research Paper By Marine Erasmus, Purpose Coach, AUSTRALIA
Personality Assessments Introduction and Research Question
The use of personality and strength assessments in coaching is a complex subject. Research and opinions on appropriate use, value, and general accuracy abound. Some people hate them, others love them. I am particularly aware of the pitfalls of putting people in a box and often discounting the static nature of these assessments. However, I have generally found those tests useful and informative, both personally and professionally.
Given my personal growth experience, often stemming from discovery via one or more assessments, I am interested in using various of these questionnaires in my coaching practice. As such (and to narrow the research question), I set out to explore what purpose such assessments could serve for a client. Secondly, I chose four free online assessments to compare and asked some peer coaches for their opinions after completing those. The paper is structured accordingly and concludes that these assessments can indeed be helpful as a starting point in some coaching contexts. While keeping in mind the potential pitfalls, there is much self-awareness to be gained.
Potential Value and Purpose of Assessments
Even a high-level review or basic web search is indicative of the increased use of assessments in coaching over the past decade or two. There are no longer just one or two ‘big brand name’ assessments available, but many different styles and types. It is a field of study, and tool for various practitioners, that has gained in popularity and accessibility. Whereas previously, only some psychologists or career counselors would have used these, they are now widely accessible to most people with internet access. Podcasts, books, and blogs abound – many of these describing the value of using such assessments in coaching specifically.
- “Valid prediction of job performance and other work-related outcomes;
- Raised awareness of individual style, preferences, and capabilities;
- Open up new avenues for exploration;
- A platform for feedback, goal-setting, and planning for change;
- Monitoring and evaluation.”
Each of these listed benefits can be explored in detail, but it is particularly the increase in awareness of personal style that is the focus of this paper. Often clients are overwhelmed by perceived expectations of how they are supposed to behave or perform. Or they might feel stuck due to a limiting belief regarding their own perceived shortcomings, not looking towards the positive aspects of who they are and what they bring to the table. Learning about themselves, celebrating their strengths, and generally gaining awareness of their individuality can bring about lasting shifts in perspective.
The VIA Character Strengths survey (which is one of those discussed in more detail later in this paper) claims that “research shows that understanding and applying your strengths can help:
- Boost Confidence
- Increase Happiness
- Strengthen Relationships
- Manage Problems
- Reduce Stress
- Accomplish Goals
- Build Meaning and Purpose
- Improve Work Performance.”
Many of these outcomes are aligned with that of the coaching process itself, suggesting that the appropriate use of personality and strength assessments may fit well within coaching. However, an overreliance on these tools may also diminish the value of client-led realizations (one of the most powerful and unique aspects of the coaching discipline). A few of the concerns with personality and strength assessments are discussed next.
Potential Risks and Caution
A blog article by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) titled The Absolute Best Coaching Assessment, states the following:
The answer is simple: The absolute best coaching assessment lies on both sides of the coach’s head. It’s called the coach’s ears. Nothing takes the place of unfiltered information from the coachee. Why the emphasis on unfiltered? Because removing our filters—meaning, neutralizing the way we hear, understand and perceive information—is one of the most difficult, yet one of the most important things that a coach can do. Even though assessments have value in the coaching engagement, none of them should ever replace the coach’s curiosity, deep hearing and powerful questioning.…Does this mean that assessment tools should never be used in coaching? Quite the contrary. Assessments can add value, but they cannot and should not replace or impede the fundamental coaching process.
The article continues to describe the various biases that are likely to be introduced and cautions against the danger of always returning to the feedback from the assessment. At best, that information should be viewed as any other and evaluated objectively. The writer also believes that assessments should not be used early on in the coaching process, but only after the coaching relationship is well-established and with a specific purpose in mind.
Another article warns of the static nature of personality tests often based on old theories of a person not being able to change or work on these characteristics. “Personality tests pigeon-hole you into a simple ‘type’ and leave you to fend for yourself with a set of fixed personality traits that (according to personality theory) you can’t change. This doesn’t account for the complexity of an individual, nor does it capture a person’s potential for change, whether due to awareness, life events or coaching.”
In addition to the above concerns, specific clients may also have personal opinions about the use and value of completing such assessments which is important to consider and discuss beforehand. Notwithstanding the potential pitfalls and risks associated with the misuse or overreliance on personality and strength assessments, I am convinced that the benefits will in many instances outweigh the disadvantages for most clients. If used appropriately and cautiously, it could be at least an interesting platform for discussion and a springboard for growth and action. For my clients, the aim would always be to facilitate self-awareness and kick-start rich conversations that can lead to renewed perspectives that may also help to address limiting beliefs.
Comparison of Four Free Online Assessments
As part of my ongoing research and interest in this topic, I asked a handful of peer coaches to complete four free online assessments that I am considering using in my coaching practice. The aim was to gather information on a few key metrics that I deem important when deciding which assessments to use. Further, I requested feedback regarding its potential use in various coaching settings. (The goal was not to get a statistically significant set of data points or results that can be used more widely than anticipated here. The feedback was subjective and should be viewed as informative only.)
Participants were asked the following questions after completing each of the assessments:
Additionally, they were asked which of the four assessments they enjoyed most and why that was the case. Most relevant to the research topic though they were finally asked which of the assessments they think would be most beneficial for coaching, and in which context.
The Four Personality Assessments
The four assessments that were considered included 16Personalities, VIA character strengths, Four Tendencies, and Red Bull Wingfinder. Below are the website links, a brief description of each, and the collated feedback from my peer coaches.
Similar to most mainstream personality tests, this assessment is also based on the belief that there are generally four broad types of personalities. Without providing a complete literature review of the history and origin of personality tests, it is interesting to note that the idea that people can be grouped into four temperaments or personas was first recorded in 460 BC by Hippocrates.Since then, and specifically in the last century, many assessments have been built on research finding a similar pattern of four broad groups of personalities among the general population. Recently in 2018, this was scientifically proven by researchers from Northwestern University in the USA, finding that“at least four distinct clusters of personality types exist”.
16Personalities adds a little more complex than, for instance, tests like DISC, by further dividing the four main groups into another four sub-categories each – just like the well-known Myers-Briggs assessment. The descriptions of all 16 personality types are written in a fun, easily relatable style and are accessible without taking the online test. As was also evident from the feedback captured below, the descriptions are detailed and address many areas of life, including strengths and weaknesses, romantic relationships, friendships, parenthood, career paths, and workplace habits.
Responses From Collated Feedback: 16personalities
- The first thing that came to mind for participants was primarily split into two groups: on the one side, people were skeptical of the simplicity and the limited number of only 16 personality types being identified. In contrast, the other group commented on the extreme accuracy of the feedback.
- On average, it took participants around 10 minutes to complete the questionnaire (but much longer to read through and process the lengthy feedback).
- The questionnaire itself (not considering the feedback) received a median score of 3 out of 5 for comprehensiveness.
- It scored an average of 3 out of 5 for the enjoyment of the quiz.
- This assessment scored high in terms of how comprehensive the free feedback was – participants were split equally, scoring 4 and 5 out of 5.
- Noting that more than one of the participants gave this test a 5 out of 5 for feedback accuracy, the median response was 4 out of 5.
- Although a few participants gave a score of 5 out of 5 for gaining new insights about themselves, the median response was 2 out of 5. (Given that these were all peer coaches completing the questionnaire, I’m assuming a high level of self-awareness would have contributed to this lower score.)
- Most participants agreed that they would consider using this questionnaire for clients in the appropriate coaching context.
Based on this feedback and my own experience with the 16Personalities assessments, I find that this is one of the better free ones. It could easily be used in the proper coaching context and may even be completed within an extended session (although working through the comprehensive feedback may require extra time). The feedback is insightful and could be very useful in both personal and professional relational contexts.
On the website, it is stated that “The VIA Survey is the only free, scientific survey of character strengths in the world.” Notably, this assessment does not reference personality or temperament types but claims that there are 24 character strengths that all people possess in varying degrees and combinations. The use of this survey within the coaching context is specifically promoted.
Responses From Collated Feedback: Via Character Strengths
- Most participants experienced this assessment and its feedback positively, although it was also commented to perhaps be a bit “bland”.
- The survey took around 10-15 minutes to complete.
- Scoring the comprehensiveness of the questionnaire itself, all participants gave it either a 4 or 5 out of 5.
- When asked how they enjoyed the style and type of questions, the median response was 4 out of 5.
- The free feedback for this assessment was not perceived to be very comprehensive, scoring 2 out of 5 on average.
- Most participants scored the accuracy of the free feedback relatively high; with 4 out of 5 being the median response.
- In line with the feedback not being perceived as comprehensive, most participants did not feel that they gained new insights about themselves. On average, it was scored 2 out of 5.
- Responses were widespread on using this in the appropriate coaching context. It was commented that the full purchased report is likely to provide more learnings.
In sum, I find that many people are disappointed with the free results/ feedback from this survey. However, this may be due to high expectations given the popularity and ‘fame’ of this assessment, combined with not accessing the full report freely. Within a coaching context, I still think that this may provide unique insights not always captured in the more traditional personality tests. My personal experience was that it got me thinking about non-traditional strengths, and I found myself going back to the results repeatedly; in a way using them to understand certain thoughts and behavior. This is perhaps not the most exciting assessment, but worth exploring if character strengths are of particular interest to the client.
Gretchen Rubin, who developed this quiz, is undoubtedly one of the more well-known personas in the coaching world. She has sold millions of books, and her weekly podcast is highly awarded.The Four Tendencies quiz is based on her book with the same title. While Hippocrates’soriginal four temperaments come to mind again here, the central idea is explained more simplistically: it is based on how individuals respond to both outer and inner expectations.It is claimed that individuals generally respond to those expectations according to four broad categories; hence the four tendencies.
Responses From Collated Feedback: Four Tendencies
- When asking participants about the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about this quiz, most communicated slight disappointment. Barring one comment about it possibly being a useful tool for relationship coaching, most people probably expected more (based on previous interaction with Gretchen Rubin’s books, podcasts, etc.).
- This was one of the quicker assessments taking between 5 and 10 minutes to complete.
- The questionnaire was perceived to be comprehensive, with a median score of 4 out of 5.
- Regarding the style and type of questions used, most participants scored it 3 or 4 out of 5.
- With only one participant scoring the free feedback higher than 2 out of 5 in terms of comprehensiveness, this quiz scored low in this category (similar to the VIA character strengths survey).
- Despite not being very comprehensive, the accuracy of the (limited) feedback was perceived to be high (4 out of 5 on average).
- Again, most people did not feel they gained many new insights about themselves (2 out of 5 on average). Yet, one of the comments mentioned that it “opened their eyes to the other tendencies”.
- The majority of participants indicated that they would not consider using this questionnaire for their clients, scoring it 2 out of 5 on average.
The feedback from participants certainly surprised me, given the hype around this quiz. Although my experience was in line with the collated feedback described above, I thought others might find it more useful and insightful. Reading the book (together with the results from the quiz) will, of course, provide more personal learnings and growth opportunities. As such, I think that it will certainly be useful in some select coaching contexts, but perhaps not as a wider introductory tool or part of a welcome package when a client starts with coaching.
I came across this assessment in an ICA class when one of the students mentioned using it in his coaching practice with great success. Although this is another personality-test focussing on strengths, it is very different from the others considered in this paper – as is evident from the feedback below. The free report is a 20-page in-depth and individualized document that “gives you the tools and coaching to be even better.” [Emphasis added.]
Responses From Collated Feedback: Red Bull Wingfinder
- Thinking about this test, a few participants mentioned being skeptical of the brand being connected with a personality assessment. Others mentioned it is interesting and different (like my own experience).
- On the website, the assessment is said to take about 35 minutes. Most participants’ experience was in line with this time estimate, although a few took longer (myself included) and mentioned it possibly taking too
- Regarding how comprehensive the questionnaire was perceived to be, most participants scored it highly with either a 4 or 5 out of 5.
- The median response for how much people enjoyed the type and style of questions was also high (4 out of 5).
- Considering the 20-page report and the “talent passport” being provided, the free feedback was perceived to be comprehensive (median score of 4 out of 5).
- The accuracy, however, was reported to be a little less at an average of 3 out of 5.
- A median of 2 out of 5 indicated that most participants felt they did not gain significant new insights about themselves.
- Considering its use in the appropriate coaching context, responses were again widespread, averaging 3 out of 5.
As expected after completing the questionnaire myself, people complained about how long it took to work through all the questions. I have found though, that this is also personality dependent and that expectations could be managed pre-emptively for clients. This quiz received one of the highest scores for the enjoyment of the type and style of questions, which is truly very different and unique from most other types of personality assessments. Depending on the coach’s style and niche, this is probably one that could be used selectively and be explored in more detail over a few sessions. Especially given the “coaching plan” being provided (which essentially comprises areas for growth being identified), this could form a foundation for action planning and forward movement for the client.
Personality Assessments Findings
As mentioned previously, participants were also allowed to relay further thoughts and comments – specifically focussing on which of the four assessments they enjoyed most and which could potentially be helpful in a coaching context. Collated answers to those questions present a good summary for this paper.
The majority of participants mentioned the 16Personalities quiz either as being the most enjoyable or most useful for coaching, specifically given the detailed free feedback. The Red Bull Wingfinder assessment also stood out for many people, mentioning that this would be a particularly good one to use for visual learners (in one participant’s words, “for highly energetic big picture creative sort of characters”).
Even though all the participants had previously done some of these or other personality and strength assessments, most appreciated being reminded of character strengths and (renewed) realizations about themselves. For this reason, most participants said they might consider using it: as a starting place for clients who may not have done these types of assessments and want to start learning about themselves or focus on personal growth.
In conclusion, these types of assessments can provide value to clients and potentially serve different purposes in varying coaching contexts. While the tests reviewed are generally perceived to be accurate to some degree, I have found that even in those instances where a client’s beliefs about themselves differ from the assessment feedback, a rich and meaningful discussion regarding those differences can be insightful.
Lastly, as mentioned in the section on potential risks, it is important to not take these assessments as absolute truths of an unchangeable status quo, but rather as a platform for growth and self-awareness.
16personalities.com. Free personality test, type descriptions, relationship, and career advice | 16Personalities.
Campling, B. The truth about personality tests (according to a 20-year study).
LeBlanc, L. The Absolute Best Coaching Assessment - International Coaching Federation.
Passmore, J. Psychometrics in coaching. London: Kogan Page.
Redbull.com. n.d. Personality Test by Red Bull - find your strengths | Wingfinder.
Rubin, G., n.d. The Four Tendencies Quiz
Viacharacter.org. n.d. VIA Character Strengths Survey & Character Reports.
I would also like to thank my peer coaches who took the time to complete each of the assessments and provide feedback according to the requested format. This research paper would not have been possible without their help.