To Test or Not to Test? That is the question.

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I was recently asked by a colleague, how she could talk to her client about why she usually doesn’t use instruments in her work. I’ve heard from many practitioners who do not use instruments, especially when doing work with Interaction Styles or Temperament alone. However, organizations have come to expect instruments to be used. It is always a decision that the professional needs to make in the diagnostic and contracting phases. I think instruments are very useful when working with some populations who have little experience with self-reflection. However, as people develop, they become more capable of self-reflection. Since I am usually working with objectives that involve fostering development and developing an understanding of others as much as developing an understanding of self, I tend to not use them.

Personality is so complex, that I use a process of collecting multiple data points, such as participant responses to presentations of different patterns, feedback from others, written materials, activities, cross checking against multiple models, and sometimes including instrument results. In my experience and those of many other professionals with years of client work, an instrument usually proves to be one of the weakest data points for the following reasons:

  • There seems to be a natural human tendency to believe in ‘tests.’ When the instrument results differ from their self-discovery experiences, people often discount their own experiences with far more data points than the instrument itself. Many abandon the experiences they’ve just had and blindly accept the instrument results. Then they wind up creating a story about themselves that doesn’t match who they are and may even make life-changing decisions that are not in line with their natures.
  • All assessment methods have error and all instruments have an error rate. This error rate depends on a variety of factors including item construction, scoring, and other technical aspects of instrument development as well as how the instrument is set up in administration. It also depends on what reference points the individual takes when completing it. If at work, then the work self may be what is reported even though that may not be the individual’s natural self. Other known factors include extreme stress, group pressure, stages of development and many more.
  • Instruments often don’t get the results we want because clients try to game the questions. It seems that instruments feel like ‘tests’ that can be used to put people in a box, so the clients can become guarded in their responses. Of course this happens most often when the instrument is required for participation in a mandatory program and that’s another topic altogether.

Most importantly, in my work, I am teaching the skills of self-awareness, self-reflection, self-regulation—all important aspects of emotional intelligence and social intelligence. These skills are better taught through self-discovery than through instruments. The self-discovery process leads to more ownership of the results, therefore more self-authoring. Additionally, if people mentally “try on” all the patterns presented, they are more likely to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for those who are different from themselves. This leads to perspective taking, which is one of the key skills needed in today’s world.

So to ‘test or not to test’ is an important question. How do you resolve it?