Behavior vs. Personality: Determining The Best Workplace Assessment


For many leaders, effectively working with coworkers, supervisors, subordinates, and teams can be a persistent and confusing struggle. This struggle can arise from varying factors including lack of role clarity, responsibility overload, and misaligned values. But there is one aspect of effectively working with others that can (and should) be quantified and concretely addressed to increase productivity: behavior. In our experience, many people confuse the concept of behavior with the concept of personality. The challenge is that personality – while popularized through assessments like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator – is a relatively subjective and broad concept. However behavior, which is often considered an aspect of personality, is measurable and more easily applied to leadership development and the world of work.

This is why at Cleaver Company, we believe behavior matters more in workplace profiling than personality. By understanding behavior, we are able to understand how we (and others) respond to our environment and make adjustments to that response that improves our leadership and ability to effectively work with others.

The Difference Between Behavior and Personality

While personality has a subjective definition that can encompass everything from cognition to emotion to human intangibles, behavior is narrowly defined as our response to our environment. This broad interpretation of personality is why assessments like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator have come under criticism for their effectiveness, especially in the workplace.

The study of behavior, on the other hand, is based on binary elements of perception and response, which makes it easier to quantify and study. Our ability to effectively assess behavior is due in large part to the work of William M. Marston, an early 20th century psychologist and researcher. In addition to creating the Wonder Woman comic, Marston was responsible for trailblazing the study and research of normal human behavior and laid the foundation for our Cleaver DISC Profile tool. From his research, Marston proposed that all individuals will view any situation and/or environment as either favorable or antagonistic (unfavorable), which in turn will yield an active or passive response. Or, more simply stated, that our behavior represents “how” we approach and complete various tasks, like meeting a deadline.

The Value of Understanding Behavior

The challenge is that each individual will respond differently to his or her environment, and often times do not have the self-knowledge or insight to predict how he or she will behave. For example, under the pressure of a deadline, we may lash out or we could shut down. Depending on whether we perceive the deadline as favorable or unfavorable, we may also feel excited or negatively energized by it. This myriad range of behavioral differences impacts how we will complete tasks and also how we will interpret the behavior of others related to task completion. Thus, conflicts and inefficiency emerge and – too often – are the norm for leaders, even at the best organizations.

However, by utilizing behavioral profiling tools like the Cleaver DISC Profile, we can begin to better understand our own behavior as well as each other’s, and in turn lead and work more effectively. And while it might be valuable to understand all the intangible and subjective elements of our personalities, there is no doubt that in the world of work our behavior - how tasks get completed - is a more immediately valuable and actionable focus for leaders.

Photo courtesy of David Andersen via Flickr